Sunday 22 October 2017

Fear factor takes grip to leave English facing abyss

England 0
Algeria 0

Algeria's goalkeeper Rais Ouheb Mbouli (R), Majid Bougherra (L) and England's Wayne Rooney react just after the ball goes over the bar
Algeria's goalkeeper Rais Ouheb Mbouli (R), Majid Bougherra (L) and England's Wayne Rooney react just after the ball goes over the bar

Henry Winter in Cape Town

ENGLAND continue to contest their own game at the World Cup -- the Fear Factor. Alarmingly lacking in belief and energy, Fabio Capello's side continue to splutter, whether at altitude or now at sea level. Heaven knows what Franz Beckenbauer will make of this. England fans' verdict was clear: they howled in derision.

After a second successive draw, it's back to the drawing board for Capello, who desperately needs to shake Frank Lampard into life and devise a system that brings more out of the dispirited Wayne Rooney before the final Group C match with leaders Slovenia.

The sooner Capello pushes Steven Gerrard up behind a front-running Rooney, the quicker England can shake off the shackles of anxiety.

Capello tried all his other attacking options last night, starting with Emile Heskey, bringing on Jermain Defoe and then Peter Crouch to no avail as the second half continued as haplessly as the first.

The first half had finished with a flurry of boos detectable amid the vuvuzela horns and England trumpets. Capello's side had been poor, lacking in belief, energy and shape. Only Gareth Barry impressed, and though Gerrard attempted to drive his team on, but Capello's system seemed to inhibit the players.

Once again, England had lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, although with Barry holding and Gerrard drifting in from the left.

Poise

So keen to get on the ball, the Liverpool midfielder soon vacated his starting station, bringing some energy and poise to the centre but meaning that Ashley Cole was often exposed to the twin threat of Ryad Boudebouz and Foued Kadir. Fortunately, Barry was alive to the danger and darted left to assist Cole.

England's ambition was similarly tempered by a laxness in possession early on, with Heskey and Lampard gifting the ball to the Algerians.

They may dislike the Jabulani but this haste to get rid of it could have been costly in the opening exchanges as Algeria looked decent going forward, particularly out wide.

Algeria had begun in a 3-4-2-1 formation, with Nadir Belhadj and Kadir operating as wing-backs, stretching England and supporting a fluid front three of the excellent Karim Ziani, Boudebouz and Karim Matmour.

Ranked 30th in the world to England's eighth, Algeria were quick to press their more vaunted foes and swift to ensure they struggled to settle.

Capello was beside himself with anger at times, shouting "come on, come on'' and gesticulating wildly as moves broke down.

England were less than the sum of their considerable parts. Algeria had clearly read of the turmoil between the sticks, with Capello now having three disaffected keepers. David James, who has been at odds with management, started, meaning frustration for the in-form Joe Hart, and humiliation for Robert Green, dropped for his fateful fumble in Rustenburg.

Algeria soon tested James, Boubdebouz lifting a Garryowen on top of him. James briefly looked nervous but settled into the half. He always had to be on his toes as Algeria were quite capable of hoisting in dangerous crosses.

Ziani, stationed on the left but gliding menacingly inside, was always brimming with positive intent.

One of the Wolfsburg attacker's deliveries was met with a neat flick by Hassan Yebda, whose header failed to trouble James. England's No 1, now living up to his shirt number, then made a good catch under pressure.

Despite the brief show of angst at the break, England fans remained wedded to Capello but these have been testing times in the relationship.

Capello's players spluttered in the first half, even with Barry bringing some order to deep midfield.

The 40,000 England fans had to endure a frustrating period, particularly with Heskey soon penalised for climbing on Madjid Bougherra. Such was the lack of English threat on Algeria's goal that a bird settled on the stanchion, admiring the view, even changing ends at the interval -- hardly the greatest endorsements of England's attack.

But where there is Gerrard, there is hope and the captain began driving forward. Seeing Rooney down the inside-left channel, Gerrard found his great friend, and collected the return but could not beat Rais M'Bolhi, Algeria's keeper.

The ball was not sticking to Heskey, nor was he flicking it accurately to Rooney, although at least the Aston Villa reserve showed the required work-rate by tracking back to dispossess the lively Ziani.

Threatening

England were threatening to move out of second gear and Aaron Lennon lifted in a cross which Rafik Halliche headed out.

Lampard's low shot was well held by M'Bolhi, although the Algerians screamed that the Chelsea midfielder had handled.

England had the ball but the bird on Algeria's goal hardly needed to take evasive action, using the top of the net as a hammock and then dropping down for a little wander around the six-yard box.

It fluttered away only when Barry let fly, startling the bird if not M'Bolhi.

The worry for England was that Rooney seemed out of sorts, penalised for pushing Kadir over, then shooting listlessly from range as the half petered out.

Capello's half-time words surely carried venom and England slightly improved in the second period.

Gerrard, released by Lampard, then wasted a fine chance, his poor pass cut out by Anther Yahia.

Jamie Carragher was cautioned, his second of the tournament, ruling him out of the next game, meaning that either Matthew Upson or Michael Dawson must partner John Terry against Slovenia.

England were stirring, Rooney getting on the ball more, Lennon switching to the left and lifting in a cross that Rooney just failed to reach before the Spurs flier was replaced by Shaun Wright-Phillips just after the hour.

Still fear stalked England. Terry under-hit a back-pass but fortunately James was quickly to the rescue, just beating Matmour to the ball.

Desperately attempting to shake off this sloth, Heskey went close, forcing a corner from which Gerrard's powerful header was saved by M'Bohli.

Capello had seen enough, hooking Heskey and sending on Jermain Defoe for the final 20, but to no avail.

Rooney had the final say, but only to hit out angrily at the England fans who sounded their disapproval at the final whistle. It was a bum note to finish on. (Daily Telegraph, London)

England -- James, Johnson, Carragher, Terry, Ashley Cole, Lennon (Wright-Phillips 63), Barry (Crouch 84), Lampard, Gerrard, Rooney, Heskey (Defoe 74).

Algeria -- M'Bohli, Bougherra, Belhadj, Yahia, Kadir, Yebda (Mesbah 88), Lacen, Halliche, Boudebouz (Abdoun 73), Ziani (Guedioura 80), Matmour.

REF -- R Irmatov (Uzbekistan).

Irish Independent

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