David James was beginning to fear he would be the only goalkeeper to sit on the bench at three FIFA World Cups™, with a different number on his back each time. Then came the call from Fabio Capello to be England's last line of defence against Algeria, and one of the few remaining unchecked boxes in a remarkably long career at the top level could be attended to.
It was a game that very few Englishmen - players, coaching staff or fans - will look back upon with any satisfaction, but James can be excluded from that unhappy band. It was his FIFA World Cup debut and a hugely satisfying moment.
"I'm absolutely buzzing to be playing in a World Cup in South Africa," he told FIFA.com. "I didn't know I was in the side until five minutes before we left and it's my third World Cup trip. I thought I was going to have the unpleasurable distinction of being the only goalkeeper to have worn three different numbers on the bench for consecutive World Cups! So it was nice to get on the field."
At Korea/Japan 2002 James wore No22 and was understudy to David Seaman, while four years later in Germany he had the No13 jersey, with Paul Robinson installed as England's first choice between the sticks. Then, safely into his fifth decade - he turns 41 on 1 August - and wearing No1, he at last got to appear in a FIFA World Cup for real and went on to justify Capello's decision to reinstate him in place of Robert Green.
Reflecting on the Cape Town result that leaves England needing to beat Slovenia in their final group fixture today to be sure of continuing their challenge at South Africa 2010 into the knockout phase, James called it "a tough game of football".
He added: "Obviously the nil-nil scoreline would suggest that but it was difficult trying to break down Algeria. The clean sheet was obviously good but I'd have settled for a 2-1 win. They seemed to have a very good game plan in as much as they wanted to stop us from creating chances. That leaves the game on Wednesday as a pretty much a must-win situation.
"Defensively we did what we needed to do. The fact we didn't concede and the fact the opportunities weren't completed by Algeria because the defence was so tight has to be a positive and something that we can build on.
"Their goalkeeper has made a fantastic save in the first half to keep the score at nil-nil and we had the chances, but Algeria were very difficult to break down, credit to them. We need to win on Wednesday, plain and simple, but you know there is a team who don’t have to win the game. So it will be difficult, but I’m confident we can do it."
'We can make a difference'
A rounded individual for whom life contains much more than just football, the Portsmouth goalkeeper also spoke of his support for the 1GOAL campaign that champions global education, calling on world leaders to provide education for 72 million children worldwide by 2015.
"It's the idea of putting pressure on governments to mobilise funds to get the seventy odd million people who are uneducated, educated and give them an opportunity," he said. "It stands hand in hand with my own education farming project that I've got out in Malawi.
"I definitely hope football can leave a lasting legacy. We have the support of some of the biggest stars in the world game. We have the biggest profile competition in the world in the World Cup.
"And we have the most needy of countries with regards to the education, or lack of education issue here in Africa so I think there's a lot of synergy. It's just up to the governments now to release these funds and make the world a better place."