CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Derided by their coach and booed by their fans, England's players could face a humiliating World Cup exit if they don't beat Slovenia on Wednesday.
After drawing 0-0 against Algeria on Friday, England coach Fabio Capello admitted he could not even recognize his own team, the one he has crafted for two years. Supporters jeered the players as they walked off the field, and a sullen Wayne Rooney lashed out at the abuse from the 25,000 English fans in the crowd.
England's players know they are facing elimination, and that they should be playing far better.
"Obviously it's disappointing," England striker Peter Crouch said. "We want to give the fans something to go home and cheer about. They made an effort to come here and it's a shame we didn't have anything to show for them."
Failure to advance to the second round would be among the biggest soccer debacles in England's sports history, especially after the impressive qualifying campaign that raised hopes of a first major title since winning the World Cup on home soil in 1966.
But as it has so many other times, England's play failed to match the heady talk and huge expectations at home. The team looked sluggish and uninspired in an opening 1-1 draw against the United States, with goalkeeper Robert Green's blunder costing the team two points. Its performance against Algeria was even worse.
"It was one of those games when things didn't seem to click," Crouch said.
Midfielder Gareth Barry said England was "flat."
"There were not really too many clear-cut chances," Barry said. "For England, that's the least we expect."
British media condemned the team as a shambles and criticized Wayne Rooney for his reaction to fans who jeered the players off the field Friday night. As he headed toward the locker room, Rooney shouted into a TV camera: "It's nice to see your own fans booing you."
The striker issued an apology Saturday afternoon.
"I am as passionate about the England team as anyone," Rooney said in a statement. "Last night, on reflection I said things in the heat of the moment that came out of frustration of both our performance and the result.
"For my part I apologize for any offense caused by my actions at the end of the game."
That was after The Daily Mail ran a picture of Rooney under the headline "Raging Fool" and The Sun's front page blared: "Roo blows fuse over boos."
"This was not the type of show England had hoped to stage and the tournament is giving these players a severe test," the newspaper wrote.
The Daily Mirror offered that England coach Fabio Capello has put too much pressure on the forward.
"From the moment the Italian came into the job, his entire approach has been about one idea, geared towards Rooney," it said. "He changed the shape of the team to make him the central figure, told the planet to beware and made the Manchester United man his talisman.
"But last night England did not have Wayne Rooney. Yes, they had a fellow called Rooney playing in the No. 10 shirt, but they did not have Wayne Rooney."
England missed numerous simple passes and gave the ball away far too easily against a team making its first World Cup appearance in 24 years. Many of the old problems that frustrated the team under former coaches Steve McClaren and Sven-Goran Eriksson resurfaced.
Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard struggled to work in tandem, raising doubts that Capello can devise a formula to incorporate both attacking midfielders.
Gerrard was hardly convincing on the left side, where England has lacked a natural since Chris Waddle in the early 1990s.
And Emile Heskey's diligence hardly compensated for his poor touch, which left Rooney starving for quality passes.
Capello summed up the performance succinctly: "We played a no good game."
"In these two games we played, that was not the same team I know," the Italian said. "This game I didn't see the spirit of the team."
England needs a dramatic turnaround against Slovenia, the smallest nation at the 32-team World Cup, but one that has played above all expectations. It leads the group with four points, and can reach the second round for the first time in its history with a draw.
England and the United States have two points each, but the Americans hold an advantage with two more goals scored. Algeria is just behind with one point.
"Hopefully we can get better," Crouch said. "If we win next week we are through. It's simple enough. It's a massive, massive game."