ROODEPOORT, South Africa - Nothing stands between the United States and England any longer. Not a training camp in Princeton; not a send-off series on the East Coast; and now, not even the team's lone on-site soccer exhibition against Australia.
Saturday afternoon, in a stadium meant for lesser events, the United States dominated Australia, 3-1, in an international friendly.
With that result, the U.S. team's warm-up matches concluded.
Saturday's final whistle not only signaled a victory but also set the United States on a direct path - an open-field breakaway - toward celebrated England, ranked among the world's top five and home to one of the game's greatest strikers, Wayne Rooney.
On Saturday, England and the United States open World Cup play inside a new stadium in Rustenberg, about two hours north of Johannesburg.
Saturday's match, in which forward Edson Buddle scored two goals and Herculez Gomez tacked on a third, was a toned-down sample of the coming soccer madness. The game was played at Ruimsig Athletic Stadium, a concrete structure built into the side of a hill.
Nearly 7,000 fans - some Aussie, some American, some African - swarmed the horseshoe stands as the U.S. team tried its best to play well without revealing anything important about its potential starting lineup or style of play.
Early in the match, English superstar David Beckham, who is injured and will miss the World Cup, arrived to watch the U.S. team from a balcony seat. On display was a stronger squad, especially defensively, than the team that took the field May 29 against Turkey at Lincoln Financial Field.
With the exception of Adidas' new ball, the Jabulani, which nearly every player dislikes because of its unpredictability, the U.S. team seemed adjusted to all things World Cup.
"The biggest problems that were caused was the way the ball flew at times," midfielder Landon Donovan said. "It puts your defenders under a lot of pressure . . . we're going to have to spend some more time dealing with that."
Donovan, along with his teammates, blamed the ball's flight pattern for most of Saturday's mistakes. Australia scored its goal on a corner kick, but had at least a half-dozen other chances on crosses.
"Judging the ball and working on set pieces are going to be crucial going forward," defender Jay DeMerit said.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley started Buddle and Robbie Findley - two players built for speed - and watched each create a handful of chances.
Forward Jozy Altidore, who had been starting, missed Saturday's match with a sprained right ankle. Altidore officially is listed as day-to-day and completed a number of pregame, on-field drills without limping.
"No decisions will be made yet on the starting lineup," Bradley said when asked whether Buddle might have earned a spot. "But you saw many things that have highlighted his MLS season."
Early in the game, Buddle scored after stealing the ball from an Aussie defender and then blasting a shot to the right of the goalkeeper. Before halftime, Buddle headed in a cross from U.S. defender Steve Cherundolo.
"Seems like everything Edson touches is a goal," U.S. keeper Tim Howard said. "In a three-game tournament like this, in the first round you're never going to play the same lineup twice, so we need everyone clicking."
Gomez's goal came in the 92d minute, on a cross from Donovan.
But now, all that is over, and England is ahead.
In the minutes after Saturday's victory, as his second unit continued scrimmaging Australia, Bradley looked as if there weren't enough hours in the day, or minutes in the hour.
He abruptly stood from his news conference, speed walking back to the sideline.
"Now we have a regular week leading into a game," Bradley said.
There will be very little "regular" about it.
Notes. Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov will work Friday's opening World Cup match between Mexico and South Africa. Carlos Simon of Brazil has the United States-England game the next day. . . . The North Korean World Cup squad held its fourth training session in South Africa without foreign media allowed in. Access was granted to only a North Korean TV crew. . . . Netherlands winger Arjen Robben suffered a left hamstring injury, and Nigeria midfielder John Obi Mikel was ruled out of the tournament because he has not recovered from knee surgery.