Ghana carry African hopes, underdogs shine
Durban: Ghana will carry Africa`s flagging hopes in the continent`s first World Cup on Saturday but England were lacerated by their domestic press after joining a line of soccer aristocrats humiliated by underdogs.
England delivered one of their worst tournament performances for years and even appeared to mystify their own coach, Fabio Capello, in a goalless draw with unfancied Algeria, following upset defeats to France, Spain and Germany.
England, whose smooth qualifying run had raised hopes of their second trophy after a 44-year hiatus, were put through the mincer by the British press after being booed off by their own fans in Cape Town.
The Daily Mirror called the team the Cape Clowns, and the Sun said: "Never in the field of World Cup conflict has so little been offered by so few to so many," in a parody of Winston Churchill`s famous wartime speech.
"Useless," the Daily Express said on its back page.
England at least escaped a shock defeat unlike Germany -- earlier rated as one of the favourites -- who were beaten 1-0 by Serbia and lost their usual precision to miss a penalty.
Slovenia, the smallest nation in the tournament with a population of just over two million, put in a fantastic display against a strong United States team, going 2-0 up before being pegged back for a 2-2 draw in an exciting game.
Algeria also revived African hopes with their unexpected draw against a spiritless England.
The vuvuzela-blowing South Africans, whose own team is close to elimination, will get behind Ghana in Rustenburg on Saturday when the Africans tackle an Australian side earlier thrashed 4-0 by Germany and deprived of talisman Tim Cahill who is suspended after a red card.
Another traditional African power, Cameroon, had an awful start with a 1-0 defeat to Japan and will hope to bury that memory against Denmark in Group E on Saturday night in Pretoria.
The Cameroonian camp had been in disarray after a revolt by senior players against coach Paul Le Guen`s decision to play less experienced youngsters in their first game but on Friday the manager bowed to pressure and agreed to change the line-up.
Various players and coaches have criticised the new Jabulani ball, altitude, and even the droning vuvuzelas. But pundits say stage-fright and poor preparation are undermining African teams.
Despite some forecasts of an African breakthrough and the presence of the continent`s best players from European leagues, Ghana so far looks the only team likely to match Cameroon and Senegal`s World Cup quarter-final showings in 1990 and 2002. Africa had hoped one of its six teams would do better this year.
The biggest dampener has been the hosts` failure to shine, with Bafana Bafana picking up just one point from two games, increasing FIFA`s fears that fans will start abandoning matches, robbing stadiums of atmosphere, if their side is knocked out.
South Africa would then suffer the ignominy of being the first hosts not to reach the second stage.
In Saturday`s other match, also in Group E, Netherlands take on Japan hoping to improve on a stuttering display in their opening 2-0 victory against Denmark.
The Dutch will probably miss injured winger Arjen Robben, though even without him their strike power is formidable.
The Dutch should not underestimate the Blue Samurai, who reversed poor form before the tournament for the unexpected defeat of Cameroon.
Like the British, French and Spanish media also tore into their teams after surprise defeats to Mexico and Switzerland respectively.
Amid an inquisition over Spain`s shock defeat -- which saw them displaced by Brazil as bookies` favourites -- British media said the pitch-side presence of Spanish keeper Iker Casillas` glamorous journalist girlfriend had been a fatal distraction.
After England`s dismal display on Friday night, a lone fan broke through security to get into their changing room. Police said on Saturday they were searching for him after he was allowed to slip away into the crowd after being stopped.