Algeria mystifies England

No one expected a scoreless draw from England’s Cape Town clash with Algeria, least of all Fabio Capello. After the game, the coach who'd led the team so confidently through qualification seemed completely lost for words as he struggled to comprehend what it was that had gone wrong.

“This is not the England that I know,” he said with a shake of his head. “I hope when we play the next game we have forgotten this performance and we play without fear, because the mistakes of the players have been incredible.”

In the two-year run up to the competition, Capello’s decision-making with England has looked faultless, but at this World Cup he has been confronted by many of the problems faced by his predecessors and he has ended up wondering how such a talented group can fail to perform when it really matters. This time, the players seemed just as bemused.

“It’s the last chance,” said captain Steven Gerrard of the group decider with Slovenia. “We need to find more spirit. We weren’t aggressive enough against Algeria, we never pressed the ball enough and we didn’t win it back quick enough. We didn’t show enough urgency and we certainly weren’t clinical enough around the box. In qualifying we had the majority of the team firing on all cylinders and we need to recover that spirit really quickly.”

Former captain John Terry didn’t shy away from the team’s poor performance but remained confident. “We still have a chance of going through the group and topping it,” he said, “so it’s in our hands. If we go and win the game we go through. We’ve made it difficult for ourselves but it’s still in our hands.

“I think as a group of players, we all need to relax and do what we do week in and week out,” he continued. “We shouldn’t be changing the way we play and we shouldn’t be worried about other teams from I’ve seen. Argentina probably looked the best so far, and although everyone went on about Germany, they got turned over. The other teams don’t worry me but it’s a must to get through the group if we want to go on.”

After the game David James remained the only player with a smile on his face, and he must have been privately pleased with his own performance – finally, a World Cup debut after many attempts, and as the oldest player in the competition. However, he expressed surprise when one international journalist insisted that England had started as favourites to win the World Cup. “I don’t know what bookie you use,” he laughed as he made his way out of stadium. It was the most pertinent comment of the night.

England fans had booed their team towards the end of the game and Rooney’s retort to the television cameras as he left the pitch angered many, but on the night his manager defended the travelling fans. “I think the fans can decide to do what they prefer,” he said. “I respect the fans because they follow us and always help us.”

Meanwhile, in the bars of Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront, there wasn’t the same level of anger directed at the team that could be heard back home, just a feeling of deja vu, as this kind of performance had seen so many times before.

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