RUSTENBURG, South Africa – For a brief moment, it looked like 2006 all over again.
But the US dug in after surrendering an early goal, took advantage of some atrocious England goalkeeping and lodged a heroic 1-1 draw against England in their World Cup opener on Saturday.
Clint Dempsey scored on a horrible blunder by Robert Green in the 40th minute, and the US played an inspired game, rode some timely goalkeeping by Tim Howard and bagged what amounts to a dream start to their World Cup campaign against the No. 8-ranked team in the world.
The Americans refused to hang their head, even after surrendering first. In the fourth minute, England caught the US napping on a throw-in by Glen Johnson. Frank Lampard threaded the ball to Emile Heskey, who made a perfect touch back to a streaking Steven Gerrard, who burned Ricardo Clark badly and slotted the ball under Tim Howard for a 1-0 England lead.
But that goal – for better or worse - brought the US to life. The Americans organized and kept moving the ball well. They had their first real chance in the 19th minute when Landon Donovan put a ball into the area that Jozy Altidore headed just wide.
And in the 40th minute, they got the break they needed. Dempsey spun away from Gerrard with some nice footwork and put low drive right at the keeper in the middle of the goal from roughly 25 yards out.
In easily the most profound image of three matches in South Africa on Saturday, Green went to put his body behind the shot, but the ball trickled away from him and over the line.
England had their chances to pull out an equalizer, but Howard came up big again and again. He put the clamps on Heskey on a breakaway in the 52nd minute, then denied Wayne Rooney and substitute Shaun Wright-Philips on successive attempts in the 76th minute.
The US had a great chance to go ahead in the 64th courtesy of Altidore, but his drive from up close was pushed off the post by Green.
The Americans held on in the dying minutes and held England’s vaunted attack in check, and the well-earned point was a full team effort thanks to nearly flawless play. It’s a monstrous confidence-booster for Bob Bradley’s men when they take on Slovenia on June 18, and a marked difference from their 3-0 drubbing at the hands of the Czech Republic in their World Cup opener in 2006.
For England, it’s another slow start at a World Cup, and this result will raise question marks all over the pitch. Rooney was largely invisible aside from a brief stretch in the second half, James Milner was hugely ineffective on the left flank and the keeper position remains a heart attack for coach Fabio Capello.
England: Green, Cole, King (Carragher 45’), Terry, Johnson, Milner (Wright-Philips 31’), Lampard, Gerrard, Lennon, Heskey (Crouch 79’), Rooney.
United States: Howard, Bocanegra, Onyewu, DeMerit, Cherundolo, Bradley, Clark, Donovan, Dempsey, Findley (Buddle 77’), Altidore (Holden 86’).