18 June 2010

England 0-0 Algeria

Johnson Carragher Terry ACole
Lennon Lampard Barry Gerrard
Heskey Rooney

Bougherra Halliche Yahia
Kadir Lacen Yebda Belhadj
Boudebouz Ziani

NEWSFLASH (Dateline: Cape Town, South Africa) – England crumble under weight of World Cup pressure. Meanwhile, sky is still blue. Updates to follow.

Well, the mostly harmless England we saw against the US wasn’t an aberration. This is simply a disjointed side devoid of ideas and scared of the consequences.

Algeria’s unbalanced, defensive formation – 3-4-2-1, 5-4-1, whatever – baffled England. Rooney remained invisible. Gerrard seemed unaware he was deployed on the left, leaving poor Ashley Cole to try and man the entire flank. Heskey, the outlet on punts forward, couldn’t hold up the ball. England had little but innocuous shots from distance in the first half, and not many of them, despite an untested Mbolhi taking the place of Chaouchi.

In fact, after Gerrard’s cheeky chip almost caught Mbolhi unaware in the 4th (spooky!), Algeria were arguably the stronger side for 20 or so minutes. Belhadj and Ziani pushed back the attacking Johnson and Lennon. Neither keeper had much to do outside of Mbolhi’s nice save on Lampard’s 33rd minute shot, after the Chelsea man collected a cleared Lennon cross. It was as sterile and uninspiring as France/Uruguay, Slovenia/Algeria, or any other “standout” from this World Cup.

They could have played another 90 minutes and it’d still probably end 0-0. Yeah, England had better chances in the second half, and were improved by the Wright-Phillips and Defoe substitutions. Confidence was clearly lacking in Gerrard and Heskey’s chances in the 55th and 70th minutes: put through on the right in similar positions, both centered instead of taking the shot. Unsurprisingly, both "passes" were cut out by Algerian defenders. Gerrard and Lampard also combined nicely (once) through the middle to nearly put Defoe through in the 75th, only to see Bougherra and Belhadj get back, but that was it. Despite Crouch’s introduction for Barry in the 84th, impotence reigned in the final minutes.

There were zero positives as far as personnel go. Every single player disappointed, aside from maybe James, who had little to do, and Carragher, who did little wrong outside of the yellow that sees him banned for England's next match. I don’t know what to criticize tactically, because I don’t think Capello's lacking in that area. The players just look terrible. No inspiration, no belief, and terrified of making a mistake similar to the one that saw Green dropped for this game. You wouldn’t have thought that’d be a problem from the England we saw in qualification, but once again, the World Cup completely changes this country. Getting Gerrard behind Rooney might be a start, but I seriously worry how he’s coping with the captaincy – something I never thought I’d write. I’d also like to know what Joe Cole did to Capello to induce his exile.

All you can say is at least England aren’t eliminated. If they win, they’re through, and the same goes for their opponents as well as the US. Pity that looks like a tough task based on today’s (or last Saturday’s) form. Slovenia – England’s opponents – on four points, and the US, tied with England on two, have been the “best” sides in the group so far.

Now, the pressure will be even more intense. Either catalyze as a team or suffer the deserved slings and arrows of an outraged press.

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