South Africa 2010 was when England’s Golden Generation would finally fulfil their undoubted promise. They had missed out on qualifying for Euro 2008 but that had been under Steve McClaren, the "wally with the brolly".
Now the England team, which boasted John Terry and Ashley Cole at the back, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the heart of midfield, and Wayne Rooney up front, had a proven international winner in the driving seat.
Fabio Capello had picked up league titles in Italy and Spain, and his imprimatur of success seemed apparent as England cruised through qualifying, winning nine of ten and scoring 34 goals.
The preparation for South Africa was professional: England’s base would be a purpose-built £20m hotel with two training pitches. What could possibly go wrong?
As soon as the group games began against the US, Algeria and Slovenia – scarcely a group of death – the brittle nature of the team and the rigidity of Capello’s beloved 4-4-2 came to the fore.
A 1-1 draw against America, followed by a goalless horror-show against Algeria meant they had to beat Slovenia to progress.
They did by a single Jermain Defoe effort, but America’s 1-0 win over Algeria meant they topped the group and England would face perennial rivals Germany in the second round.
In the game’s first half, the deadly Germans took England apart; 2-0 up by 32 minutes, it looked all over. Capello’s side had a lifeline when Matthew Upson pulled a goal back on 37 minutes, then two minutes later another one of those acts of God particular to English football occurred.
As a resurgent England pushed forward, Lampard picked up a loose ball and crashed a shot from the edge of the box onto the underside of the crossbar. Almost everyone at the stadium saw the ball then land half a metre behind the line before bouncing out.
However, chancing his arm, the German keeper grabbed the ball and made as if it was still in play. The ref waved play on. Lampard’s celebrations were cruelly cut short. The Germans almost scored from the resulting attack and would go on to a crushing 4-1 victory.
England had crashed out of another tournament, with the villain of the piece the Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda. In truth, their uninspiring football had done for them, but fans of the national team could once again say "we wuz robbed".
Seth Jacobson is The National's London-based Home Page Editor