This is the second time I’ve trekked to a stadium to watch England play in the World Cup and – bar the first four minutes of the first game, when Steven Gerrard struck a composed goal – my God, they’re dull. More than any player, striker Wayne Rooney sums up the tedium: too easily tackled, too often giving his ball away and, off camera for any of you watching at home, strolling around the pitch, hands on hips, staring at the sky, barely engaged in the game. In the 88th minute of tonight’s match against Algeria, the penny dropped for England’s tens of thousands of fans at Green Point stadium in Cape Town. When Frank Lampard once again fluffed yet another shot, the place erupted in boos. A fuller chorus of jeers, boos and whistles followed at full time.
Never did England look dangerous. Rarely did they even look interested. Always were they dreadfully, deadeningly dull. The score? What score? It was O-O. At the post-match press conference, coach Fabio Capello, normally a fairly excitable man, looked as comatose as the fans. “It’s not the England I know,” he mumbled. “It’s incredible, the mistakes of the players. It’s incredible: they miss the pass, they miss the ball. I hope they forget these two performances. I hope they can play like the England I know.”
What is, actually, incredible is that even after two stultifying performances, England can still qualify for the next round – since every match in this group C, bar Slovenia’s victory over Algeria, has also been a draw. A World Cup without England would have a large hole in it – England is the home of soccer, Cape Town is the most English town in Africa and Green Point’s 70,000 seats were dominated by England fans. But on this form, the team’s exit can only improve the competition. People didn’t come all this way to be bored. South Africa didn’t spend billions of dollars for a display of disinterest. If we wanted zombies, we’d rent a DVD.