England held in opener

Group C

England 1 USA 1

A MISTAKE by goalkeeper Robert Green cost England victory in their first match in Rustenburg.

Fabio Capello’s team had taken the lead in the fourth minute when captain Steven Gerrard finished neatly after some good work by Aston Villa striker Emile Heskey.

England seemed to be coasting to a half-time lead when on 40minutes Fulham’s Clinton Dempsey fired a weak shot from the edge of the penalty area. It looked as though Green, who was largely uninvolved up to that point, was going to make a regulation save, when he fumbled the ball and saw it spin off his body and into the net.

The West Ham goalkeeper was to redeem himself in the 65th minute when he pulled off a stunning save by pushing a shot from Jozy Altidore on to his near post.

It had all started so well for the Three Lions, who were watched by a large contingent of England fans in the 44,000 crowd. A flick by Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney found his strike partner Heskey, who peeled off found Gerrard with a sweet pass for the captain to plant a shot past United States goalkeeper Tim Howard.

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USA nearly levelled on 19 minutes when a swirling cross from Landon Donovan should have led to a goal for the but Altidore missed a free header.

A key moment came in the 26th minute when midfielder James Milner booked for a foul on Steve Cherundolo. Four minutes later Milner, who had already made several hefty challenges, was hauled off by his manager, who feared a second yellow card for the Aston Villa man.

There was a warning of things to come for England on the half-hour when Donovan’s 25-yard shot sent Green scrambling.

Dempsey’s tame shot from 25 yards looked to carry no danger but goalkeeper Green somehow fumbled it and watched as it spun agonisingly over the goal-line.

Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher replaced Ledley King at the heart of England’s defence at half-time.

England edged the the second half, but did little to seriously trouble the USA goal apart from a 20-yard shot by Rooney on 75 minutes. Howard looked beaten but was a relieved man when the ball flew afoot past the far post.

After the match Gerrard backed Green to play a vital role in his country’s World Cup campaign.

Gerrard told ITV1: “It was a difficult game. The most important thing in the opening game is not to lose. The idea was to win but unfortunately we let a poor goal in and we couldn’t go and get the winner. The target now has to be seven points.”

Reflecting on Dempsey’s goal, Gerrard continued: “It was one of those freak things, I don’t think you can criticise the keeper. People have been talking about the ball and it is tricky.

“Rob will learn from this and he might make an important save that wins us a match. We’re all behind him. It was a bit of shock and it took us a while to get over it.”

Coach Capello was pleased with his team’s showing, if not the result.

“We created a lot of chances,” he told ITV1.

“We played a good game but one mistake and they scored one goal. It was a good performance from the team. We hope next time we will be more lucky.”

Capello did not criticise Green but refused to confirm whether he will stick with the West Ham number one for Friday’s meeting with Algeria in Cape Town,

The Italian continued: “Sometimes a forward misses a goal and sometimes the keeper makes a mistake, this is football. The second half he played very well.”

Capello, though, is hopeful Ledley King will be fit for Friday after the defender picked up an injury during the first half and had to be replaced by Jamie Carragher.

“Probably he can play,” added Capello. “It’s only a little problem.”

England: Green, Johnson, Terry, King, Ashley Cole, Lennon, Lampard, Gerrard, Milner, Heskey, Rooney. Subs: James, Barry, Carragher, Carrick, Joe Cole, Crouch, Dawson, Defoe, Upson, Warnock, Wright-Phillips, Hart. USA: Howard, Cherundolo, DeMerit, Onyewu, Bocanegra, Dempsey, Bradley, Clark, Donovan, Findley, Altidore. Subs: Guzan, Beasley, Bornstein, Buddle, Edu, Feilhaber, Gomez, Goodson, Holden, Spector, Torres, Hahnemann. Referee: Carlos Eugenio Simon (Brazil)