The Front Row with John Leicester June 14, 2010
RUSTENBURG, South Africa - For England, drawing 1-1 with the United States in their opening game of the World Cup wasn't a total disaster. It just felt like it.
The pundits had suggested that the Americans would be easy meat. "Easy," jingoistic tabloid The Sun had predicted.
Well, trash that front page. These Yanks proved as indigestible as the chewy sun-dried beef - biltong, the South Africans call it - that is a favored snack around these parts.
It wasn't that the Americans were particularly tough - this wasn't a stellar U.S. performance by any stretch of the imagination. Rather, the England lions' teeth no longer seem as sharp as they once were. The once large gap between the worlds of football and soccer is most definitely narrowing. In 10 trans-Atlantic encounters, this was their first draw.
That made it a victory of sorts for the U.S. team and the thousands of fans who chanted "USA! USA!" long after English renditions of "God Save the Queen" had fallen into an uncomfortable silence.
Bob Bradley's players can now feel not only more confident that they will reach the next stage of the competition but even, perhaps, that they could finish atop their Group C.
The group winner is less likely to face mighty Germany in the next round. Because of its draw, England and the U.S. are now in a dead-heat in the race for that prize. The winner will be the team that does best against the other two nations in the group, soccer minnows Algeria and Slovenia.
England manager Fabio Capello had made bold suggestions before this game that England could go all the way to the final on July 11. With potato-faced, goal-scoring phenom Wayne Rooney on Capello's side, who was going to argue with him?
Well, based on this performance, lots more people now.
Most worrying for England is that it doesn't have a decent goalkeeper.
Robert Green was meant to do the job against the Americans but, instead, gifted them the tying goal.
Those who weren't celebrating in the stadium squirmed with embarrassment when he let Clint Dempsey's shot wriggle out of his hands. Everyone, including Green, knew he should have stopped it. Green buried his head in the turf. He must have wished that it would swallow him up.
Bradley could hardly believe it. His open-mouthed look of "Is it Christmas, already?" said it all.
"A genuine mistake, a horrible mistake," Green said after he had showered. "It's something that happens in life."
In life, perhaps, but not in the World Cup, not if you want to win it.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.