In the aftermath, Fabio Capello pronounced himself satisfied with Saturday's draw against the United States but you have to wonder if he was still feeling the same way yesterday afternoon when his medical staff told him that Ledley King's World Cup finals are virtually over.
This morning, England's World Cup looks like a very different prospect with two of their three first-choice centre-backs out injured and the initiative in Group C seized by Slovenia, who beat Algeria yesterday with a goal almost as lucky as Clint Dempsey's on Saturday. To throw away a victory on Saturday was bad luck, but to lose King as well as Rio Ferdinand, makes it feel like England are under siege already.
There was plenty about England's performance against the US that could kindle hope. Jamie Carragher even compared it to the 1-1 draw against the Republic of Ireland, with which England began the 1990 World Cup before reaching the semi-finals. But one can only imagine how a squad that had already had to take the disappointment of Robert Green's error on Saturday then felt when they learnt they had already lost King.
Since Capello announced his ill-fated 'Capello Index' on 11 May, followed by the chaotic final preparations of his 30-man squad the same day, his leadership has lacked the smoothness of his qualifying campaign. He has been dealt some harsh blows – none more so than the injury to Ferdinand – and now we will see if the squad he has selected has the depth to absorb them.
King was always a risk and, while there is a faint hope he may yet be available should England stay in the tournament until the quarter-finals, suddenly so much of England's immediate future is about waiting on injuries. Capello has taken it for granted that Gareth Barry will be fit for Friday's game against Algeria but, given the manager's current luck, no one should bank on that being the case.
The alternative to King is a partnership of John Terry and Carragher at the heart of England's defence – the one that was reprised in the second half against the US on Saturday. After that, there is Matthew Upson and the uncapped Michael Dawson. Carragher was beaten for pace once by Jozy Altidore but he was smart enough to ensure it did not happen again.
Earlier, King's abductor muscle was only thought to be a one-game injury – but with King, there are no one-game injuries. When he is hurt, he tends to have long absences forced upon him. And, for an England team who already have David Beckham and Ferdinand on the bench, this is one more man they do not need to have as a spectator.
There was enough in England's performance – against a US team who beat Spain in South Africa this time last year – to suggest they have a chance in this competition. They dominated long periods of the game with an overall possession count of 54 per cent and, in Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson and Aaron Lennon, had the match's three best players.
Green's fumble that let in Dempsey's shot on 40 minutes threw a shadow over it all. It was the single moment in 90 minutes of toil that undid the whole night's work. It was the tiny crack in the hull of the battleship. It was, to use a historically inaccurate analogy, the moment Baldrick uses the only copy of Samuel Johnson's dictionary as fuel for the fire in "Blackadder the Third". It was a bad mistake.
It was the kind of mistake that will mean many people forget that England were up against a well-organised team who beat Spain in the Confederations' Cup last summer. This was never going to be three easy points.
It is impossible to blame Capello for the kind of mistake Green made, although, as manager, he will have to take ultimate responsibility. Capello is instinctively conservative, so Green was always the likely candidate ahead of the untried Hart. But most puzzling is why a personal difference with David James continues to prevent him from even considering the keeper.
James is known to have a difficult relationship with some members of Capello's backroom staff and the goalkeeper is adamant he is not injured, as has been suggested. He is understood to be unhappy with the selection process that means he has been ignored all week while Capello has focused on Green and Hart.
Arguably Capello's worst decision was to pick James Milner, who has struggled all week with a virus and was booked within 26 minutes for two bad tackles on Steve Cherundolo – the US right-back, who would not usually get near to Milner on the average Premier League weekend game. From then on, Milner, his confidence draining away, was one challenge from a red card.
Taking him off with only 30 minutes played was an honest admission by Capello that he had made a mistake in picking Milner in the first place. As the game went on, England got at their opposition but when it really mattered they seemed to lack the instinct to finish the US off.
Three occasions stand out. The first came on 20 minutes when Wayne Rooney played in Lennon in the right channel and, instead of trying to beat Tim Howard with a shot, the Spurs man crossed and the ball was cut out. Rooney played in Shaun Wright-Phillips on 73 minutes and, coming in from the left, he hit his shot straight at Howard.
Potentially the best chance of all came on 53 minutes, when Lennon put Emile Heskey in and he shot straight at Howard. Heskey worked hard all game and it was his pass that set up Gerrard to score in the fourth minute, but the question that demands to be answered is how England can progress if they do not score goals.
Peter Crouch got an 11-minute run-out that was barely enough to get him stretched and playing. He will score England's goals given the chance but he needs to start games. Capello's preoccupation over the next few days is whether he sticks with Heskey and whether he can plan a defence that is capable of compensating for King's absence. One game in and it is hardly plain sailing.
