Robert Green, you will never make a bigger mistake. Emile Heskey, you will never miss an easier chance. Fabio Capello, you are pushing yourself to an early grave.
Two days gone in South Africa and already this World Cup has done it for me. England’s 1-1 draw with the USA was held in the Rustenburg township, Phokeng—that is roughly the word used a lot by England fans during an absorbing, unbelievable 90 minutes.
It started so well. Steve Gerrard—the captain—slotted home from Emile Heskey’s neat pass after just four minutes. Pandemonium in the 44,000 Royal Bafokeng Stadium, where England fans outnumbered the Americans despite inferior ticket sales, boosted by the vast ex-pat community in South Africa.
Flags, vuvuzelas, drums. But the Americans clawed their way back. James Milner, picked on the left ahead of Joe Cole, looked uncertain and took an early booking on 26 minutes.
Capello, never more animated than last night, whipped him off and brought on... Shaun Wright Phillips. Yes, ignoring smoking Joe, he went for the littlest man with no left foot after just 32 minutes.
Then the blunder of all blunders. Green, who has had a mediocre season at relegation-threatened West Ham, went down to collect a weak, bobbling shot from Fulham’s Clint Dempsey after 40 minutes...and let it slip right through him.
It’s perhaps the worst mistake I’ve ever seen from an international goalkeeper, and God knows we English have seen a few. Ask Paul Robinson about that divot, or Scott Carson what happened to his international career.
According to statistics experts Opta’s man on Twitter, Green made more goal-leaking blunders than anybody else in the Premier League last season.
Poor bloke, what could they say to him at half-time? Still, I’m no sentimentalist. Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ho6U_KRQWBk.
And come to that, what did Capello say to Frank Lampard, who barely touched the ball for 45 minutes?
We’ll never know. What we do know is that Tottenham’s Ledley King, with the dodgy knees, disappeared during the interval to be replaced by Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher, who reversed his international retirement for the sake of the nation.
Booked for a typical mistimed scything tackle, Carro let Jozy Altidore, Hull’s former one-goal-a-season striker, slip past him, allowing Green to redeem himself slightly with a good near-post save.
At the other end, Emile Heskey, Aston Villa’s non-scoring striker, produced a blunder every bit as damaging as Green's. Totally clear in front of goal from Aaron Lennon’s astute ball, he fired straight at Tim Howard.
By then, after 52 minutes, England had every right to say they should have been 2-0 up. It wasn’t so much an open goal as a yawning chasm.
It goes on. The anonymous Lampard had a good effort saved, Wright-Phillips ditto. Again and again, England piled forward. And weary England fans sat waiting for an American winner on the break, just like in 1950 at Belo Horizonte.
There was time for a Landon Donovan effort which flew just high. Then they all trooped off. England robbed? No, England doing their normal. In 1966, they opened with a 0-0 draw against Uruguay at an unhappy Wembley.
This is normal. I’m telling my shredded nerves that.
I told BBC Radio 5 last night I’d be happy with a draw. They said I was defeatist. No. Just a realist.
Both these sides should qualify. I’m off to see the other two Group C teams, Slovenia and Algeria, play in distant Polokwane tomorrow just to check.
Gerrard said: “It was a difficult game. The most important thing in your first game is not to lose. Unfortunately, we’ve let a poor goal in and we couldn’t go on to get the winner.
“It’s one of them freak things. You can’t criticise the goalkeeper. We have to get behind Robert and support him. I’m sure he’ll live. He’ll make a big save for us to win a match down the line. It shocked us a bit.
“Took us a while to get over it, but I thought we finished the game a bit stronger.”
P.S.: I didn't mention Wayne Rooney, the erm, English Pele. He's not. He did nothing.
Who is Neal Collins (nealcol on Twitter)? See www.nealcollins.co.uk. And buy the book!
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