Algeria Preview

You often hear pundits claiming that there’s no such thing as an easy game in the World Cup anymore: while they’re probably correct, it’s difficult to contradict the argument that England’s game with Algeria tomorrow night is potentially our easiest game in Group C.

The Algerians do not travel well; the Desert Foxes also have a very poor recent record against European opposition. As well as losing 1-0 to Slovenia last weekend, they have also recently suffered 3-0 defeats to both Ireland and Serbia. Algeria have won three away games in the past year: 2-0 against the mighty Zambia during World Cup qualification, and wins over Mali and Ivory Coast in the African Nations Cup earlier this year. Algeria were lucky to win the latter: they trailed 2-1 going into stoppage time.

Only three of their squad of 23 play in Algeria including two of the three keepers, one of whom (Faouzi Chaouchi) was to blame for the goal the Slovenians scored on Sunday. The rest of the squad play in Europe and it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that six of them play in France. Closer to home, defender Nadir Belhadj and midfielder Adlene Guedioura play for Portsmouth and Wolves respectively; Madjid Bougherra is a Rangers player, which might explain why he’s not exactly been backwards in coming forwards today.

Compounding their poor record in front of goal, they’ll be without striker Abdelkader Ghezzal, who was sent off for two stupid yellow cards in their first game. Veteran striker Rafik Saifi (who plays in the French 2nd division
for Istres) or the relatively inexperienced Rafik Djebbour of AEK Athens are the only other options at striker: Saifi is the only player in the entire squad who has scored more than ten goals at international level.

If you fancy a punt, it’s possible that we could keep a clean sheet (only Brazil in 1970 and Romania in 1998 have scored against us in corresponding group games since 1966), but in case you hadn’t noticed we’ve got a few issues of our own. Apart from the inclusion of Gareth Barry, the team for tomorrow is still a mystery and – perhaps more worryingly – Stevie G’s goal against the USA last Saturday was the first time an England player had scored in an ‘away’ game since Jermain Defoe scored twice against the Dutch before the start of last season: we don’t have any Japanese defenders up our sleeve for this game. Wayne Rooney and Emile Heskey haven’t scored in an away game since the 4-0 win over Kazakhstan just over a year ago – although I agree with John Motson that Rooney is due a goal for England.

It’s possible that there won’t be that many goals in this game: one of the less appealing scenarios (other than an Algeria win or another draw) would be something similar to the win over Trinidad & Tobago in the last World Cup. That game was going nowhere until two late goals settled it. The last time we failed to score in the second group game was in 1990 (a dreadful goalless draw with the Dutch) and we haven’t scored three since beating Argentina in 1962.

For anoraks and train spotters, here’s the list of the second group games England have played in:

England 0-1 USA (1)
England 2-0 Switzerland (2)
England 0-0 Brazil (0)
England 3-1 Argentina (4)
England 2-0 Mexico (2)
England 0-1 Brazil (1)
England 2-0 CSSR (2)
England 0-0 Morocco (0)
England 0-0 Netherlands (0)
England 1-2 Romania (3)
England 1-0 Argentina (1)
England 2-0 Trinidad (2)
P12 w6 D3 L3 F13 A5

1950: England 0-1 USA (yes, that game)

1954: England 2-0 Switzerland (we beat the hosts!)

1958: England 0-0 Brazil

1962: England 3-1 Argentina

1966: England 2-0 Mexico (Bobby Charlton scores from just outside Wembley station)

1970: England 0-1 Brazil (the Gordon Banks save, the Bobby Moore tackle and a thin…well, thin-ish…Francis Lee)

1982: England 2-0 Czechoslovakia

1986: England 0-0 Morocco (Ray Wilkins gets sent off)

1990: England 0-0 Netherlands

1998: England 1-2 Romania

2002: England 1-0 Argentina (the Beckham penalty)

2006: England 2-0 Trinidad & Tobago

Overall: P12 w6 D3 L3 F13 A5 (so that’s less than a goal a game)

11 Lions expects (and really, really wants!) an England win, although it may not be the landslide that some fans seem to be expecting. Having said that, a convincing win would be just what the doctor ordered and would set us up nicely for the last group game next Wednesday.

We’ll have some kind of reaction either late tomorrow night or on Saturday morning, although after a hellish work week Saturday lunchtime might be a more realistic option. Enjoy the game…and spare a thought for the French.

Only joking!

Egypt Preview

by on March 3, 2010
in Friendlies

OK, so it’s not Tuesday but we’re an hour or so away from kick off so there’s actually still time to bring you some interesting facts and figures about tonight’s opponents.

I’m not sure if Egyptwere chosen to provide typical North African opposition ahead of our game with Algeria or not, but if the pasting our visitors gave the Algerians in the recent African Cup of Nations semi finals is anything to go by then we probably shouldn’t be too worried. We’re not playing Algeria though, we’re playing the country that has won three consecutive African Cup of Nations tournament and arguably ought to have qualified for South Africa.

The appropriately nicknamed Pharoahs (although their Wikipedia entry says something else!) are ranked 17th in the world by FIFA, a position that puts them ahead of  Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Denmark amongst others; they actually rated in the top ten last month, which is the highest point they have ever reached. They have reached the finals of the World Cup twice: in 1934 they travelled to all the way to France and lost their only game 2-4 to Hungary in the first round. In 1990 they were drawn in the same first round group as us and we won our last meeting with them 1-0 with a rare Mark Wright goal.

