It has become notorious, yet this headline in English tabloid The Sun summed up a widely-held view that the Three Lions would stroll through Group C. USA, too, greeted the draw with satisfaction, confident – if not quite as bullish as The Sun - that they would be strong enough to join Fabio Capello's side in the last 16. And, ultimately, both prevailed. But easy? It was anything but.
A measure of just how closely-contested this section proved is that, as the final whistle sounded in Port Elizabeth, it seemed certain that England would top the group, with Slovenia going through in second. What happened next, of course, was a 91st-minute Landon Donovan goal that changed everything, and sent the US through as group winners for the first time since 1930.
How it finished1. USA, 5 points
2. England, 5 points
3. Slovenia, 4 points
4. Algeria, 1 point
What happenedUSA: A team with more comebacks than Rocky Balboa, the Americans were worthy Group C winners if only for the sheer guts that characterised their campaign. Going behind inside four minutes against England began a habit of giving themselves a mountain to climb, then dragging themselves to the peak. Having fought back to draw with the English and then eroded Slovenia's 2-0 half-time advantage, it all came down to the final game for Bob Bradley’s side. There, a script worthy of Hollywood unfolded as Donovan, the team's talisman, struck at the death to take the Americans from third to first – and into the knockout stage.
England: History will tell you that, for all the inevitable pre-tournament hype, England rarely coast through the group stage. Here in South Africa, a statistic of two goals scored in three games tells the story of a frustrating campaign that could have ended in disaster were it not for Jermain Defoe's match-winner against Slovenia. Although Wayne Rooney remains out of sorts, England did show glimpses of their potential in that final group match and, with the talent at Capello's disposal, nothing can be ruled out.
Slovenia:In football, one's man's dream is invariably another's nightmare. So it was for Slovenia, with USA's joy spelling heartbreak for Matjaz Kek and his players. It was a cruel end for Kek's side, who stood within touching distance of the last 16. Ultimately, however, despite performing admirably and claiming a historic first-ever FIFA World Cup win, the Slovenians proved unable to take that final, decisive step.
Algeria: Les Fennecs may leave South Africa with Group C’s wooden spoon, but at no stage were they out of their depth. Well-organised and fiercely committed, Algeria proved exceptionally hard to beat, holding England to a draw and conceding just two goals in three matches. Their downfall came at the other end, where a FIFA World Cup scoring drought stretching back to 1986 continued throughout a frustrating, goalless campaign.
Moments to savour*Slovenian history made
*"It is not the size of the dog in the fight that matters, but the size of the fight in the dog." This old saying would have proved an apt motto for Slovenia in South Africa, as the tournament's smallest nation set about making a big impression. After a debut campaign in 2002 that yielded three straight losses, history was made as early in their opening match, with captain Robert Koren sinking Algeria for his country's first finals win.
*At a time when England's languid performances against USA and Algeria were being roundly lambasted, there was talk of mutiny within the camp when John Terry suggested at a press conference that he would be telling Capello a few home truths. It later transpired that the Italian did most of the talking and, whatever he said, the result was an inspirational performance from Terry as England finally found their form.
Fennecs make their stand
*Although the focus inevitably fell on England's shortcomings, the 0-0 draw with Algeria represented a major triumph for the north African outsiders. With their defence in defiant form, *Les Fennecs comfortably held their all-star rivals at bay, leaving their supporters to celebrate long into the night.
*Donovan's fairy tale
*This was the moment that defined the group, and it will take something remarkable – perhaps a last-minute goal in the Final itself - to match it for sheer drama. It was after 91 minutes of frustration, and with their dream seemingly slipping inexorably away, that Donovan started and then finished a breakaway goal that is sure to live on in US football folklore.
The stat8 – the number of international games Wayne Rooney has now gone without scoring. The England striker is currently enduring his longest-ever drought with the national team.
The final word"People closest to me know how hard I have worked for this moment, and this is just unbelievable, I know the people back home are watching, and we're not done yet! We embody what Americans are all about. We believe, man," Landon Donovan, USA forward