Happy birthday, Fabio Capello, who turned 64 today. Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, time for the harsh reality: Generalissimo, you have failed us.
You and all your overpaid, pampered England stars. I can honestly say I have never witnessed quite such a shambles as last night’s 23rd game at the 2010 World Cup—a drab, goalless draw against mighty Algeria.
It was all set up for a major Italian birthday celebration. All day long, England’s 30,000 travelling fans had turned South Africa’s Mother City into the mother of all parties in the shadow of Table Mountain.
The USA and Slovenia had slugged out a 2-2 draw. Group C was there, begging to be taken.
And the opponents? Algeria's Desert Foxes, recently beaten by Slovenia in the second worst game of the tournament so far. England have never lost to an African country in 17 games.
They did their best to do just that last night.
The problem? England’s overpaid, pampered Premier League stars are simply not motivated by a huge red-and-white gathering at the brand new Green Point Stadium. We see other teams crying their eyes out during the anthems; this lot are barely moved.
In fact, they barely moved all night.
Captain Gerrard admitted afterwards: “Not good enough. Why? I don’t know. We weren’t aggressive enough. We didn’t win the ball back well enough. This was Algeria’s cup final, the managed to get a draw off us.
“We need more, we want to stay in this tournament. We weren’t good enough in the final third to make the breakthrough.
“No excuses. We’ve got to win the last game. That means more pressure. You’ve got to play under pressure.”
Algeria coach Rabah Saadane must have thought all his birthdays had come at once, as England started like a train—an express going backwards fast. The first half hour, England barely got a touch, took only 44 percent of the possession, and generally couldn’t be bothered.
They played for perhaps 10 minutes before halftime and managed their single shot on target, a scuffed left-foot effort from Frank Lampard on 32 minutes. His first meaningful touch of the game was saved by Rais M’Bohli, the standby Algerian goalkeeper.
Any Chelsea fans explain how their 20-goals-a-season midfielder can be so utterly awful?
Here’s your birthday gift, Mr. Capello: advice. After a half like that, you’re supposed to rip into your team. Even Sven Goran-Eriksson managed that. We all took the micky out of him, but at least he got us to three successive quarterfinals in major championships.
This lot will be lucky to get out of the group.
With Robert "Phokeng" Green axed, David James—at 39 years and 321 days—became the oldest World Cup debutant. Nearly old enough to remember when it mattered playing for England. His biggest scare? A lax back pass from John Terry, the man who lost his captain’s armband for his off-field escapades.
Wayne Rooney, proclaimed the new Pele, was playing like the real Pele—the one currently retired and aged 69. Rooney, so masterful for Manchester United, produced a hat trick at one point during the dire second half.
Yes, three times he singlehandedly halted England’s attack with ham-footed touches.
They can do it for United, Chelsea, and Tottenham when they are surrounded by talented foreigners. But together, in white, they are a bumbling circus. Given their off-field shenanigans, perhaps they should be re-dubbed the Three Loins: Ashley Cole, Terry, and limp Lamps.
You got my drift yet? All those England fans, all those miles, all the preparation, all the hype—and we were comfortably providing the worst fare of the World Cup so far. German legend Franz Beckenbauer said during the week England had resorted to kick-and-rush football.
Wrong. They rush, but they rarely get a kick. Even against Algeria with their 17 French-born players and hopeful smiles.
Sure, the closing stages were marked by a couple of flusters in the green penalty area. But it was never dangerous. Tonight, Slovenia, a nation of two million, stand top of the group. England, a nation of nearly 50 million, have got them next, in Port Elizabeth on June 23.
What will this lot get up to there? I dread to think. Happy birthday Generalissimo —now get to work.
Neal Collins (nealcol on Twitter) is in South Africa to get very angry about England and promote his first novel, A GAME APART, the real story behind the 2010 FIFA World Cup. For more information, see www.nealcollins.co.uk .
England: James, Johnson, Carragher, Terry, Ashley Cole, Lennon, Barry, Lampard, Gerrard, Rooney, Heskey.
Subs: Green, Dawson, Crouch, Joe Cole, Warnock, Upson, Milner, Wright-Phillips, Defoe, King, Carrick, Hart.
Algeria: Rais M'Bohli, Bougherra, Belhadj, Yahia, Kadir, Yebda, Lacen, Halliche, Boudebouz, Ziani, Matmour.
Subs: Gaouaoui, Mansouri, Ghezzal, Saifi, Djebbour, Bellaid, Laifaoui, Guedioura, Medjani, Mesbah, Abdoun, Chaouchi.
Referee: Ravshan Irmatov (Uzbekistan)
1. England are unbeaten in all 15 previous matches against African opposition.
2. Algeria had lost all three games against Euro teams in 2010, aggregate score 0-7.
3. England’s only previous WC game on 18 June came in 1986, with a 3-0 win over Paraguay (Lineker 2, Beardsley).
4. Fourteen years ago today, England spanked Netherlands 4-1 at Euro '96, the performance of a generation.
5. Wayne Rooney has failed to score in his last six England games.
6. Algeria have lost their last three WC games without scoring. It’s 301 minutes of WC footy since they scored—Djamel Zidane netting vs. Northern Ireland in 1986.
7. Seventeen members of Algeria’s squad were born in France.