Friday, June 18, 2010

2010 World Cup: England v Algeria

Craning my neck over the garden fence again.

Seems them next door had a spot of bother last week with some of their former tenants turning up and doing their best to spoil the party.

The problem with high expectations is that the pain is so much greater when things don't quite go to plan. A 1-1 draw with the United States was not a disaster for England. It was hardly a 3-1 defeat to Peru.

But anything short of a five or six goal win was never going to be enough for the media. Given their World Cup record it amazes me that the press still think England should be winning every tournament. I keep thinking that one day they will realise that the weight of evidence suggests 1966 was a golden one off rather than a magnificent confirmation of England's status in this competition.

But no, they never do.

England were mediocre - and certain individual performances were unlikely to make anyone Green with envy - but they remain where they were before a ball was kicked: in amongst that group of nations that might be considered in the second tier of favourites for the title.

They are better than America but they weren't the only team to be sucked into a dull opening game where deficiencies were more evident than skill. And they avoided defeat, they remain alive and kicking in a weak group.

The Robert Green situation is interesting but I'm convinced Capello will have decided to keep him in the team. One mistake doesn't make him a bad goalkeeper. And what are the options if he's dropped?

Play David James. Fine, but he's shown before that he can throw in the odd gaffe of his own. If he did that tonight then where would Capello go next?

Throw in the rookie Joe Hart for a potentially decisive final game against Slovenia? That's not a gamble he's likely to take.

And, oddly enough, the press hysteria at the mistake is likely to have done more damage to Green's confidence than the mistake itself. With friends like these... (See update at the bottom of the post.)

Gareth Barry's return will give England a better shape and more of a platform to bring Wayne Rooney into the game, an imperative of any English game plan but one that seemed beyond them on Saturday. It says much about England's midfield superstars that it's the relatively unsung Barry who has become the key figure in coaxing performances of sustained cohesion.

Is Capello bracketing Jermain Defoe with the new World Cup ball as a diversionary tactic to focus the press away from his real thoughts?

Possibly. But maybe he also has a concern over Rooney. The Manchester United striker spoke earlier in the week of being a bit knackered after a long season. For a man who tends to revel in perpetual motion that would have been worrying for the coaching staff.

If Capello has the slightest concern about Rooney's ability to perform tirelessly for 90 minutes then Defoe might be an attractive option. Emile Heskey is many things but he's hardly a goalscorer. Defoe could be better placed to share that burden with Rooney while also providing a bit more finesse for the Algerian defence to deal with.

I don't know. The only thing I'm convinced of is that Fabio Capello won't be panicking. And, I suspect, that will probably be enough for England to get past Algeria tonight.

So, what do I know? Absolutely nothing. The Guardian reports at 09:44 that:
David James is set to be handed a shock recall to England's starting line-up for this evening's critical Group C fixture against Algeria after Fabio Capello decided against selecting Robert Green following his costly error against the United States.

The veteran Portsmouth goalkeeper is to replace Green at the Green Point stadium after the England manager opted for experience in a fixture that the national team can ill afford not to win. Capello had been impressed by the manner in which Green recovered his poise following his handling mistake against the US, which presented Clint Dempsey with an equalising goal, but he remained concerned that his defenders' faith in the goalkeeper had been significantly eroded.

Furthermore, Green appeared nervous in front of the media at open training at the ground yesterday, fumbling two shots from Ray Clemence in one of the early drills.
I think that's a mistake. And it kind of shafts my theory that Capello won't be panicking. England will still win though.