England 0 Algeria 0

England: James; Johnson, Carragher, Terry, A Cole; Lennon (Wright-Phillips 63), Barry (Crouch 84), Lampard, Gerrard; Rooney, Heskey (Defoe 74)

Algeria: M’bohli; Bougherra, Halliche, Yahia; Kadir, Lacen, Yebda (Mesbah 88), Belhadj; Boudebouz (Abdoun 73), Ziani (Guedioura 80); Matmour

Fabio Capello’s England were held to a frustrating 0-0 draw against Algeria in Cape Town tonight after a dismal performance lacking anything in the way of creativity of penetration.

Following their team’s 1-1 draw with the USA in their opening game of the tournament last week, England fans were hoping for an improved performance against arguably the poorest side in Group C. But the players failed to rise to the occasion, struggling hopelessly to break down a resolute Algerian unit, losing possession all too frequently and being constantly thwarted by the North African’s superbly organised defence.

4-4-2…again

Capello set his team up in a loose 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 with Steven Gerrard cutting in from the left flank and Wayne Rooney dropping deep in an attempt to collect the ball from the midfield and find the space required to instigate some attacking endeavour into a group of players that looked flat and short of ideas.

Gareth Barry, returning from injury to anchor the midfield, seemed to be lacking in match fitness and at times struggled to cope with the Algerian attacks, rare as they were for large swathes of the game, whilst Emile Heskey failed to get into the positions needed to bring the likes of Gerrard, Rooney and Aaron Lennon into the game as he had done so well against the United States.

Algeria’s flawless transition

Transition from 3-4-2-1 to 5-4-1

Where England’s game plan looked stogy and confused, Rabah Saadane’s side played with great purpose, intelligence and positional discipline, demonstrating an impressive ability to switch between systems at the moment of transition of possession.

Lined up in a nominal 3-4-2-1 with Foued Kadir and Nadir Belhadj deployed as wing-backs flanking the midfield, the Algerian shape adapted to become a 5-4-1 in the defensive phase as the wing-backs dropped back to become conventional full-backs and the two advanced midfielders joined the pair of holding players to become a central quartet, leaving Karim Matmour to run the line up front alone.

With Rooney playing just off Heskey for much of the game, it looked unlikely from the outset that England would be capable of picking a way through the Algerian defences if they persisted with their original system throughout the match.

Capello slow to react?

Although it’s all too easy to heap blame upon managers after the event, Capello was uncharacteristically slow to react to the obvious difficulties his team were having getting into advanced areas and causing anything approaching a direct threat to their opponents.

The Italian’s substitutions appeared ineffective and one-dimensional, Shaun Wright-Phillips replacing Lennon in a direct swap on the right side particularly strange when England should have been pressing for the win, perhaps opting for a 4-3-3 or introducing the more creatively-minded Joe Cole for Gareth Barry in order to try and fashion a handful of goalscoring opportunities.

Les Fennecs execute their perfect plan

Saadane, meanwhile, was more than happy to reinforce his defence by replacing an advanced midfielder (Boudebouz) with a holding player (Djamel Abdoun) and also bringing on reserve left-back Djamel Mesbah for Hassan Yebda towards the end, meaning that Les Fennecs saw the game out with six recognised defenders on the field.

The Algerians’ excellent organisation and suffocation of English attacking play made for a sterile game, but a glorious tactical victory for Saadane who recognised England’s weaknesses (namely a rigidity of shape, impatience in possession and a lack of technical expertise) and expertly went about exploiting them whilst negating any potential creative outlet Capello’s team may have had.

A change of direction for England?

It was a dismal night for England who have been embarrassingly exposed as a very limited and tactically naive outfit at the top level and now face the difficult prospect of having to beat an in-form Slovenian side in their final group game in order to progress through to the last 16.

Such was the poverty of tonight’s performance, don’t be surprised if Capello makes radical changes to his system ahead of Wednesday afternoon’s game in an attempt to shake up a team that is clearly not maximising the individual and collective abilities of its players. There could be a change of direction on the horizon.