Wayne Rooney of England challenges Medhi Lacen of Algeria during...

Wayne Rooney of England challenges Medhi Lacen of Algeria during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group C match between England and Algeria. (June 18, 2010) Credit: Getty Images

Algeria held England to a 0-0 draw at the World Cup on Friday, leaving Group C wide open headed into the final game of first-round play.

With Wayne Rooney held without a goal for the seventh straight match, England lacked a scoring touch against an opponent fighting to avoid becoming the first nation eliminated from the tournament.

England hasn’t scored since the fourth minute of its opening match against the United States. Algeria hasn’t scored at all.

After Friday’s games, Slovenia had four points to lead Group C, while England and the United States both had two. Algeria had one.

The result was bound to turn up the heat on England, a pre-tournament favorite that already gave the U.S. a 1-1 draw when goalkeeper Robert Green muffed Clint Dempsey’s 25-yard in the opener. Now England has to face its inability to beat Algeria, the lowest-ranked team (30th) in the group.

“If we want to stay in this tourney to the later stages we have to improve,” England midfielder Steven Gerrard said.

“We know the job we’ve got to go do, win the last game. You know to play at this level you’ve got to handle it, play under the pressure.”

England coach Fabio Capello benched Green and brought back 39-year-old keeper David James to boost confidence in the team’s defense.

It didn’t matter on the offensive end, though, as England produced its second dud in as many games. Touted as one of the World Cup’s greatest stars, Rooney struggled again, was often too slow and failed to muscle his way past the sturdy Algerian defense.

It took over half an hour for England to get a shot on goal, as Emile Heskey and Rooney proved to be an inefficient partnership. High in the stands, Britain’s princes Harry and William looked on glumly despite being surrounded by a pro-England crowd.

Algeria coach Rabah Saadane also switched his goalkeeper, putting in Rais M’bohi after Fawzi Chaouchi had blundered in the opening loss to Slovenia.

Fighting for World Cup survival, Algeria never dug in defensively like so many underdogs do. Instead, it took the game to England and looked at least as good as the English during the first half — and good enough afterward.

It was left to England’s midfielders to attack yet again, and Frank Lampard had the best chance when he got the ball unmarked about 12 yards from the goal after Algeria failed to clear a Glen Johnson cross. But Lampard’s weak left-footed shot was well-saved.

Now, Slovenia, England and the United States each control their own destinies headed into Group C’s final matches. Algeria is still alive but will need some help to advance.

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