CAPE TOWN - As England fans took to the bars of Cape Town in a bid to dull the pain, the same old question was on everyone's lips; why can't the players reproduce their club form when wearing the national shirt?
England supporters are used to travelling with high hopes and returning home in disappointment, but a battling quarter-final exit on penalties is one thing, Friday's appalling performance was quite another.
There was nothing unlucky about the goalless draw with Algeria and the shocking reality was that England looked second-best in most departments.
England's lineup of Premier League luminaries looked hopeless and hapless.
Coach Fabio Capello, seemingly as shell-shocked as everyone else, struggled to explain it. "I did not see the same spirit, this was not the same England team," said the Italian.
Capello promised changes for next week's decider against Slovenia, when a win will almost certainly be needed for progress to the second round.
At least one of those changes predicted by just about everyone who has watched an England game in the last 10 years will be the replacement of striker Emile Heskey with either Jermain Defoe or Peter Crouch.
A return of seven goals in 60 games should tell its own story but Heskey has remained popular with various England managers for the work he does in getting others into the game.
He is no longer doing that and when he was through on goal late in Friday's game there could not have been a person watching who expected anything but the eventual outcome -- a tame shot straight at the goalkeeper.
Beyond that, however, Capello deserves some sympathy as he is generally picking the best players available.
Frank Lampard has just scored a remarkable 27 goals to help Chelsea to a Premier League and FA Cup double but for England there were no signs of his trademark edge-of-the-box shots or bursts from deep.
Captain Steven Gerrard also failed to mimic the play that has made him an inspirational figure at Anfield. There was no questioning his desire but he just could not get anything right.
Aaron Lennon, who skins defenders for fun in the Premier League, not only failed miserably to beat the American or Algerian fullbacks, he did not even take them on, as one of the fastest players at the tournament preferred instead to turn inside and eventually lay the ball off.
And then there is Wayne Rooney. England's talisman, a true world class talent, has been anything but as he labours desperately and feeds on scraps.
After a blistering three-quarters of a season for Manchester United he has not scored, and not really looked fully fit, since twisting his ankle at the end of March.
Slaughtered in the English press for complaining about the England fans booing their own team, the frustrated striker looks like a red card waiting to happen.
"Rooney didn't play like Rooney but that is not the problem," said Capello.
Unfortunately for England the same line could have been applied to just about any of the team whose Premier League personas deserted them - and it is precisely the problem.comments