The United States held England to a 1-1 draw in World Cup Group C opener, with a stunning blunder by English goalkeeper Robert Green costing his team victory in Rustenburg.
An apparently harmless 25-meter (yard) left-foot shot from Clint Dempsey in the 40th minute went straight at Green but the ball bounced off his right glove and trickled over the line for an equalizer last night.
"It's one of those that you see and people say, 'How come that never happens to me,'" Dempsey said. "Finally, it's a goal that probably the 'keeper should have made a save on. They all count the same when they go in."
Green seemed confident he wouldn't be scarred by it.
"Mentally we're strong enough to get over it and as a goalkeeper these things happen," Green told Sky TV. "You prepare yourself for not letting it affect you."
England captain Steven Gerrard had given England the lead in the fourth, charging into the area and shooting with the outside of his foot past Tim Howard for his 17th international goal.
England, pursuing its first World Cup title since 1966, created more chances but the Americans held firm under pressure with a string of saves from Howard, who was voted player of the match.
"It was a difficult game," Gerrard said. "I think the important thing in the first game is not to lose."
Green's error brought looks of dismay from English fans who were a majority in the sellout crowd of more than 38,000 at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium.
But England manager Fabio Capello refused to censure his goalkeeper, publicly at least.
"He made one mistake but in the second half he also made a good save," Capello told a news conference. "This is football. The most important thing is the score at the end of the game."
Gerrard saw Green's error as the game's turning point. "Unfortunately we've let a poor goal in and we couldn't go on and get the winner," he said. "The goal shocked us a bit. ... It took us a while to get over it."
England won nine of its 10 qualifying games to secure a spot in South Africa but in warmup games ahead of the tournament it recorded a series of uninspired performances.
At the final whistle, American fans applauded and waved their flags as their team came over to greet them, while the English supporters stood mostly in silence after their team filed off the field with heads bowed.
Our first game is still about getting something, but when you go behind early, I thought the response was good," US coach Bob Bradley said. "I think after the goal, we started to put some plays together and built up confidence."
Bradley commended his players on holding their own against the more favored England team.
"It was a fast, hard game and we were pleased with the way our midfield was able to compete with England," he said.
Green's slip recalled a similar mistake by Scott Carson against Croatia which denied England a place at the 2008 European Championship.
The goalkeeping position has long been England's weakest link. Paul Robinson, who started at the 2006 World Cup, lost his place after a series of errors. David James was on the bench in Rustenburg despite his nickname "Calamity."
Dempsey became only the second American to score in two World Cups. He also scored in the 2006 tournament.
"At least we got a point, that's the positive," Dempsey said. "We've got to go out and win these next two games."
Both countries can still claim one of the group's top two places and advance to the next round. The other two teams in the group, Algeria and Slovenia, play Sunday. Both are regarded as weaker teams than England or the US.
Gerrard's early strike helped settle the England team while the Americans struggled to find any rhythm.
The United States had little to show for its efforts before its goal. The best chances came from headers as playmaker Landon Donovan twice set up Jozy Altidore to head wide.
Wayne Rooney, regarded as England's most threatening player, saw little of the ball and had little impact on the match. He traveled to South Africa after being dogged by injuries that prevented him from helping Manchester United's failed bid to win the Premier League and Champions League.
Emile Heskey slammed into Howard in the 29th, hitting the goalkeeper in the chest with the toe of his boot as both went to meet a low cross from Aaron Lennon.
Heskey, making his first start since October, broke clear in the 52nd but shot straight at Howard, who came sprinting to the edge of the penalty area.
Howard was called into action again soon after as he tipped an effort from Frank Lampard over the bar, and at the other end Green deflected a shot from Altidore onto the crossbar in the 65th.
Rooney almost connected with a cross from Gerrard at the back post, and then set up substitute Shaun Wright-Phillips for a clear shot from the left which Howard stopped.
Capello cranked up the pressure late in the match, bringing on the lanky Peter Crouch with 10 minutes remaining to supply Rooney with more possession, but there was no way through the American defense. (AP)