Algeria held England to a goalless draw in the Group C encounter in Cape Town, leaving both sides still with a chance of qualification for the Round of 16 of the FIFA World Cup™. Although most of the play was dominated by England, it was the north Africans, 22 places below Fabio Capello's men in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, who were the happier of the two teams at the final whistle
All the talk pre-match surrounded Capello's starting XI, with the Italian selecting David James in favour of Robert Green, the keeper culpable for Clint Dempsey's equaliser against USA. Out too went James Milner for the fit-again Gareth Barry, while Jamie Carragher deputised for the injured Ledley King. The early signs were encouraging for England who began pressing from the first whistle. Their passing certainly looked crisper than during last Saturday's 1-1 draw in Rustenburg and they created several good chances during a first half, that while ending goalless, had plenty of entertainment value.
England captain Steven Gerrard had the game's first real opportunity when he almost caught Rais Mbolhi out with a dipping shot. Then Emile Heskey rose highest from Barry's inswinging corner from the right, but failed to direct his header on target. The patient build-up, all too infrequent in the Three Lions' last performance, was proving beneficial. Yet it was by no means one-way traffic. Algeria fired their first warning shot when Karim Ziani's cross found Hassan Yebda, whose back-header landed comfortably into the grasp of James. Karim Matmour and Ziani also had attempts on goal during a point midway through the opening 45 minutes as the Desert Foxes enjoyed a territorial advantage.
England came to life again thanks to the prompting of Wayne Rooney, who dropped deeper to increase his influence. A move begun by the Manchester United man saw Aaron Lennon find Frank Lampard who forced Mbolhi into a scrambling one-handed save from 12 yards. Barry and Rooney both tested the keeper on the stroke of half time, but Algeria had more than earned parity at the break.
Only some sublime defending from Madjid Bougherra denied Gerrard a clear scoring opportunity after the interval, when Rooney's intelligent flick-on seemed destined to set up the Liverpool midfielder. As time ticked on, though, England's frustrations at those missed opportunities grew, never more so than when Gerrard himself passed the ball straight at an Algeria defender, with Rooney and Lampard lurking in the box.
That said, it took a last-gasp intervention from Rafik Halliche to prevent England from taking the lead. Gerrard fed Heskey in the box and with the striker's shot apparently destined to hit the target or at least present Rooney with the simplest of tap-ins, the defender's outstretched leg deflected the ball over the bar. From the resulting corner, taken by Lampard, Gerrard's bullet header was claimed at the first attempt by Mbolhi. England were knocking at the door, but just not finding an answer. Either that, or they were finding the door firmly closed in their face by Bougherra, who was simply outstanding at the heart of the defence.
But the England fans, who made up the majority of the crowd at the Green Point stadium cared little of the merits of the opposition and showed their frustration by booing a wayward Lampard effort and again when the full-time whistle went. Capello, on the occasion of his 64th birthday, left the arena with his head bowed, as did the majority of the England players. It all comes down to the final group matches with England playing current section leaders Slovenia in Port Elizabeth and USA facing Algeria in Pretoria.