England 1 - 1 United States: England are caught Green handed

THE Scottish disease has headed south. England was once secure enough in its goalkeeping tradition to mock the very notion of keepers from Scotland, but no more.

• Robert Green misjudges the ball and lets in the USA's goal. Picture: Getty

As debates have raged about England's shape and the make-up of the midfield, the worries about the position between the posts have receded, but they were awakened with a vengeance last night as a desperate error from Rob Green gifted USA an equaliser to cancel out Steven Gerrard's early strike.

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It was a ghastly, nightmarish error and it will, quite naturally, draw most of the attention in the immediate post-mortems, but it was far from the only flaw in an uneven England display. James Milner was so bad he lasted only half an hour, Ledley King was withdrawn at half-time, while Wayne Rooney, the player on whom so many hopes rest, was involved only fleetingly. Although Aaron Lennon threatened fleetingly and Emile Heskey was as dogged as ever, this was a nervy performance lacking in either fluency or defensive solidity.

As every local has stressed for over the past few days, this is the biggest thing to happen in Rustenburg, perhaps ever, but certainly since the discovery of platinum. The bars outside the ground were crammed from hours before the game and, while there were England and USA fans hanging their flags on the fences, there were also numerous South Africans there primarily to soak up the occasion. The dusty surrounds of the shacks that line the road from Phokeng, where the stadium is actually located, back to the motorway to Rustenburg were dotted with locals tunelessly tooting their vuvuzelas. More even than most World Cups, this was a game with a profound sense of occasion.

For Green, it is an occasion that will haunt him for the rest of his life.

In St Louis, Frank Borghi and Harry Keough, the two surviving members of the USA team that beat England in the 1950 World Cup, met to watch the game together on television. The 1-0 win they achieved was one of the greatest shocks in World Cup history. Last night's draw may be painted as some sort of disaster for England, but it is far from disastrous in terms of qualification, and was a point the USA thoroughly deserved.

Back then, England hit the woodwork three times in the first 12 minutes; last night, they were ahead within three minutes thanks to some dreadful US defending. Frank Lampard helped on Glenn Johnson's throw-in towards Rooney and when the ball ran away from him, Emile Heskey held off Jay DeMerit to sweep it into the path of Gerrard, who ran on to jab a confident finish past Tom Howard.

Any thought that England might be able to promenade to an easy victory, though, soon disappeared. Milner had a dreadful night against Landon Donovan and Steve Cherundolo and, having been booked for his second clumsy foul, was withdrawn on the half-hour for Shaun Wright-Phillips.

Milner had been selected only as a replacement for Gareth Barry, who is back in training after his ankle injury and should be fit for the second group game. Rather than using Milner in Barry's holding role, though, Capello switched him to the left, with Gerrard operating alongside Lampard in central midfield.

Having gone behind, USA bossed possession, and it was notable that the inroads they made came down their right. Clint Dempsey was a fraction from getting a toe to Jozy Altidore's nod-down from one Donovan cross, and twice corners won on that side led to panicky headers behind from England players. The equaliser, though, was the result of one thing and one thing only: goalkeeper error.

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The Lampard-Gerrard axis, first tried against Liechtenstein in 2003, has never really convinced, tending to leave space in front of the back four. This time, though, Gerrard was ideally positioned, and although Dempsey twisted by him, he seemed to have done enough to ensure the shot was not well hit. As it rolled through to Green, Dempsey half-turned away, expecting the goalkeeper to gather cleanly.

Inexplicably, though, the ball hit Green's gloves and dribbled beyond them. In the long history of English goalkeeper errors, this was probably the worst, worse than Peter Bonetti against West Germany in 1970, worse than Peter Shilton against Poland in 1973, worse even than Scott Carson against Croatia in 2007.

A reaction block, pushing an Altidore drive against the post after the Hull striker had skinned Jamie Carragher, a half-time substitute for Ledley King, provided only a measure of redemption.

Half-time, perhaps, came at the right time for England, allowing them to regroup, and they began the second half far more positively. Aaron Lennon fizzed a ball across the face of goal, and then laid Heskey through with just Howard to beat. This was precisely the sort of scenario in which he looks uncomfortable, the sort of chance his inability to take provides such ready ammunition to his detractors.

Sure enough, he ran on to the through-ball as though dragging a heavy tyre, and then, opting for power over finesse, smacked his shot straight into Howard's midriff.

England could console themselves with the thought that USA are probably better than many give them credit for, and that they have certainly begun World Cups far worse in the past.

If this is to be the tournament at which the cycle of disappointment is broken, though, there will need to be significant improvements.

England: Green; Johnson, Terry, King (Carragher 46), A Cole; Lennon, Lampard, Gerrard, Milner (Wright-Phillips 30); Rooney, Heskey (Crouch 78)

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USA: Howard; Cherundolo, DeMerit, Onyewu, Bocanegra; Dempsey, Bradley, Clark, Donovan; Altidore, Findley (Buddle 77)

Referee: Carlos Simon (Brazil)

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