England’s World Cup campaign has stalled with a second successive draw in South Africa. This time it was the Algerians who held England in a goalless match devoid of any real skill or flair.
Fabio Capello was reported by the BBC to be confused by his team’s display. The Telegraph called the abject performance, “lacking in belief and energy”. And the Guardian described England as, “an apology for legitimate World Cup contenders”.
Where did it all go so badly wrong for England?
Capello had selection changes forced on him for this match. But he did also make one very big decision by dropping goalkeeper Robert Green following his inexplicable gaffe against the USA and replacing him with the more experienced David James. And the keeper had a solid game, although he was not extended too often.
At the back, the manager brought in Jamie Carragher to replace the injured Ledley King. The Liverpool man has only just come out of international retirement and his selection ahead of form player Michael Dawson seemed strange to me. Carragher lacks pace and struggled against a lone Algerian striker. His second booking means he will miss England’s final group match, so another change in central defence will be required.
Gareth Barry returned from an ankle injury to start in midfield in place of James Milner, which meant that Stephen Gerrard was played on the left in a 4-4-2. This is not the England captain’s natural position and he failed to influence the match as a result. Playing Gerrard wide is simply a waste of a talented central midfielder.
In theory, Frank Lampard should have been freed to play a more attacking role by the introduction of Barry as a defensive midfielder. But he had a poor game, showing nothing like the form he has for Chelsea. Perhaps it was the pedestrian nature of the English performance, lacking the type of quick passing that Lampard thrives on in club football, but his contribution was minimal.
Up front, Capello retained faith in Emile Heskey. The Aston Villa striker works hard but offers no goal threat at all. And that put the burden of goal scoring firmly on the shoulders of Wayne Rooney, who has had a very poor tournament. He might be carrying an injury, but he seems to be a shadow of the player who scored so freely for Manchester United last season. And Rooney often dropped far too deep to try to get involved in the game, perhaps letting his frustrations override his instructions.
It was clear that a change in formation was needed, but when Capello did make a substitution in the 63rd minute he took off the ineffectual Aaron Lennon and brought on Shaun Wright Phillips to play in exactly the same right wing role. He made a bright start with one good run but then faded out of the game entirely.
Heskey was finally replaced by Defoe on 74 minutes and the Spurs striker looked lively but did not see a clear sight of goal. Peter Crouch’s late introduction in place of Barry on 84 minutes smacked of desperation.
Joe Cole must be wondering exactly what he has to do to get onto the pitch in this World Cup. After coming back from injury near the end of the season Cole was in fine form in Chelsea’s title winning push. He is pacy, creative and a goal threat – in other words exactly what England have been missing. Surely Capello will turn to him for the final match?
England came into this tournament feted by the media as one of the favourites to win the World Cup. They are now one match away from the most humiliating of early exits. The fans are turning on the team with choruses of boos heard at the final whistle last night. And the mood in the camp cannot be at all good.
Fabio Capello has one final game against Slovenia to turn things around.
I believe he has to change from his rigid 4-4-2 formation and get more midfield support to Rooney. For me Joe Cole has to start to add to the attacking options in a game that England simply have to win. And Gerrard must be played in a central role, perhaps even as a second striker, just behind Rooney.
England will still be favourites to progress. They should beat Slovenia – but then, on paper at least, they should be sitting with six points right now. A total of five points would not represent a great return from what seemed like a relatively kind draw, but it could be enough to win the group.
The irony is that securing second place might mean avoiding the Germans in the next round.