Johannesburg: Once mighty France look set to make a humiliating early exit and England hope on Friday to erase their trauma over a goalkeeping disaster, as the slow-starting World Cup finally hots up.
France, champions in 1998 and runners up four years ago looked all at sea in their 2-0 defeat by Mexico on Thursday night. Following an uninspired 0-0 draw with Uruguay they are on the brink of elimination in the first round.
Irish eyes may well be smiling at that prospect, since France only qualified for the finals by beating them through Thierry Henry’s infamous handball.
Dejected French captain Patrice Evra described their performance as a catastrophe, adding: “We feel like a small footballing nation and it hurts.”
England will want to beat a poor Algeria side, both to increase their chances of a smoother run in the second round and to erase the memory of one of the World Cup’s worst goalkeeping mistakes by Robert Green against the United States in their first match, which ended 1-1.
Green’s fumble goes down as one of the tournament’s most farcical moments and leaves the inventors of football under pressure in what had looked an easy group.
They need a good win against Algeria in Cape Town to press for a top spot in Group C that would likely help them avoid old rivals Germany in the second round.
Yet marquee striker Wayne Rooney has not scored an international goal since last September and probable partner Emile Heskey has only hit the net seven times in 59 games.
“Battle of Algiers”
Algeria would love to be the first African side to beat the English and can ill afford a second defeat after going down 1-0 to Slovenia in their first game.
To build team spirit the Algerian under-dogs watched the film “Battle of Algiers”, a graphic account of Algeria’s bloody struggle for independence from French colonial rule.
In Friday’s other two matches, the US are favourites against group-topping Slovenia, while Germany’s young team say they will not be carried away by their new status as one of the favourites when they meet Serbia in Group D.
Algeria’s weak prospects will increase African misery at the continent’s poor performance in their first edition of the tournament.
Ghana are the only one of the six African teams to have won a match and hosts South Africa look unlikely to reach the second round after garnering just one point in two games.
The Germans’ youngest national side for 76 years routed Australia 4-0 in their opening match in one of the rare high scoring early games, but now the tournament is becoming more exciting as teams are forced to abandon cautious play in the quest for a berth in the last 16.
“It all will start from now on,” said Netherlands playmaker Wesley Sneijder, saying teams had taken a while to adapt to the altitude and new Jabulani ball.
It has certainly all started for Diego Maradona’s Argentina, who are leading an impressive Latin American charge.
Confounding criticism that the maverick coach and former great would be more hindrance than help to his talented side, Argentina thrashed South Korea 4-1 on Thursday. Gonzalo Higuain’s hat-trick capped a superb team performance.
Mexico notched their first win over France in a deserved reward for their quick-passing, attack-minded game.
In another exciting game on Thursday, Greece came from behind to defeat Nigeria 2-1 for their first World Cup win after three defeats in 1994 and an opening loss here to South Korea.
South Africa’s 3-0 defeat to Uruguay on Wednesday deflated a nation whipped into a frenzy over the Bafana Bafana (The Boys, The Boys) team’s prospects on top of the sheer joy of hosting the World Cup in a country once ostracised because of apartheid.
They are now on the brink of being the first host nation eliminated in the first round if they cannot beat France in their last game in Group A.