England in last-chance saloon
22 Jun 2010 - 09:06:49
Group C favourites England have one final chance to get their act together and put in a good enough performance to pick up three points against group leaders Slovenia or the 1966 World Cup winners will be almost certainly out of the tournament.
It is technically possible for England to finish second in the group with a draw but that would require the USA to draw with Algeria while scoring three goals or more less than England. If they score two goals less, for example a 0-0 draw to England's 2-2, then there would be the unthinkable solution of a lottery.
With that possibility pushed out of the players' mind as far as it can be, England will be aiming only for a win, something that two weeks ago seemed simple to the team listed as a top-five favourite by bookmakers.
The events of the past week-and-a-half, since England's lack-lustre performance against the Americans, have contrived to blow a cloud over the English camp that is so dark even the French are struggling to match it.
Firstly, in the match itself, was the error by Robert Green that saw England get only the point they deserved, not the three points they would otherwise have snuck away with.
Then, in the following days, centre-half Ledley King was ruled out for at least two weeks and possibly the tournament with a groin strain, while speculation over the position of Green as the number one went into overdrive as manager Fabio Capello refused to make a decision.
Worst of all though was the match with Algeria - the most uninspiring draw in a tournament full of them - where every fear about England was confirmed.
David James was unconvincing as Green's replacement, as was Jamie Carragher as King's. The performances of key players such as Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard were woeful and the team as a whole looked confused with the tactics, were unmotivated and unimaginative.
All that could force Capello to make changes, with the most likely option being to drop Emile Heskey in favour of Joe Cole and play Rooney in front of three or four supporting midfielders.
He will also have to make a change in defence as Carragher picked up his second yellow card of the tournament in the goalless draw against Algeria and is suspended, leaving Michael Dawson or Matt Upson to fill in.
Slovenia, who need a draw to guarantee their place in the next round but could even go through if they lose and Algeria beat the USA, have one serious injury problem after their 2-2 draw with the Americans.
Striker Nejc Pecnik, regularly used off the bench by coach Matjaz Kek, broke his ankle in that match and will miss the rest of the tournament. They should otherwise be unchanged after two impressive performances.