England (4-4-2): Green (West Ham); Johnson (Liverpool), King (Tottenham), Terry (Chelsea), A Cole (Chelsea); Lennon (Tottenham), Lampard (Chelsea), Gerrard (Liverpool), Milner (Aston Villa); Heskey (Aston Villa), Rooney (Manchester United). Substitutes used: Wright-Phillips (Manchester City) for Milner (30); Carragher (Liverpool) for King (h-t); Crouch (Tottenham) for Heskey (79).
USA (4-4-2): Howard (Everton); Cherundolo (Hannover), DeMerit (Watford), Onyewu (Milan), Bocanegra (Rennes); Donovan (LA Galaxy), Bradley (Borussia Monchengladbach), Clark (Eintracht Frankfurt), Dempsey (Fulham); Findley (Real Salt Lake), Altidore (Hull). Substitutes used: Buddle (LA Galaxy) for Findley (77); Holden (Bolton) for Altidore (86).
Referee: C Simon (Brazil).
Booked: England Milner, Carragher, Gerrard; USA Cherundolo, DeMerit, Findley.
Man of the match: Johnson.
7% of you still believe
We asked you to vote online on how far you thought England would progress in the competition following their draw with the United States. The results are:
*Group stage, 13%; Last 16, 28%; Quarter-finals, 32%; Semi-finals, 17%; Final, 3%; Winners, 7%.
*For our next poll, tell us who should play in goal against Algeria. Visit independent.co.uk/football
Who should partner John Terry against Algeria?
By Glenn Moore
Terry and Upson (807 minutes, 9 goals conceded)
More recent experience as a partnership than the other combinations and arguably the best balanced in terms of style. Terry likes to attack the ball, Upson to drop off. Upson is also a decent distributor of the ball. However, both are left-sided and Upson is prone to lapses of concentration and coming off a moderate season for West Ham.
Terry and Carragher (54 minutes, 1 goal conceded)
The most experienced and honoured duo but lacking in pace, as Jozy Altidore illustrated on Saturday. Carragher is right-sided, and happy to drop off, so suits Terry. He is also a good reader of the game though, like Terry, he tends to find himself making last-ditch tackles too often for comfort. An ordinary partnership in terms of distribution.
Terry and Dawson (no matches)
Dawson is the form player – he finished the season strongly with Tottenham, but is uncapped at international level. Plays on the right and likes to attack the ball. No doubts about his commitment, but there are questions about his ability to handle the movement and quick-feet of international strikers. Even Jermaine Beckford befuddled him this season.
By Steve Tongue
Robert Green A good second-half save could not redeem him......... 4/10
Glen Johnson Solid at right-back, going backwards or forward......... 7
Ledley King Neither fit nor in form. Taken off at half-time......... 5
John Terry Strong and reliable alongside King then Carragher......... 7
Ashley Cole Fine defensively but added little to the attack ......... 6
Aaron Lennon Threatened without delivering, one fine pass aside......... 6
Steven Gerrard Led well from the front, and then from the back......... 8
Frank Lampard Disciplined but still not happy alongside Gerrard......... 6
James Milner Oh dear. Should have been booked even earlier......... 3
Emile Heskey Put himself about and made goal but missed a chance......... 6
Wayne Rooney Not the dominant performance England needed.....................6
Shaun Wright-Phillips: Did not take chance 6;
Jamie Carragher: Horribly exposed. Booked 4;
Peter Crouch: No chances 6
Tim Howard Kept England at bay in second half with fine saves......... 7
Steve Cherundolo Not the weak link England were hoping for at right-back......... 6
Oguchi Onyewu Milan's "Gooch" allowed Rooney little scope despite recent injury......... 7
Jay Demerit Watford man recovered well after being caught out for goal ......... 7
Carlos Bocanegra Faced a test from Lennon and stood up to it well ......... 7
Landon Donovan One lovely cross for Altidore but generally kept quiet by Cole......... 6
Michael Bradley Coach's son was neat, tidy and industrious in centre of midfield......... 7
Ricardo Clark Worked hard in support of Bradley but lost Gerrard for goal......... 6
Clint Dempsey Little joy until he came inside and tried speculative shot for the goal......... 6
Jozy Altidore USA's Heskey? Worked hard, missed easy header, foiled by Green later......... 6
Robbie Findley Nippy little partner for Altidore, kept defence on toes......... 7
Substitutes Edson Buddle: No chances n/a; Stuart Holden: Little except a late run n/a
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