England were held to a deeply frustrating goalless draw by Algeria in Group C with neither side offering much in front of goal. Fabio Capello cut a frustrated figure on the touchline as his side looked limp and laboured throughout.
In a tame first half, neither goalkeeper was ever fully extended by anything either side had to offer. Rais M’Bolhi was forced into a diving save once from a Frank Lampard half-volley but too often England’s shooting was straight at him. On one occasion, Steven Gerrard’s shot bounced up at M’Bolhi off the turf but he held on comfortably. David James was tested by some high balls and low crosses into the box but chances were few and far between. Karim Ziani fired just wide of the near post from 25 yards after cutting inside from the left after 35 minutes but the scorers were rarely troubled as the half ended goalless
England enjoyed some brighter passing moves in the Algerian half after the break but they struggled to produce an end product to round off any of their intricate sequences. After 55 minutes, Gerrard found himself in a shooting position inside the area on the right but he was torn between a crack at goal and passing to three teammates who had joined him in the box and the chance fell away. With 20 minutes left, Emile Heskey found himself in an even better position than Gerrard but he opted to square across the face of goal for Wayne Rooney and the ball was deflected over the bar. The resultant corner was delivered to the head of Gerrard but he put it over the bar. Capello sent on Shaun Wright-Phillips and Jermain Defoe in a bid to change the game but they rarely threatened, and Peter Crouch was then given little over five minutes to have any impact as the game moved away from England. Algeria offered little going forward but comfortably earned their point with their defensive display.
The World Cup has warmed up over the past couple of days after a quiet opening but no one appeared to have told England. Those expecting an easy English win were sorely disappointed by a stale performance from Fabio Capello’s men. There was little in the way of concerted pressure on the Algerian defence until the last 10 minutes before the break and even then England failed to create anything concrete. Rais M’Bolhi, Algeria’s rooky goalkeeper, had looked nervous in the early minutes but England failed to take advantage by testing him with high balls into the box. When they did start to get a sight of his goal late on in the first half, the ball seemed magnetically drawn to his chest, such was the tameness of the England shooting. Only once did he have to extend himself from Frank Lampard’s shot but he dealt with it comfortably enough. Wayne Rooney struggled to impact upon the game and England offered little on the wings.
Algeria will have been the happier side after 45 minutes. They definitely lack a presence in attack but their passing was crisper and more penetrative than anything England had to offer. With an extra body behind the ball, they seemed to outnumber England constantly and were definitely more of a proposition than their slack display against Slovenia had suggested. David James was hardly busy but he found himself in a few awkward situations, dealing well with crosses into the box and slightly less well when England were forced into feeding him hurried back passes.
The first England substitution was something of a mystery. Aaron Lennon had been poor and there could be no qualms about him being replaced, but England needed a change in system rather than a straight swap. Bringing on a diminutive right-winger for a diminutive right-winger was not going to solve all England’s problems. On a day when England’s untouchables were all underperforming, England needed boldness and inventiveness from Capello, not timidity. Having recalled Joe Cole at the last minute and seen him impress in the warm-up games, it now appears that the joker in the England pack has fallen back out of favour. Bringing on Defoe for Heskey was hardly an inspired tactical move considering England were struggling to create anything for the forwards to feed on and Crouch was given far too little time to have any impact. For once, the England manager needed to be prepared to replace a big star like Rooney, who offered one of his most abject performances ever in a white shirt. England desperately needed some invention from their manager but like his team, he was lacking.
A point apiece leaves neither team out of the competition but has to favour the Algerians far more than England. This is a match every observer will have expected England to win comfortably as they look to top the group and instead they now have to produce against a Slovenian side who impressed in the first half against the United States earlier. Algeria have a chance against the Americans in their final game if they are as solid as they proved today and just need to find something up front. If they had had a decent forward against England, then there is every chance they might have sprung a surprise and won tonight. Group C is still very much open but the table will not make happy reading for any England fan.
England – James – Johnson, Carragher, Terry, Ashley Cole – Lennon (Wright-Phillips 63), Barry, Lampard, Gerrard – Rooney, Heskey (Defoe 74)
Algeria – M’Bohli – Bougherra, Yahia, Kadir – Belhadj,Yebda (Mesbah 89), Lacen, Halliche – Ziani (Guedioura 80) – Boudebouz (Abdoun 73), Matmour