Algeria mystifies England
No one expected a scoreless draw from EnglandÃ¢ÂÂs 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.
Ã¢ÂÂThis is not the England that I know,Ã¢ÂÂ he said with a shake of his head. Ã¢ÂÂI 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.Ã¢ÂÂ
In the two-year run up to the competition, CapelloÃ¢ÂÂs 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.
Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs the last chance,Ã¢ÂÂ said captain Steven Gerrard of the group decider with Slovenia. Ã¢ÂÂWe need to find more spirit. We werenÃ¢ÂÂt aggressive enough against Algeria, we never pressed the ball enough and we didnÃ¢ÂÂt win it back quick enough. We didnÃ¢ÂÂt show enough urgency and we certainly werenÃ¢ÂÂt 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.Ã¢ÂÂ
Former captain John Terry didnÃ¢ÂÂt shy away from the teamÃ¢ÂÂs poor performance but remained confident. Ã¢ÂÂWe still have a chance of going through the group and topping it,Ã¢ÂÂ he said, Ã¢ÂÂso itÃ¢ÂÂs in our hands. If we go and win the game we go through. WeÃ¢ÂÂve made it difficult for ourselves but itÃ¢ÂÂs still in our hands.
Ã¢ÂÂI think as a group of players, we all need to relax and do what we do week in and week out,Ã¢ÂÂ he continued. Ã¢ÂÂWe shouldnÃ¢ÂÂt be changing the way we play and we shouldnÃ¢ÂÂt be worried about other teams from IÃ¢ÂÂve seen. Argentina probably looked the best so far, and although everyone went on about Germany, they got turned over. The other teams donÃ¢ÂÂt worry me but itÃ¢ÂÂs a must to get through the group if we want to go on.Ã¢ÂÂ
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 Ã¢ÂÂ 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. Ã¢ÂÂI donÃ¢ÂÂt know what bookie you use,Ã¢ÂÂ 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 RooneyÃ¢ÂÂs retort to the television cameras as he left the pitch angered many, but on the night his manager defended the travelling fans. Ã¢ÂÂI think the fans can decide to do what they prefer,Ã¢ÂÂ he said. Ã¢ÂÂI respect the fans because they follow us and always help us.Ã¢ÂÂ
Meanwhile, in the bars of Cape TownÃ¢ÂÂs V&A Waterfront, there wasnÃ¢ÂÂt 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.