Somewhat similar to the Mexicans and ourselves, you don’t normally find that many Egyptians playing abroad and tonight’s Egyptian squad seems to confirms this. Only five players play for clubs outside Egypt’s Premier League: strikers Amr Zaki of Hull City and Mohamed Zidan of Borussia Dortmund are the best known of that group. The rest of the team is dominated by players from the two big Cairo teams – six from current league leaders Al Ahly and five from Zamalek. The most capped player in the side is captain Ahmed Hassanwith 173 appearances (he’s been in the national side more or less continuously since 1994) who is also current joint top leading scorer in the squad with Emad Moteab, who has been linked with a number of English clubs in the past and actually was a Bristol City player for about five minutes, but that’s another story for another day.

Due to…ummm…’domestic commitments’ (make of that what you will) there will be no live blog tonight, but there will be some kind of match report posted later. And remember – no booing John Terry because Wayne Rooney said so.

History Repeating Itself?

Thierry Henry has escaped any kind of censure from FIFA over the handball incident against Ireland last year, in much the same way as Diego Maradona did in 1986. The statement that FIFA issued is interesting though – the bold text has been added by us:

“On 2 December 2009, the FIFA Executive Committee asked the FIFA Disciplinary Committee to analyse the handling offence committed by Thierry Henry during the France v. Republic of Ireland match on 18 November 2009, and to consider the possible disciplinary consequences.

“At its meeting on 18 January 2010, the Disciplinary Committee reached the conclusion that there was no legal foundation for the committee to consider the case because handling the ball cannot be regarded as a serious infringement as stipulated in article 77a) of the FIFA Disciplinary Code. There is no other legal text that would allow the committee to impose sanctions for any incidents missed by match officials.”

In case you were wondering (and we know you were), here’s article 77 for you:

‘Article 77 Specific Jurisdiction

The Disciplinary Committee is responsible for:

a. Sanctioning serious infringements which have escaped the match officials’ attention:

b. Rectifying obvious errors in the referee’s disciplinary decisions:

c. Extending the duration of a match suspension incurred automatically by an expulsion (cf. art 18, par.4)

d. Pronouncing additional sanctions, such as a fine.’

So now you know. A deliberate handball in the act of scoring a goal that is missed by the referee is not a serious enough infringement for the FIFA Disciplinary Committee to look at it retrospectively. The last sentence in the statement is interesting as it seems to imply that the FIFA lawyers have had to look at it. You know, just in case any parties that might have had a grievance felt like taking the matter to the next level.

The second incident is reminiscent of what happened at the World Cup in Spain in 1982. Austria and West Germany knew they only had to draw in order for both to qualify for the second round at the expense of Algeria; so it should not have come as a massive surprise that the game – which as much fun as watching paint dry by all accounts - ended 0-0. Since then, the last group games in major international tournaments have kicked of simultaneously in order to prevent that happening again.

Or at least that was how it was supposed to work. On Monday – with both teams knowing in advance that a draw would do – Algeria drew 0-0 with Angola and both qualified for the quarter finals of the African Cup of Nations at Mali’s expense; Mali have launched an official complaint to the CAF about the game.

Hopefully we won’t get any outrageous decisions or games like those mentioned above this summer, but don’t be too shocked if we do. Let’s just hope England aren’t involved in any of them.

‘O wad some Power the giftie gie us…’

Burns Night is a couple of weeks from now, but having been for a bit of a trawl round the internet this evening I came across this gem and was immediately reminded of these lines from Burns’ poem ‘To A Louse’:

‘O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!’

By the way, the Algerians may very well be ‘box fresh’ in June but they lost  3-0 to mighty Malawi in the African Cup of Nations earlier today. If Malawi can put three past them…

Insane Finish To Angola v Mali

The hosts managed to blow a four goal lead in fifteen minutes to share a point with Mali; Angola were leading 4-1 with two minutes left, then Freddy Kanoute (Sevilla), Sadou Keita (Barcelona) and Mustapha Yatabare (Clermont Foot Auvergne 63 in France’s Ligue 2) scored to level the game, with the last two goals coming in four minutes of injury time.

Angola literally ran out of steam and had the game gone on any longer it’s likely Mali would have won.

Reports: Four Dead Following Attack On Togo Team Bus

There still appears to be some confusion over the death toll, but it seems likely that as well as the un-named Angolan bus driver, assistant coach Abalo Amalete, press officer Stanislas Ocloo and reserve goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale were either killed during the attack or died of their injuries afterwards.

The Front For The Liberation of the Enclave of Cambinda (FLEC) claimed responsibility for the attack, which happened on Friday afternoon.

Following the withdrawal of the Togolese team, Group B has been reduced to three teams (Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast and Ghana), with Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast scheduled to kick of at the Chimandela Stadium in Cambinda on Monday afternoon. As well as all but one of the Group B matches, the stadium is the venue for the Malawi/Mali game in Group A (18th January) and one of the quarter finals (Winners of Group B v Runners Up Group A) – the latter game may feature hosts Angola.

It goes without saying that we’re shocked and appalled at what’s happened over the last couple of days. We intended to cover the tournament in order to take a look at some of England’s opponents (principally Algeria but also Nigeria and Ghana, both of whom we may face after the group stage) and while we will still do so, at the moment our thoughts are with the friends and families of those killed and injured in this terrorist attack on Les Eperviers (The Sparrowhawks).

UPDATE: Reserve goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale was erroneously reported as having died by several sources on Saturday, it now appears that he was very seriously injured in the attack and was transferred to a South African hospital for emergency surgery – pictures of Obilale arriving strapped to a stretcher were shown on Sky Sports late on Saturday night.