PORT ELIZABETH, June 21 – Enigmatic England must find the solution to their poor World Cup start against Slovenia here Wednesday or face the ignominy of crashing out in the group stage for the first time since 1958.The opening 1-1 draw with the United States and the uninspiring goalless stalemate with Algeria has left a team hyped up as one of the pre-tournament favourites with little room for manoeuvre.
Three points against Slovenia will ensure England progress to the last 16 and a possible date with Germany.
Defeat and they will be heading for the airport, while a draw will leave their fate hanging on the result of the United States v Algeria game being played simultaneously in Pretoria.
Underperforming Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and co. left the pitch in Cape Town on Friday night with boos from a section of their fans ringing in their ears – a sound even less appealing than the drone of the vuvuzela.
Fabio Capello has said he is "mystified" at the gulf between England’s polished displays in qualifying and training and their toothless performances in Group C.
John Terry on Sunday denied his suggestion that England were paralysed by fear against Algeria, but did agree with the Italian’s accusation of a lack of passion.
"I don’t think any player had that the other night. I’m sure on Wednesday, everyone will have the fire in their bellies," Terry said.
Yet as they approach this defining moment England can take heart from history.
In 1990 the Three Lions found themselves in a similar predicament.
Under then manager Bobby Robson they had opened their Italia ’90 campaign with two 1-1 draws, leaving them requiring a win against Egypt to qualify.
They made it, and went on to reach the semi-finals.
Then there is the more recent case of France, at the 2006 finals in Germany.
Shackled by the fear of repeating their woeful World Cup display in 2002 France began badly, drawing with Switzerland and South Korea.
That left Zinedine Zidane and his teammates requiring victory over Togo, which they achieved.
With qualification assured it was a totally unrecognisable France that turned up in Hanover to sweep aside Spain 3-1, Brazil and Portugal, before losing the final on penalties to Italy.
Capello believes his England can emulate the class of 1990 and Les Bleus four years ago.
"I hope that after playing a big performance the minds of the players will be free and we can play like the England that I know," the Italian said.
The England boss must decide whether to make significant changes to his line-up.
Joe Cole — arguably England’s best player in Germany four years ago – is one of the cards he has yet to play.
England’s depleted back four will also have to be reshuffled once more with Jamie Carragher suspended.
Unlike England, table toppers Slovenia need only a draw to progress after a 1-0 defeat of Algeria and a 2-2 draw with the United States.
Slovenia have the added motivation of revenge. They claim Rooney deliberately set out to injure defender Bostjan Cesar in a 2009 friendly.
"We will try to wind him up and make it an unpleasant experience for him and his teammates," said Cesar at the time of the draw.
Whatever happens on the pitch an electric atmosphere is assured off it with England’s sizeable travelling fan club set to wake up this sleepy Eastern Cape port.
Whether England wake up is another matter.
KEY TO MATCH
If England can shrug off the burden of expectation weighing them down they can regain the impressive form they showed in qualifying for South Africa and make it into the last 16. Once again key to that will be the form of striker Wayne Rooney.