x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Toothless England struggle

England stuttered to a mediocre goalless draw with Algeria, leaving their chances of reaching the knockout phase hanging by a thread.

Wayne Rooney, centre, tries to find a way through the Algerian defence at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town.
Wayne Rooney, centre, tries to find a way through the Algerian defence at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town.

England 0 // Algeria 0

CAPE TOWN // Fabio Capello would have been grateful for the relentless drone from the vuvuzelas at Green Point Stadium last night as they drowned out the chorus of boos from the England fans that greeted the full-time whistle. England stuttered to a mediocre goalless draw with Algeria in Cape Town, leaving their chances of reaching the knockout phase hanging by a thread. Another small crumb of comfort for Capello was there were no goalkeeping errors from David James, who got the nod for the gloves ahead of Robert Green.

Going in to the crunch Group C match, England enjoyed an unbeaten record against African teams. In 15 previous matches against opposition from the continent, England had won 11 games and drawn four. But in a scoreless first-half, Algeria comfortably traded attacks with a side ranked No 8 in the Fifa world rankings, 22 places above the Africans. England were dismal early on, apart from a Steven Gerrard cross-shot in the third minute - which a back-pedalling Rais M'Bolhi, replacing Faouzi Chaouchi in goal, theatrically claimed.

The Desert Foxes were content to play on the counter, and playmaker Karim Ziani set the tempo in opening exchanges. Indeed, had Ryad Boudebouz shot instead of needlessly dummying the ball in the seventh minute, Algeria might have gone in front. But as Capello's touchline gestures grew increasingly animated, England began to turn the screw. First, Heskey headed over from a corner before Aaron Lennon, cutting in from the right, played in Gerrard, whose effort sailed over.

The partisan English crowd held their breath when an in-swinging cross from Nadir Belhadj, the Portsmouth left-back, evaded the outstretched leg of Jamie Carragher, standing in for the injured Ledley King. But James gathered . On the half-hour mark, Gerrard and Wayne Rooney played a neat one-two on the edge of the Algerian box, but again Gerrard miscued, his tame effort gratefully held by M'Bolhi.

A flowing England move, involving Rooney, Gerrard and Lennon, ended with the Tottenham winger finding Lampard only 10 yards out. But the Chelsea midfielder, so potent at club level, could not beat an increasingly busy M'Bolhi. With England running out of ideas, Ziani fired wide as half-time approached. Both sides continued to struggle to create chances after the break. With three white shirts waiting, Gerrard failed to find any with a lazy centre, before Carragher picked up a needless booking which rules him out of the Slovenia match on Wednesday in Port Elizabeth.

Algeria then mustered up two long-range free-kicks, but Hassan Yebda's poor efforts summed up the North Africans' timidity in front of goal. Lennon, now on the left, jinked his way past Madjid Bougherra and curled a dangerous floater towards goal. But as an off-form Rooney lurked menacingly, Rafik Halliche got the slightest of touches and cleared the danger. It was to be Lennon's last touch, with Shaun Wright-Phillips replacing him from the bench.

Rooney let fly with a 25-yard pop-shot as frustrations grew, prompting Capello to make his second change - Jermaine Defoe for the energetic, but ineffective, Heskey. Defoe's pacy runs instantly troubled Algeria and England looked more dynamic. But still, with no end product, England could not score. With 10 minutes left, Ziani departed and Adlane Guedioura came on. Capello threw on Peter Crouch for Barry but he might not have bothered. Capello will need all the luck he can get to ensure England's final group game is not their last in the tournament. 

emegson@thenational.ae 

Man of the match Madjid Bougherra (Algeria)

 

Group C
Country M W D L GF GA Pts
Slovenia 2 1 1 0 3 2 4
USA 2 0 2 0 3 3 2
England 2 0 2 0 1 1 2
Algeria 2 0 1 1 0 1 1