Armchair Pundit

A diary of despair

Alex Chick

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With the nation gathering in its collective front room for the Algeria game, I chronicled the unique torture that is England at the World Cup by keeping a running diary.

18.00: After a week of hysterical gnashing of teeth after the draw against the USA, it seems nothing short of a demolition job will mollify the critics.

Personally, this is my five-point wish list for tonight, which we'll revisit after the game:

1- A win. Obviously. But I don't care by how many. What I really need is to see improvements in four aspects of England's play:

2- Wayne Rooney needs to see more of the ball further up the pitch.

3- England midfielders need to move more - Frank Lampard in particular must show more, and he can thanks to the return of Gareth Barry.

4- John Terry and Jamie Carragher need to prove they are a viable centre-back partnership, primarily by not getting beaten for pace. If Algeria leave them for dead, we can forget about winning the tournament.

5- A blunder-free goalkeeping performance. David James needs to get through 90 minutes without fouling up, and make himself a certainty for the Slovenia game.

18.30: You know it's the World Cup when you see headlines like 'Fatboy Slim puts faith in Green', one of three featured videos on the BBC website. What next? 'John Barrowman calls for lone striker'? 'Nicola T warns of Ziani threat'?

Teams in and as expected we have three changes - James for Green, Carragher for King, Barry for Milner.

The Times's Matt Dickinson tweeted the line-up at 17.27, three minutes before Capello supposedly told the players. Good contacts, brazen guesswork or is he Ray Clemence in disguise? Still, agree with him that it's the right team for this game.

18.44: I did a blog about tenuous World Cup marketing tie-ins earlier in the week  but how about that 'We Buy Any Car' ad with the girl doing keep-em-ups?

18.55: Capello on Rooney: "He didn't score (against USA) but it's not important for me." Not important if he scores... that makes both strikers.

18.57: Prince William: "Well obviously 10-0 would be quite nice but I don't think that's realistic." Perceptive. You can see why he's president of the FA.

19.11: Kevin Keegan on Gareth Barry: "He'll give you eight out of 10 every week. He may not get 10 out of 10, but he'll never dip below eight, seven..." Hmm, didn't take him long to dip below eight.

Just popped outside. Street deserted. Now's the time to make that tricky car journey or go looting.*

*The Armchair Pundit does not condone looting.

19.16: I don't care what anyone says - I like Adrian Chiles. Nice-looking hotel suite, too.

"If nothing else good happens in this World Cup I have kissed Patrick Vieira's head. It wasn't a body double, it was my lips on his head."

19.24: Not wild about that montage where the players have to introduce themselves. Even Emile Heskey struggles to keep a straight face when he describes himself as 'striker'.

19.30: After a lengthy wait (the anthems were a bit early), it's game on!

3' The vuvuzelas are still there, but you can also hear the fans. Good for England, good for fans of bawdy chants. Capello up and shouting already, wearing an accreditation pass so big it looks like a laminated Pizza Hut menu.

5' Yikes! Stand-in Algeria keeper M'Bolhi almost caught out by routine high ball then gives the ball away to England attackers. How bad are the other two if he is now their first choice?

9' Algeria look like they're going to have a go, here. Frankly, that's great news for England. At the risk of looking like a prize fool, I'm quite optimistic about tonight.

12' Poor punch by James, woeful clearance by Johnson. This England defence has got a mistake in it.

14' There's a bird sitting on the Algeria goal. It obviously saw the USA game and decided it was a safe place. Algeria should be the sitting ducks here. (Yes, I know that bird isn't a duck.)

17' Van with England flags drives past my front window. He'll kick himself later when he realises he's missed the game...

21' England are obviously trying to play with more urgency - but it's at the expense of possession and composure. This is fearfully scrappy and I'm genuinely nervous now.

24' Decent claim by James, but Algeria are on top and it's an absolutely dire spectacle. Just when the World Cup gets good, England come lumbering in and take it back to the stone age.

28' John Terry goes after some boot-on-head interface. Brief heart-in-mouth moment but he's quickly patched up and ready to go again. England have no ideas at all. Is it a scientific fact that managers lose it on their 64th birthday?

31' England are more uptight than Robert De Niro in Meet The Parents. Just relax and play some football.

33' A Lennon cross finds its way to Lampard, whose shot is saved by M'Bolhi. Better from England. A bit.

36' Ziani shoots a yard wide, and Andy Townsend says he thinks Barry is already starting to tire. Prince Harry looks mightily peeved. Ten-nil probably out the window now.

