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 EuropeanÂ opposition. As well as losing 1-0 to Slovenia last weekend, they have also recentlyÂ suffered 3-0 defeats to both Ireland and Serbia. Algeria haveÂ won three away games inÂ the past year: 2-0 against the mighty Zambia during World Cup qualification, and wins over Mali andÂ Ivory Coast in the African Nations Cup earlier this year. Algeria were lucky to win theÂ 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, oneÂ of whom (Faouzi Chaouchi) was to blame for the goal the Slovenians scored on Sunday. The rest ofÂ the squad play in Europe and it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that six of them play in France.Â Closer to home, defender Nadir Belhadj and midfielder Adlene Guedioura play for PortsmouthÂ and Wolves respectively;Â 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 cardsÂ 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:Â Saifi is the only player in the entire squad who has scored more than ten goalsÂ 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 1998Â have scored against us in corresponding group games since 1966), but in case you hadn’t noticedÂ we’ve got a few issues of our own. Apart from the inclusion of Gareth Barry, the team for tomorrow is stillÂ a mystery and – perhaps more worryingly – Stevie G’s goal against the USA last Saturday was theÂ first time an England player had scored in an ‘away’ game since Jermain Defoe scoredÂ twice against the Dutch before the start of last season: we don’t have any JapaneseÂ defenders up our sleeve for this game. Wayne Rooney and Emile Heskey haven’t scored in an away game since the 4-0 winÂ 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 thisÂ game: one of the less appealing scenarios (other than an Algeria win or another draw) would be something similar toÂ the win over Trinidad & Tobago in the last World Cup. That game was going nowhere until two late goalsÂ settled it. The last time we failed to score in the second group game was in 1990 (a dreadful goalless draw with the Dutch) andÂ 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:
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. HavingÂ 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 theÂ French.