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Frustrating England draw a blank against Algeria, heading for shock exit?

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capello.jpgIn the second FIFA World Cup Group C encounter of the day, England took on Algeria at Green Point Stadium, Cape Town with an eye on taking control after a 2-2 draw between USA and Slovenia had put them in with a great chance of going top of the group with a good win against the Africans. But an awful team performance meant they came away with only a point, and now find themselves sitting in third place in the group on the verge of a shock exit.

In the build up to the match, the question on most people's minds was whether or not Fabio Capello would stick by Robert Green after his gaffe in the previous match against USA had cost England a win. Many believed he would, after having criticised the Jubalani ball for being the reason behind the West Ham keeper's error, but a couple of hours before kick-off news filtered out that David James would be drafted in. Emile Heskey retained his position, despite facing criticism for missing a couple of glorious chances in the previous match, while James Milner made way for the return of Gareth Barry. Skipper Steven Gerrard moved out to wide left, as he has so often during the Qualifying rounds.

The Algerian team, meanwhile, axed Faouzi Chaouchi who was also guilty of a costly howler in the opening round, which saw them lose to Slovenia in their opening match. He was replaced by Rais M'bolhi. A number of their players made all the right noises in the pre-match press conferences, speaking of how they didn't fear the English team. And they certainly didn't bother on choking the English game by crowding the midfield, instead opting for a 4-3-1-2 formation.

Those expecting England to leave an impression with a strong performance in this match could hardly have been more wrong. The first half hardly saw any action, with the only chance of note falling to Frank Lampard when an Aaron Lennon cross ricocheted off an Algerian defender into his path. But, in a manner typifying the contrast in his performances for club and country, the midfielder hit it straight at Mbolhi when he really should have done better. And, unbelievably, that was the only shot from inside the Algerian penalty area that England had in the first 45 minutes.

It was all too frustrating to watch, with the England players clearly not comfortable with the Jabulani ball. The Algerian defence was nowhere near the Swiss defence that Spain had to face, with spaces opening up on more than a handful of occasions, but just about nobody seemed interested in taking advantage of it. Every time a promising position arose, an awful pass followed. Not once did England manage to get a player beyond the Algerian defence, and as the frustration set in, they resorted to shots from distance which were either straight at the goalkeeper or well off target. In fact, the highlight of the first half may as well have been a moment when Steven Gerrard's shot went so high, he may as well have been aiming to send the ball out of the stadium.

In fact, Algeria seemed more comfortable on the ball than their illustrious opponents. Karim Ziani came the closest, when he broke down the left flank, cut inside and took on a strike from 20-25 yards that went just wide of the left post. Unfortunately for the crowd, they lacked the finishing ability to convert any spell of pressure into a serious goal threat.

As the second half began, everyone would have been praying for someone to bring the game to life. Fabio Capello chose not to make any changes, with the belief that his half-time talk would have been sufficient to arouse his players. But, sadly, it wasn't.

The second half continued just as the first ended. Any sniff of an opportunity came to nothing due to a wayward pass. Frank Lampard was, by this time, so invisible in the game that the sight of Michael Carrick warming up near the touchlines would have actually filled the hearts of England fans with hope. And this is the same Michael Carrick that so many believed never deserved to be in the squad in the first place.

Fabio Capello finally chose to ring in the changes as he brought on Shaun Wright-Phillips in place of Aaron Lennon. The Man City winger's introduction looked for a moment as it would be a catalyst for the English revival, as the team were soon playing with greater purpose. Heskey found himself in the box with the ball, and as he tried to cross the it, it took a deflection off Nadir Belhadj and the rebound went just over the bar.

Another golden opportunity soon arose, as England won the ball in midfield and suddenly, Steven Gerrard had the ball in the Algerian penalty area with three teammates rushing in to target. With the Algerian defence outnumbered, Gerrard had all the time in the world to pick his target, and yet he somehow managed to send it straight to an Algerian. That move summed up the night for England.

Algeria's efforts were meanwhile restricted to free-kicks, most of which crashed into the wall or were cleared with ease. On one occasion as fulltime approached, they nearly snatched a win. Nadir Belhadj curved in a dangerous cross and the English defence failed to deal with it. David James rushed out and was just about to get to it. Had he not, there were three green-clad players right behind him waiting to pounce.

It was a relief when the referee, Ravshan Irmatov, blew for the end of the match. It had become too painful to watch by the hour mark, and despite some promise after that, there was a sense of anti-climax to any move. If one was trying to determine whether or not the England team was of the pedigree of World Champions, the opinion would definitely have been in the negative. Algeria, meanwhile, would be happy with a point, having come into the tournament with hardly any expectations of going through to the next round.

England need to get back to the drawing board. By the end of the match boos echoed around the stadium and that is never a pretty sight at the World Cup. Not for one moment did they look like a quality team. Each and every player, apart from David James who was largely left untroubled until the final Algerian chance, has questions to answer. Wayne Rooney's touch was horrendous, and his frustration was simmering again. The passing, as stated earlier, was catastrophic. There were a number of times when England threatened the Algerian defence, but they lost the ball all too cheaply.

Franz Beckenbauer had called England a kick-and-rush team after the previous match, and after this display you have to agree with the German legend. Their final match against Slovenia, on the 23rd of June, is suddenly a must win encounter, and if today's match is any marker then we could easily see them heading for an early exit. Emile Heskey, for all his hard-work up front, is not a potent force, and they need to keep the ball better. Jamie Carragher will also miss the next match due to his second yellow card, meaning one of Matthew Upson or Michael Dawson will have to take to the field. And, most importantly, someone needs to step up and be a leader out on the pitch.

Algeria, meanwhile, would try to make the task easier for England when they face USA on Wednesday, the 23rd of June. But, without any disrespect to the African team, they hardly ever seemed to be the reason behind the England's frustration. USA showed a lot of character when they came back from 2 goals down to nearly snatch a win against Slovenia earlier today, and barring a major debacle should be able to beat Algeria. That win would guarantee USA a passage to the Round of 16, meaning the Slovenia-England tie becomes a virtual knockout.

Line-ups:

 England (4-4-1-1): James; Johnson, Carragher, Terry, A. Cole; Lennon (Wright-Phillips 62'), Lampard, Barry (Crouch 84'), Gerrard; Rooney, Heskey (Defoe 73')

Algeria (4-4-2): Mbolhi; Bougherra, Halliche, Yahia, Belhadj; Kadir, Lacen, Yebda (Mesbah 88'), Matmou; Ziani (Guedioura 79'), Boudebouz (Abdoun 73')

Final Score: England 0-0 Algeria

 

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Also Read:

USA 2 - 2 Slovenia - Match Report

File Photograph Copyright: Ryu Voelkel

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