Algeria was thought the weakest team in Group C and a mere bump in England's path to the knockout stage, but although confidence for Friday's match remains high amongst those following the Three Lions, there is a new modesty after Saturday's draw to the United States. All of a sudden, Algeria seems dangerous, if only a little.
Today, England has a must win match, not in the sense that they would be out of the tournament should they lose, but more in the sense that this team could be permanently deflated if they registered another draw. They would then be on two points going into a match against Slovenia, a team that could find a draw on a coin flip.
In what was expected to be the easiest match of their group, England must get three points.
England, Going Forward: Algeria has returned to a three man back line, something that could trouble Emile Heskey and Wayne Rooney. England, however, can make this Algerian virtue into a curse by employing their third forward.
If England can put the ball to the feet of Heskey and get Steven Gerrard coming in from the left wing, they can force early decisions from the players who are supposed to mark Rooney. This will leave more space to to attack and more manageable match-ups. Rooney and Gerrard will have to beat their marks to those spaces, but that's a bargain Fabio Capello should be willing to make.
If Algeria can choke the supply to Heskey and Rooney, England will have to be patient. Holding the ball and allowing Frank Lampard to get into attack will help provide the numbers necessary to take advantage of Algeria's defense. Gareth Barry returning to a holding position will be vital to giving England an outlet, helping them reset their attack without forgoing possession.
Barry's presence will also be critical to covering for Ashley Cole, whose width will be helpful when England packs Algeria deep into their own area. Barry, a natural left-footed player, will be able to slide left and cover for the advancing fullback, limiting England's exposure to Algeria's counter.
Although England also has an attacking fullback on the right, Glen Johnson should be more judicious than Cole when attacking. Algeria has a more dangerous counter attack with their left-sided personnel, and England has no Barry-analog who can cover on the right.
In that way, England must stay patient. If they are stonewalled early, the can not over-commit to attack, start sending Lampard and Barry forward simultaneously or committing Glen Johnson. If they maintain patience a goal, should be a matter of time.
Algeria, Going Forward: Against Slovenia, the Desert Foxes' only sparks came from Karim Ziani and Nadir Belhadj. Ziani is a small, quick, attacking midfielder who embodies one of the few creative presences on this group. Belhadj is Algeria's talented left wing back whose runs gave Slovenia some of the few problems they encountered Sunday.
Unfortunately for England, these two players possess skill-sets which will trouble the Three Lions. Ziani normally ventures from his central position into the wide areas to help build Algeria's attacks, but with Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry in central midfield, Ziani need not go wide to find advantages. Neither of England's midfielders have the quickness to contain Ziani.
On the left, Belhadj will be able to attack both Aaron Lennon and Glen Johnson, and although those two players possess the pace to stay with the Portsmouth wing back, there will be times when both find themselves simultaneously too high on the pitch, leaving the attacking left flank open for Belahdj.
The good news for England is that Algeria, particularly with Abdelkader Ghezzal suspended, possess few players capable of turning ZIani and Belhadj's work into goals.
How The Match Turns: Algeria has shown a tendency to let matches snowball once they fall behind. This could be seen as a fragility, but it's actually a product of their tactics. They play conservatively in defense, waiting for the counter, but when they have to take the match to their opponent, the same elements employed for the purpose of countering leave their defense exposed.
If England gets the first goal, particularly if this is early, this could be lopsided.