England melt in World Cup pressure cooker
After England treated their fans to a second excruciatingly dull World Cup performance in South Africa on Friday, those wanting answers were left with a bemused looking Fabio Capello and an irate Wayne Rooney rant to television cameras.
England 0 Algeria 0 was not what anyone had in mind for Friday’s Group C showdown in Cape Town and Three Lions’ fans certainly were not expecting to wake up to British tabloid headlines such as ‘Roo-boo-zela’ and ‘Cape Clowns’ the next morning.
England, who waltzed to World Cup qualification with two games to spare, were widely expected to put their opening (and for Rob Green, embarrassing) 1-1 draw with the United States behind them and take hold of the group with a straightforward victory over Algeria.
From kick-off it was painfully apparent that was not going to happen. Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard appeared never to have played together before in England’s central midfield, while Aaron Lennon struggled to make an impact once more.
England talisman Rooney, enduring a barren scoring spell, spent much of the game too deep, desperately looking for the ball only to lose it when in possession.
Algeria, at times, played the better of the football, slicing through giant holes in England’s midfield, who often inherited possession rather than won it back – one of Capello’s pet hates.
The Italian coach’s substitutions also caused some confusion after bringing on Shaun Wright-Phillips, ineffectual in the tournament opener, and giving striker Peter Crouch just minutes on the field once more.
England are not the first side to slip up here – European champions Spain’s 1-0 defeat to Switzerland raised many eyebrows, as has France’s woeful form and Germany missing a penalty in a defeat against Serbia – but it was the soulless manner of England’s performance that will have tongues wagging and pile much pressure on them ahead of their June 23 showdown with group leaders Slovenia.
Many people like Capello, and appreciate the professionalism and work rate he had appeared to instil in his men. However, if that fails to resurface in South Africa and England do not beat Slovenia to ensure a last 16 berth, the tide of opinion may swiftly begin to change.
PHOTO: England’s Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard, Emile Heskey, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney (L-R) line up during a free kick near Algeria’s Hassan Yebda (R) during a 2010 World Cup Group C soccer match at Green Point stadium in Cape Town June 18, 2010. REUTERS/Carlos Barria