Green gift spares States
A terrible error by Robert Green cost England two points in their World Cup opener, as they had to settle for a 1-1 draw with USA.
By Chris Burton
Last Updated: 12/06/10 10:17pm
A terrible error by Robert Green cost England two points in their World Cup opener, as they were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw with the United States of America.
Steven Gerrard had the Three Lions in front early on, with the new skipper leading by example throughout.
However, the USA were level shortly before half-time when a tame effort from Clint Dempsey slipped through Green's grasp and into the back of the net.
The air of expectation around the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg was almost tangible prior to kick-off, while the omnipresent vuvuzelas added to the atmosphere once more.
England were the first to find their feet and they needed just four minutes to break the deadlock, with captain Gerrard handing them the perfect start when he burst onto a pass from Emile Heskey and steered low into the bottom corner.
Fabio Capello's side were well on top early on, with Frank Lampard fizzing in a driven free-kick that only needed a touch to double their lead.
America's biggest threat was coming from set-pieces and AC Milan's domineering centre-half Oguchi Onyewu was proving to be a handful as he attacked a couple of deliveries from Landon Donovan.
Former Hull City frontman Jozy Altidore also came close with a header, and he will feel he should have done better after meeting a pinpoint cross unchallenged.
England soon clicked back into gear, though, and were incisive and crisp in their passing.
Aaron Lennon sprang clear at one stage, with plenty of space to move into, but he opted to square rather than go for goal and America were able to bundle the ball clear.
James Milner, selected on the left, was then cautioned after putting in one too many rash tackles, before Howard dived bravely at the feet of Heskey to prevent the big striker from poking home a second for England.
Rather surprisingly, on the half-hour mark, Capello then opted to haul off Milner and send on Shaun Wright-Phillips.
The Aston Villa man had missed training on a few occasions in the build-up to the game through illness and appeared to be struggling with the pace.
A couple of ambitious efforts from Altidore and Donovan helped to perk the Americans up as the half wore on, but England were rarely rattled and looked comfortable - even freeing the buccaneering Ashley Cole down the left as they sought to put the game to bed.
They were, however, forced to enter the interval all square after a catastrophic mistake from Green.
Dempsey prodded a speculative shot goalwards, with little power or pace behind it, and was ready to turn away in disgust.
All of a sudden the ball was over the line as Green fumbled and allowed the much-maligned Jabulani to slip through his grasp.
England responded well, as Glen Johnson went close after a typically sprightly break inside from the right, but they were unable to re-establish a deserved lead.
Capello faced another dilemma at the break and was forced to make his second substitution of the night as Ledley King, whose fitness had been questioned throughout the build-up, made way for Jamie Carragher.
The Three Lions refused to dwell on the events of the first half, though, as they again burst out of the blocks in the second 45 minutes.
Jay DeMerit saw yellow trying to keep them out, as Lennon and Johnson did their utmost down the right flank to carve open a gilt-edged chance for those waiting in the middle.
Rooney thought he had ghosted in behind on 50 minutes, but was pulled back for Heskey straying offside, and was unable to find a way past Howard anyway.
A few moments later it was Heskey's turn to bear down on goal, but the goal-shy Villa ace lashed straight at Howard when faced with a one-on-one with the Everton shot-stopper.
The USA were only offering fleeting glimpses of attacking intent at this stage, with Carragher's experience helping to keep Capello's side watertight at the back.
The Liverpool man was cautioned, though, just before the hour mark when he caught Robbie Findley with a wild tackle.
His Anfield team-mate Gerrard also went into the referee's notebook shortly after, with his protestations to the award of a free-kick falling on unsympathetic ears.
America almost benefitted from the resulting set-piece, but Carlos Bocanegra took his eye off the ball at the vital moment and diverted a close-range effort well wide off his shoulder.
All of sudden the game opened up, with Lampard testing Howard from range, but it was the United States who went agonisingly close to forcing a further goal on 65 minutes.
Altidore, after a bustling burst down the left, thought he had beaten Green at his near post, but the West Ham goalkeeper redeemed himself as he produced a fantastic fingertip save to push the ball onto the woodwork.
With 20 minutes remaining Wayne Rooney finally found the kind of space he craves, as he ghosted in at the back post, but he could not grow enough to meet a swinging delivery from Gerrard.
Moments later Carragher's heart was in his mouth for a moment as he cut across Findley, but the referee gave nothing, and the American striker was booked shortly after for a clumsy challenge.
Rooney was now seeing more of the ball in dangerous areas and he had Howard clutching at thin air on 75 minutes when he crashed a 25-yard drive inches past the post.
The American goal was now under siege, with Wright-Phillips shooting at Howard from a tight angle, Rooney twice foiled from close range and Heskey nodding a towering header over the bar.
Capello played his last card with 12 minutes left on the clock, throwing on Peter Crouch in place of the industrious Heskey.
Crouch's first touch was not what his manager had hoped for, though, with a difficult header looped into the arms of Howard.
Stray passes started to infiltrate the English game thereafter, with the pursuit of a winner becoming increasingly desperate.
Their final opportunity came with America sleeping, but four white shirts, including the outstretched toe of Lampard, could not force the ball home with time running out.
Altidore was hauled off with less than five minutes remaining, giving Bolton Wanderers' Stuart Holden, who is still working his way back to full match sharpness, an opportunity to grace the biggest stage in sport.
Donovan fired high into the stands as clear-cut chances dried up, but both teams will take positives from the night and will be pleased to have got points on the board from what looks like being their toughest test in Group C.