England’s World Cup campaign hit a new Nadir when Portsmouth-based Algerian Belhadj put the knife in before Friday’s win-or-bust Group C encounter in Cape Town.
Nadir Belhadj played 32 games for relegated Pompey last season. His nation slumped to defeat against Slovenia in their opening game at Polokwane on Sunday.
The French-born 27-year-old insists his side, ranked 30th in the world after seeing off African champions Egypt to reach South Africa, have no fear of England’s Premier League superstars, ranked eighth.
Belhadj said, “We could create history by qualifying from our group. It’s easy to create chances against this England team. The defence is one of their weak points. We have seen some gaps."
He may have a point.
Spurs centre-back Ledley King is out. His half-time replacement in the 1-1 draw against the USA in Rustenburg last Saturday was Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher. The man who reversed his international retirement to be here was booked and done for pace by Jozy Altidore in an embarrassing sprint which nearly left England pointless.
Algeria offer Rafik Djebbour, the 26-year-old AEK Athens star, as their spearhead... and he’s quick. Belhadj added, “It is a vital match against England, who are clearly the stronger side, but we are going to play a lot better in attack than we did against Slovenia in our first match."
"It will be an open game and we must win - but so must England. They are the group favourites but anything is possible in football. On paper, England are the best team, but they have had some difficulties, especially in the friendly against Japan,” Belhadj said.
With Matthew Upson and captain Rio Ferdinand’s late replacement Michael Dawson also in the squad, John Terry has yet to discover who will partner him at the back. England coach Fabio Capello is refusing to release his selection until two hours before kick-off, though he has told fit-again Manchester City midfielder Gareth Barry he will feature.
Sochaux striker Ryad Boudebouz, the 20-year-old Algerian striker also born in France, backs up Belhadj, insisting, "England are the team under pressure. They are the ones who claimed that they came to win the World Cup."
To cap it all, their coach Rabah Saadane added, "England have their backs to the wall. We have nothing to lose and everything to win."
With Saadane employing an ultra-defensive 4-5-1 formation, the question most are asking is: will there be goals? Before yesterday’s games, there had been 25 scored in 16 games, the lowest on record – compare that to Germany at the same stage four years ago (39) and Japan/South Korea in 2002 (46).
Given the performance of the goalkeepers in their opening games – few need reminding of Rob Greens’ Phokeng howler. Algeria’s Faouzi Chaouchi did little better with Slovenian Robert Koren’s only goal in Polokwane – that may be about to change.
Belhadj believes Portsmouth team-mate David James, 39, is the answer to Capello’s goalkeeping conundrum. "For me it was a surprise not to see David in goal against the USA. I think he is a far better goalkeeper and much more experienced, and he should be in goal against us later this week. Green made a very bad mistake and I can't see how he can carry on," Belhadj said.
“But I have a lot of respect for all the England players," Belhadj insisted. "I have played with some of them, such as Glen Johnson and Peter Crouch, but, on match day, I will fight for my national team. On the pitch, they will not be my friends."
ENGLAND: Green; Johnson, Upson, Terry, A Cole; Lennon, Lampard, Barry, Gerrard; Rooney, Heskey.
ALGERIA: Chaouchi; Bougherra, Belhadj, Yahia, Halliche; Lacen, Ziani, Yebda, Foued Kadir, Djebbour, Matmour.
Both sets of fans may want to participate in the Host City Cape Town Fan Walk. Starting from Cape Town’s main thoroughfare, Adderley Street, and the spanking new Green Point Stadium. Open to ticket holders and ticketless fans, the local paper describes the 2.5km amble as ‘… safe, entertaining and probably the most fun way to get to the stadium.’
Fans will be offered vendor kiosks and street entertainment ranging from buskers and minstrels, to jazz bands, rappers, opera singers and solo artists belting out the blues. Oh, and if you thought Vuvuzelas were dangerous, try this: they’ll have a 20-foot horn blowing three-metre flames along the route too.
There will also be a parade from St. Andrews Square to the stadium beginning 90 minutes prior to kick-off. Kiosks begin operating six hours before kickoff and entertainment begins five hours before kickoff.
Neal Collins is in South Africa to promote his first novel A GAME APART, the World Cup book you must read. For more details see www.nealcollins.co.uk .
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