38' Gerrard shoots literally 50 yards over the bar. If he had been using any other ball but the Jabulani, he would only have missed by 48 yards. Appalling.

43' Rooney shot saved. Nice to see him have a crack, just to prove he hasn't forgotten how. But England are not getting meaningful possession in advanced areas at the moment.

Half-time: It's bad enough that England continually serve up this rubbish, worse still that we repeatedly convince ourselves it's going to be better next time. But surely it's not that long since we were spanking Croatia and Ukraine, both much better sides than Algeria?

Time to make my small contribution to nationwide power surge. No, not getting in the bath with the hairdryer. Just putting the kettle on.

46' Tuned in to Five Live at half-time in hope of some optimism. No dice. Just Graham Taylor using the phrase 'second-best' an alarming amount. And Mark Clemmit in Milton Keynes with a fan who was clearly too drunk to speak. Brilliant radio.

48' Ziani goes past Johnson yet again, but the England man makes a good last-ditch tackle. Doesn't seem much of a tactical shift since the first half. Incredibly Capello's disciplinary regime, lauded throughout qualifying, is now being held responsible by Andy Townsend for England's failure.

52' England block a free-kick and Emile Heskey clears it long to lone target man... Aaron Lennon. Really. I just saw it with my own eyes. Then classic Heskey, barnstorming run down the right followed by cross straight out for goal kick.

55' That half-time team talk in full: "Just do the same thing for another half an hour, then we'll bring Crouchy on."

Chance as England get their three best players in the box. Gerrard gives it away with Lampard and Rooney available.

57' Rooney's tripping over the ball like his half-time isotonic drink was spiked with vodka. What a truly exquisite form of pain it is to watch England in tournament play.

58' Yellow to Carragher, who misses the Slovenia game. Michael Dawson, this is your life.

63' With England hurried in possession, failing to use the ball properly, Fabio Capello brings on the headless chicken that is Shaun Wright-Phillips. I don't know what Joe Cole has done to Capello, but it must be pretty bad.

And a woeful John Terry backpass nearly leaves David James stranded.

66' I've reached the 'acceptance' phase of whatever grieving process this is. A draw's not a terrible result in terms of the group. Main problem is we won't beat Slovenia playing like this. We won't beat anyone.

69' Heskey has a chance to go for goal but tries a cross which is blocked. And right on cue Jermain Defoe gets himself ready to come on.

73' Rooney long shot wide. He's been hopeless. Which is a shame, obviously. Defoe comes on for Heskey. Now we can whack it long for a midget.

75' England's best move sees Gerrard supply Defoe who is crowded out by two defenders. The resultant corner is a shocker.

76' Handball appeal after Barry shot is blocked. It's muted, and so it should be. The ball struck the defender on the thigh.

79' How we all laughed at the French when they lost to Mexico yesterday. This is just as bad - Mexico would have stuffed us.

81' Anyone else pining for Sven? No, don't laugh. He always got us through games like this, however unconvincingly. In fact that was all he did. But a quarter-final defeat to Portugal sounds like a hell of a result at this point.

83' The anti-Capello theory is that the players respect him but they don't like him. They won't play for him the way Argentina play for Maradona, hence the lack of passion. Doesn't explain our inability to kick the ball in the right direction, though.

84' Crouch on for Barry. Feels like Capello's given up on this one and is saving Barry for Wednesday. Rooney now playing on the left.

88' I'm not even on the edge of my seat urging England on. In fact I'm probably more scared we'll lose. Boos as Lampard shoots wide. The England fans in Green Point Stadium have finally realised we're not playing very well.

90' Three minutes of stoppage time as David James makes a decent claim. He'll be in the team against Slovenia.

Full-time: Wow. That was bad. Probably the worst England performance I have seen in a World Cup. It's true that a win against Slovenia still takes us through, but that hardly matters. The headline is: WE ARE S***

It's not really a performance that bears much analysis, but let's see whether England passed my five tests (ha!).

1-Did they win? No

2-Did Rooney see more of the ball? No, in fact it was as bad as he has played for England.

3-Movement? No. Lampard lacking confidence, Gerrard disappeared.

4-Terry and Carra? Actually, they did OK, but Carragher was booked and is out of the Slovenia game. D'Oh.

5-David James? Yes! Jamo did well. So there's a positive. Really.

I fear the combination of an England stinkbomb and James Corden may lead me to commit a homicide, so I'll take my leave of this blog and seek solace in the nearest bottle of Drambuie.

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