Tense, nervous headache? That was nothing compared to the players and coach. Captain Steven Gerrard looked white as a sheet as the anthems were sung. And if they had it bad, imagine how the bean counters at the FA were feeling. The stadium was full of England fans save for rows of empty hospitality boxes, as if to remind the FA of what was in store at Wembley if the team in red failed to qualify.
The pre-defined England World Cup narrative – the one forged in 1986 and 1990 and referred to this week ad nauseam – had it that England should respond to the turgid performances and turmoil in the camp with a rousing response. This was no 3-0 demolition of Poland, but did have echoes of the 1-0 victory over Egypt that saw Bobby Robson's men through to the group stages in 1990.
It felt like a very English performance, balancing hope and blind terror in equal measure. For every green shoot of recovery there was a cause for concern. But there can be no doubt the England dressing room was a far happier place here than in the bowels of the Green Point Stadium in Cape Town, where England drew 0-0 with Algeria. The fans who spent thousands getting to South Africa raised the roof and will now hit the road again with hope restored.
As cries of "Rooney, Rooney" rose from the stands of the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, it felt like a nervous rapprochement between former best mates. Wayne Rooney, a sulking, brooding presence on Friday, was still not at his best but visibly grew into the match until forced to go off limping. He was close to scoring when put through by a flighted Frank Lampard pass but Samir Handanovic pulled off a stunning point-blank save to push the ball on to the post.
Fabio Capello, having crushed John Terry's one-man insurrection, shuffled his pack. But despite the clamour for Joe Cole to start – from Terry and, oddly, David Miliband among others – the Italian was determined to do it his way. This was Don Fabio firmly re-establishing his authority. If Terry was suffering from the blow to his ego, to his credit it didn't show.
Largely, Capello's changes worked. Bringing James Milner, one of his favourites, in for Aaron Lennon gave the side more balance. Early on, it looked as though Milner was going to reprise his nightmarish performance in Rustenburg against the USA, which saw him replaced before half-time. But after a nervy opening, he recovered well and showed a willingness to take on his man and cross the ball that eluded Lennon, who is the more natural winger.
Two of the Capello's new selections combined for the goal. Milner swung in a cross from the right, Jermain Defoe volleyed past Handanovic from close range. The pair almost combined again minutes later, the ball falling to Lampard, who failed to find the target.
After the goal, the weight pressing down on the rest of the team began to lift. Steven Gerrard, sticking to a more disciplined role on the left, and Lampard began to find their range. Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson, both impressive here, began bombing down the wings as they do for their clubs. Though the England forward line lacked height, Defoe provided a zip that was missing in the first two matches.
Where England's players hid in Cape Town, here they wanted the ball. Where they were timid and looked at the floor, they took responsibility and at least tried to play with tempo and urgency. Milner and Gerrard looked up before the passed the ball. The inability to do the simple things well that so puzzled Capello in Cape Town was largely cast off.
Matthew Upson set the early tone, betraying his nerves by giving the ball away almost immediately. By the end, he was making a superb last-ditch tackle to preserve the slender lead. The opening stages were like Cape Town redux with England players unable to find one another with simple passes and too little movement up front. Rooney again looked out of sorts, sluggish, and Lampard still not the player he has been most of the season for Chelsea. But slowly they settled down.
The goal, when it came, was a straightforward affair – a simple ball from Barry to Milner on the right touchline, who swung in a cross and Defoe volleyed in from close range. A degree of confidence began to course through England and passes that were going astray in Cape Town began finding their target.
Everything was done to make England feel at home. There was rousing support, with England fans dominating the crowd to an even greater extent than in Rustenburg and Cape Town and loudly drowning out the vuvuzelas for the first time.
The patchy pitch, clearly worn at both ends, could also have been prepared with England in mind. But unlike Wembley, it played better than it looked. Even the all-red kit was perhaps designed to trick Steven Gerrard into believing he was playing for Liverpool rather than England.
But still the nerves jangled. One slip, one mistake, and England were going home. As full-time neared, the passing got looser but the team kept their discipline.
David Beckham, who looked like he should playing snooker at the Crucible rather than sweltering on the touchline in Port Elizabeth in his Marks and Spencer suit and tie, looked on impassively. Before kick-off, Rio Ferdinand tweeted a picture of himself back home with St George's crosses on both cheeks.
But after a period of five days in which so much of the attention has been on what was happening off the pitch, it was a relief to focus attention on the 11 men on it.
It was a "job done" sort of performance. The huge roar at the final whistle, and the team huddle in the centre circle, felt like a huge outpouring of relief. For England, the World Cup starts here. Time to move onto the next stage of the narrative and crank up the hype machine ahead of a possible clash with Germany. It's unlikely to be any less tense.
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