Was it the pressure of expectation? Was it just an abject
The truth of the matter is that is was quite possibly a combination of all three. The pressure on an England side to meet and indeed exceed expectations is always great at a major tournament, perhaps never more so than now, following their rebirth under the Italian coach and a near flawless qualifying campaign. Whatever went wrong with England on Friday night, we should not forget there was also an Algerian side in Cape Town, a group of players who were expected to roll over in the face of the Three Lions. It would seem that Rabah Saadane’s men had not read the script.
The build-up to the game in the shadow of Table Mountain had seen a defiant stance from the Desert Foxes. They wanted the world to know that they were prepared to give England a game, but few expected them to deliver on these supposedly empty promises. And yet in the Green Point Stadium on Friday night Saadane’s side were well worth their point, greeted with scenes of elation from the squad and a chorus off boos from the travelling English fans. England’s display was at best average, although some would consider that a generous tag, and they showed little sign of wanting the win. However, we must not let the legacy of the fixture become that of the worst of Capello’s reign. It should be remembered for the spirited showing of the Desert Foxes, who gave strong performances across the pitch.
Fears over goalkeeper Faouzi Chaouchi’s training injury proved justified and so it was the relatively inexperienced Rais M’Bolhi who took his place in the last line of defence. This should have been a massive boost for the English, who surely would have relished testing a rookie stopper from distance with the unpredictable ball. In truth, any Algerian concerns were brushed aside with an accomplished performance from the Slavia Sofia keeper, who was only tested once by Lampard, and otherwise was relatively untroubled. Should Chaouchi return to fitness before Wednesday, he should make the starting line-up for the potentially decisive United States fixture but Saadane can rest assured that he has in M’Bolhi a confident keeper, ready to step in again should he be called upon.
Defensively speaking it was hard to fault the Desert Foxes on Friday. Anther Yahia delivered a captain’s performance and Rangers midfielder Madjid Bougherra also proved to be in top form. It would be criminal to ignore Nadir Belhadj however, who was dependable in his defensive duties but keen as ever to press forward and join the hunt for goals. Algeria may not have shown quite as much attacking prowess as they had suggested they would, but they certainly looked their most dangerous coming forward with Belhadj on the ball, exploiting the gaps created on the English right hand side by the forward thinking Aaron Lennon and Glen Johnson. His efforts were ultimately not rewarded with any goals or indeed many clear cut chances but no doubt his card will have been marked by the United States in readiness for Wednesday’s meeting in Pretoria.
So what of Wednesday’s contest? Although still somewhat unlikely, Saadane could yet see his side shock the world again and progress to the second round. Should England fail to best Slovenia in Port Elizabeth, victory in their final game would see them escape a group which they could never have predicted when the draw was made. It would be a massive ask for the Algerians to do so but in a group where nobody has really impressed, there is no reason to suggest that it is an impossible task. The United States will again start as heavy favourites, but their draw with Slovenia was far from the confidence boost they would have hoped for following a disappointing opener against England. Should Saadane’s side stay fit in the lead up to Wednesday, then they will have given themselves every chance of progressing and as we have already seen, that is all that they have asked of themselves. To still have a realistic chance of making the second round going into the final group match is a fantastic achievement and one that few would have predicted for Algeria. Who is to say that the dream is about to die now?