2 Johnson – 20 King – 6 Terry – 3 Ashley Cole
7 Lennon – 14 Barry – 8 Lampard – 4 Gerrard
21 Heskey – 10 Rooney
Gareth Barry’s return to the England midfield saw Steven Gerrard revert to the left-hand side, a position he thrived in during qualifying for the tournament. In the early stages, the Liverpool man wandered inside, presenting Ashley Cole with more room to scamper forward. Gerrard’s lifted pass saw Cole advance into the Algerian penalty area, only to be dispossessed as he looked to cut inside. Cole’s pace injected much-needed pace into English attacks, but the bulk of moves were slow, methodical, predictable, and often ended with a player in a white shirt attempting to beat Rais M’Bholi from distance. With Barry included to screen the back four, both his fitness and defensive capabilities were given a stern examination in the first half. The Manchester City man twice had the answer to testing Algerian crosses and cleared his lines well.
After Robert Green’s unfortunate error against United States, rumours swarmed about him being taken out of the firing line. Fabio Capello’s tournament ritual has been to announce his side two hours prior to kick-off but confirmation that David James had been handed the gloves arrived long before the squad walked through the entrance at Green Point Stadium. Yet Green’s successor’s most difficult test came from his own man, as John Terry’s sloppy back pass forced James to race off his line and clear before Karim Matmour latched onto the stray ball.
Glen Johnson and Aaron Lennon toiled down the right-hand side, but with little reward. Lennon’s insistence to neglect the option to cross and dribble inside left teammates and fans frustrated. With events not going to plan, Gerrard switched flanks with the Tottenham speedster in order to revitalise England, who had lulled after a promising start. With Johnson’s foremost thought to venture forward and support attacks, Karim Ziani continually found space down the right flank. His ability to play off either foot caused Johnson a number of concerns, with the defender unsure where Ziani would attack next. He drifted inside, allowing Nadir Belhadj to stretch the English back line with his pace and his primary intention was to keep the ball flowing, providing Les Fennecs with attacking continuity.
Shots from range remained as close as England came, with Rooney’s anonymity in games a growing concern. Again the forward, who had most prolific season yet with Manchester United, was a spectator. When England powered forward, Rooney surrounded himself with Algerian defenders. There were seldom moments where he would drop deep and receive the ball, looking to penetrate a defence that stood strong. There were not enough driving runs and not even enough times where Rooney lambasted his colleagues for wasting possession. Despite Rooney’s abject performance, the factor still seeming to stifle England is the reluctance to play to how they know, how they have been educated as footballers, the English way. Head Coach Capello has repeatedly praised the high-paced style of the Premier League and it remains bewildering as to why England approach games with such caution.
Two points from two games is far from the return anyone connected to the England camp would have wished for, yet qualification to the latter stages of the World Cup is still in their own hands. The team are without a goal in over two hours of football now and lacked guile, incision and urgency in the final third. They approach their final group game knowing that they must win, and if pressure was an issue in the games thus far, then Capello needs to deflect it away from his players before expectation defeats England again.
England 0-0 Algeria
James – Johnson, Carragher, Terry, Cole – Lennon (Wright-Phillips 63), Barry (Crouch 84), Lampard, Gerrard – Heskey (Defoe 74), Rooney.
M’Bohli – Bougherra, Yahia, Halliche, Belhadj – Boudebouz (Abdoun 73), Lacen, Yebda (Mesbah 88), Ziani (Guedioura 80) – Kadir, Matmour.