BLOEMFONTEIN - The distance between England and success at this World Cup was a lot further than the length of Frank Lampard's over-the-line but not given "goal" in their humiliating 4-1 defeat to Germany on Sunday.
England, trumpeted back home as they are every four years as real contenders to win the title, return in humiliation after slumping to their record defeat in the finals with very few excuses for a campaign that looked good for all of four minutes.
When Steven Gerrard scored in their first Group C match against the United States on June 12, it seemed perhaps that for once the pre-tournament hype which saw England installed among the favourites by London bookmakers was about to be vindicated.
Unbelievable as it seems, goalkeeper Robert Green's infamous fumble when he allowed a shot from American Clint Dempsey to bounce out of his reach and into his goal, appears to have been the turning point for England - even though it happened in the first half of their first match.
England were never the same team again after that, mentally insecure about losing to the U.S., they played abysmally in the second half, were even worse for 90 minutes in their 0-0 draw against Algeria and stumbled back to see off Slovenia 1-0 to qualify in second place from their group.
At no time did they ever look comfortable, or like World Cup contenders.
They appeared afraid of losing rather than up for winning and paid the ultimate price on Sunday against Germany with their campaign reaching its nadir at the Free State Stadium.
The so-called "Golden Generation" of Wayne Rooney, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, were exposed in every department by a young, hard-running, hard-working German side that got a lucky break, but deserved their emphatic win anyway.
The most depressing thing for England's passionate supporters in South Africa, and the fanatical hordes back home, was that this was not supposed to happen.
Following the failure to qualify for Euro 2008 under coach Steve McClaren, the English FA appointed Italian Fabio Capello as his replacement, gave him a 6 million pounds a year contract and set about restoring their credibility under one of the most astute and successful coaches in the world.
England began well, sailing through their qualifying campaign, topping their group with nine wins from 10 matches and securing their place in the World Cup with two matches to spare to begin 2010 in good heart. Then the problems started.
Terry was stripped of the captaincy following newspaper reports of an extra-marital relationship with the former partner of England team mate Wayne Bridge.
David Beckham, England's most experienced outfield player with 115 caps, suffered a serious Achilles injury in March which cost him his place in the squad.
Capello always insisted he would only take players to South Africa who were in form and fit.
But he included Gareth Barry although he knew he would miss the opener against the U.S. with an ankle injury and also decided to risk Ledley King, an outstanding centre-back, but whose career has been blighted by a chronic knee injury.
Capello then suffered another blow when defender Rio Ferdinand, who replaced Terry as captain, was injured in the last minute of the first training session in South Africa and was ruled out of the tournament.
If there were problems on the pitch, there was clearly trouble behind the scenes too. Capello publicly criticised Terry for remarks he made last week regarding the team and his call for Chelsea club mate Joe Cole to be included, Capello told the media, Terry had made a "big mistake."
In the end, another "big mistake" cost England a legitimate goal against Germany ruled out - but even if it had counted, it is doubtful that England would have gone on to win the match.
England were outplayed by the Germans and suffered a defeat that could one day be seen as a turning point for English football as was their 6-3 defeat to Hungary in 1953.
That result made England realise the world had caught up with the game they invented, and eventually brought about a change in the way they played the game, leading to England's sole victory in a World Cup final in 1966.
That process took 13 years to complete. On their showing here, that is at least how far away England are from another World Cup triumph.comments