Slovenia 1-0 up on Algeria
POLOKWANE – Robert Koren scored a late goal to give Slovenia a 1-0 win over 10-man Algeria and first place in Group C of the World Cup, yesterday.
The Slovenian captain sent in a long-range shot that Algeria goalkeeper Fawzi Chaouchi misjudged and allowed to bounce into the net off his arm in the 79th minute.
“I was just lucky to see it go in like that,” Koren said. Algerian coach Rabah Saadane said the new World Cup ball may have been a factor in the goal.
“Everyone saw what happened with the ball, and what happened yesterday with England’s goalkeeper,” Saadane said. “You have to adjust to the flight of the ball.” He added that Chaouchi apologised to the team for fumbling the ball.
Algeria substitute Abdelkader Ghezzal had been sent off seven minutes earlier, picking up a second yellow card for handling the ball inside the Slovenian penalty area.
It was the tiny Balkan nation’s first ever World Cup victory after losing all three group matches at the 2002 tournament.
Algeria twice came close in the first half when Nadir Belhadj’s 25-metre free kick forced Slovenia goalkeeper Samir Handanovic to stretch and push the ball over the crossbar, and defender Rafik Halliche headed just wide.
The players in Polokwane showed nerves in the first half, frequently losing possession with inaccurate passes and crosses.
Slovenia’s only scoring chance before the break was Valter Birsa’s long-range attempt in the 43rd, tipped over the bar in a spectacular right-hand save by Chaouchi.
There was some commotion in the stands during the break when former France great Zinedine Zidane, who is of Algerian descent, was forced to climb to a higher section to get away from autograph-seeking Algerian fans who were pushed back briskly by security guards.
The Group C game at the newly built Peter Mokaba Stadium was the first ever World Cup match played on a surface partly consisting of artificial grass. Similar turf is being used at some major stadiums in Europe.
“I do not agree with this turf,” Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek said. “It’s no excuse, it’s the same for Algeria as well. But it is a different game on this surface.”
The match could have taken a different turn two minutes before Koren’s winner when Algeria midfielder Karim Ziani caught defender Marko Suler off guard and pushed toward the Slovenian goal but was cut off by Handanovic.
Algeria pressed for an equaliser in the final minutes but was unable to break through the Slovenian defence.
Algeria: Fawzi Chaouchi, Madjid Bougherra, Nadir Belhadj, Anther Yahia, Rafik Halliche, Medhi Lacen, Rafik Djebbour (Abdelkader Ghezzal, 58), Karim Matmour (Rafik Saifi 81), Karim Ziani, Hassen Yebda, Fouad Kadir (Adlane Guedioura, 82).
Slovenia: Samir Handanovic, Miso Brecko, Marko Suler, Bostjan Cesar, Robert Koren, Valter Birsa (Nejc Pecnik, 84) Milivoje Novakovic, Bojan Jokic, Zlatko Dedic (Zlatan Ljubijankic, 53), Andraz Kirm, Aleksander Radosavljevic (Andrej Komac, 87). (AP)