England, with John Terry's mutiny quelled, take on Slovenia in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday knowing they must raise their game considerably or face the ignominy of crashing out of the World Cup at the group stages 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 US v Algeria game. The build-up to this defining moment for England and Fabio Capello, who is widely expected to resign if they lose, has been overshadowed by Terry's abortive challenge to the Italian’s iron-fist reign.
While the former skipper will start against Slovenia, Capello has left no doubt that he was enraged by the Chelsea defender's public comments of discord in the England camp. Capello responded by demanding a “big performance” from Terry to make up for for the player's “big mistake”. Terry's Chelsea and England teammate Frank Lampard insists that media talk of a crisis meeting between the players and Capello were over-hyped.
“I've not read the reports but from what I hear, I think it has been completely overdone in terms of crisis meeting and things like that,” Lampard said. “The Algeria game had to be addressed and it was not nice viewing,” he admitted of the video analysis.
Underperforming Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and co. left the pitch on Friday night with boos from the fans.
Capello says he is “mystified” at the gulf between England's displays in qualifying and their performances in Group C.
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 1990 campaign with two draws, against the Republic of Ireland and Holland, leaving them requiring a win against Egypt to qualify. They made it, and went on to reach the semis.