On paper, England and France had two of the easiest groups heading into the World Cup. But unrest in both camps ensured that nothing was straightforward. Neither team played anywhere near their best and heaped pressure on themselves as a consequence.

For the French, the tournament was a disaster from start to finish and the blame must be shared around. From the appointment of Raymond Domenech’s successor prior to the trip to South Africa, to the lacklustre display against Mexico, to the handling of the Nicolas Anelka incident, France seemingly got everything wrong.

And, much like in 2002, they were sent home in embassment after the group stage. A 2-1 defeat to South Africa, in which Yoann Gourcuff was sent off in the first half, just summed up the French woes. Bottom of the group, one point, one goal. Considering the level of talent available, it was a feeble effort.

The England camp was less divided, despite the John Terry saga, but the football was no better. Fabio Capello’s men had appeared equipped to finally erase memories of dull, unconvincing tournament displays. But apart from Steven Gerrard’s classy finish against the Americans, England had been devoid of ideas until the slight improvement against Slovenia, which secured a spot in the second round.

The performance in the goalless draw with Algeria ranked up there with some of England’s worst. Sloppy passing was a feature and the side looked like 11 strangers playing together for the first time. Emile Heskey had a nightmare from start to finish and, though he was the biggest culprit, he was not alone in that regard.

Unlike the French, England still have time to make amends, thanks to the win over Slovenia. It is a reprieve that they hardly deserve, but they must cash in. Capello has to find a way to get more from Wayne Rooney, which also means improved delivery from wide positions. And the team is crying out for some passion: a few crunching tackles, lung-bursting runs and overall urgency.

In fact, this tournament has proved how far a team can go with togetherness and commitment. Some of the so-called smaller nations have excelled over the past two weeks with displays brimming with guts and spirit, ensuring that nothing can be taken for granted. Hot on the heels of France’s demise – and that of Cameroon – defending champions Italy were dumped out by Slovakia. Clearly, reputations count for absolutely nothing this summer.

England have lived to fight another day, but they will be packing their bags like the French unless they raise their game in the last 16. The old enemy Germany await and if that does not stir the English spirits then nothing will.