RUSTENBURG - For all the variations discussed, the tactics pondered and the midfield options chosen, England's 1-1 draw with the United States on Sunday was little more than a Tale of Two Goalkeepers.
England's Robert Green committed a shocking error to hand the United States a 40th minute equaliser and his team never truly recovered from that blow.
At the other end, U.S keeper Tim Howard, who suffered a painful injury midway through the half as he made a brave save, produced the kind of dependable display that all coaches hope for from their number ones.
The American is a class act and showed himself to be a true member of the Goalkeepers' Union with his post-match comments in support of his counterpart.
"Of course I do (feel sorry for him) but it is part of goalkeeping. As has been said all week long, this ball is doing silly things and unfortunately at this level things happen.
"I feel terrible for him but goalkeepers need to have broad shoulders," he said.
The New Jersey born keeper certainly has those, having put up with his fair share of criticism earlier in his career, but on Saturday he was basically faultless and fully deserving of the official man of the match award.
Howard, who has played seven years in England's Premier League with Manchester United and then his current club Everton, organised his defence well and was never afraid to let his defenders know what he thought of their laxness.
As his club manager David Moyes noted before the game - if Howard were English he would without doubt be Fabio Capello's first choice keeper.
There was little he could do about Steven Gerrard's strike in the fourth minute and from then on, he set about stopping every shot that came his way and, crucially, sorting out a back line that looked very shaky in the opening 20 minutes.
"I was pretty annoyed, the marking was too lax, particularly for the beginning of a game but then you have to respond and you can't dwell on it at that point," said Howard.
Howard had looked at risk of being taken off after a nasty clash with England striker Emile Heskey who slid, studs raised, into his ribs but after some lengthy medical treatment, had the courage to carry on.
Typically the keeper had no complaints about the challenge -- the men between the sticks know their job includes bravery and risk of injury.
"He had every right to go for that ball, as I did, caught me just under my ribs. I was in a lot of pain but I always give myself five or 10 minutes," said Howard.
The pain that Green felt was of an entirely different kind though after, with five minutes to go to the break, he let a tame shot from Clint Dempsey through his hands and his body and into the net.
Green sank to the ground in despair and with him went much of England's swagger and assurance.
Up to the goal, England had been disjointed but still had enough spark to regularly threaten the U.S defence but after the error, Capello's side lost all signs of life in the second half as they struggled to find any kind of rhythm.
Green, to his credit, made a good save after the break to push a Jozy Altidore shot against the post but he was rarely tested by a U.S. team that was largely content with keeping possession in midfield.
Howard was not too stretched but he dealt effectively with every effort England made on goal and his confidence spread through a defence that improved as the game went on - earning their team a deserved and potentially crucial point.comments