Enigmatic England must find the solution to their poor FIFA World Cup™ start against Slovenia here Wednesday or face the ignominy of crashing out in the group stage for the first time since 1958. The opening 1-1 draw with the United States and the uninspiring goalless stalemate with Algeria has left a team hyped up as one of the pre-tournament favourites with little room for manoeuvre.
Three points against Slovenia would ensure England progress to the last 16 and a possible date with Germany. Defeat and they will be heading for the airport, while a draw will leave their fate hanging on the result of the United States v Algeria game being played simultaneously in Pretoria.
Underperforming Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Co left the pitch in Cape Town on Friday night with boos from a section of their fans ringing in their ears. Fabio Capello has said he is "mystified" at the gulf between England's polished displays in qualifying and training and their toothless performances in Group C.
John Terry on Sunday denied Capello's suggestion that England were paralysed by fear against Algeria, but did agree with the Italian's accusation of a lack of passion. "I don't think any player had that the other night. I'm sure on Wednesday, everyone will have the fire in their bellies," Terry said.
Terry's Chelsea and England teammate Frank Lampard insists that media talk of a crisis meeting between the players and Capello were over-hyped. "I've not read the reports but from what I hear, I think it has been completely overdone in terms of crisis meeting and things like that," Lampard said, adding the players had sat through a video of their last match. "The Algeria game had to be addressed and it was not nice viewing," he admitted.
Yet as they approach this defining moment England can take heart from history. In 1990 the Three Lions found themselves in a similar predicament. Under then-manager Bobby Robson they had opened their Italy 90 campaign with two draws, against the Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands, leaving them requiring a win against Egypt to qualify. They made it, and went on to reach the semi-finals.
Then there is the more recent case of France, at the 2006 finals in Germany. Shackled by the fear of repeating their woeful FIFA World Cup display in 2002, France began badly, drawing with Switzerland and South Korea. That left Zinedine Zidane and his teammates requiring victory over Togo, which they achieved. With qualification assured it was a totally unrecognisable France that turned up in Hanover to sweep aside Spain, Brazil and Portugal, before losing the final on penalties to Italy.
Capello believes his England can emulate the class of 1990 and Les Bleus four years ago. "I hope that after playing a big performance the minds of the players will be free and we can play like the England that I know," the Italian said.
The England boss must decide whether to make significant changes to his line-up. Joe Cole - arguably England's best player in Germany four years ago - is one of the cards he has yet to play. England's depleted back four will also have to be reshuffled once more with Jamie Carragher suspended.
Whatever happens on the pitch an electric atmosphere is assured off it with England's sizeable travelling fan club set to wake up this sleepy Eastern Cape port. Whether England wake up is another matter.