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England can't afford any more fumbling or bumbling against Algeria

For all the attention on Wayne Rooney and his bid to break his England goal scoring drought, the focus on Friday's World Cup match against Algeria will almost certainly be on the goalkeepers.

CAPE TOWN, South Africa - For all the attention on Wayne Rooney and his bid to break his England goal scoring drought, the focus on Friday's World Cup match against Algeria will almost certainly be on the goalkeepers.

If a draw against the United States was barely acceptable, only a win over Algeria will do for an England squad that is expected to progress from Group C. But the Algerians know about upsets, otherwise they would not be at the World Cup.

Both teams suffered from dire goalkeeping errors in their opening matches.

Slovenia took the lead in the group through a 1-0 win because of Algeria's Fawzi Chaouchi's costly mistake.

That, though, was a minor glitch compared with the fumble from Robert Green, which allowed the United States an equalizer and cost England a victory in the 1-1 draw at Rustenburg.

It even called into question the coaching acumen of Fabio Capello, who had been lauded as England's genius tactician during preparations for South Africa until that draw. Green's horrendous blunder led news bulletins in Britain and was the subject of endless criticism, putting his starting spot at risk despite initial support from within the team.

It also overshadowed a mediocre opening game by Rooney, who was considered until recently as second only to Lionel Messi among the forwards expected to star in South Africa.

"For us to do well, I need to play better than I did," Rooney said. Despite an impressive season for Manchester United, Rooney has not scored for England since a World Cup qualifying win over Croatia last September.

That is weighing on his mind, and is certainly going to make it even tougher for Algeria's goalkeeper. Chaouchi hurt his left knee in training on Tuesday, saving coach Rabah Saadane from having to make a choice about replacing him.

Capello has three fit keepers to select from, though none instills high confidence among the England fans.

Green's pride is already hurt. But will Capello go for veteran David James, who already has earned his nickname "Calamity" James for good reason?

That's even more reason for the England forwards to come to life. England's only goal so far in South Africa came from midfielder Steven Gerrard in the fourth minute, and Capello is considering his options to provide more offensive thrust.

Not even the rashest of coaches would consider pulling Rooney off the starting lineup, but his strike partner Emile Heskey is coming under increasing pressure. Beyond England's borders he is not considered World Cup calibre and even Capello has hinted he is considering replacing Heskey with Jermain Defoe.

One selection certainty is the return of midfielder Gareth Barry from a six-week injury layoff for his first World Cup game.

"He can sit in the hole for us, is good in possession and gives us another option," Rooney said. The move would drop James Milner to the bench.

And If England needed any more prodding for an improved performance, it came from its nemesis Germany, where the great Franz Beckenbauer said England had "gone backwards" because of its lack of local talent.

Despite the struggling start, England is still favoured to advance from Group C where its last match is against Slovenia.

Algeria may by No. 30 in the world rankings, 22 spots behind England, and coming to its first World Cup in two decades, yet the Desert Foxes have already proven their strength by rising sharply from No. 103 over the last two years.

At its only previous appearance in 1982, Algeria beat West Germany 2-1 and Chile 3-2 but still failed to make it to the second round. And it didn't qualify for this World Cup until a playoff victory over African Cup of Nations champion Egypt.

So one setback in the first game — when Chaouchi misjudged Slovenia captain Robert Koren's 25-meter shot — is unlikely to hamper their preparations to play England.

 
 
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