Six games into the tournament, and these two sides played out a real contender for worst game of the World Cup. England’s two remaining group opponents played out a dismal encounter in Polokwane which was decided by another terrible goalkeeping error.
The first half of this match provided almost nothing worth writing about. Slovenia are reasonably organised and very defensive while lacking any attacking quality whatsoever. Algeria were slightly more progressive, with Nadir Belhadj and Karim Ziani down their left showing glimpses of quality, with a Belhadj free-kick and a Ziani corner providing Algeria’s chances at goal. At the other end, a long range shot from midfielder Valter Birsa was Slovenia’s only effort at goal.
The second half continued in similar fashion, until the introduction of Algerian forward Abdelkader Ghezzal brought the game to life, albeit through two acts of stupidity rather than any touch of genius. Ghezzal picked up his first booking for a shirt pull within a minute of his introduction, then received a second yellow only ten minutes later for a handball. The choice to stretch his arm out to try a bring down a high cross from Belhadj is one that only Ghezzal himself will be able to explain, but at least it brought a modicum of excitement to the spectators.
Algeria were then gifted a great chance to steal the game, as a pass from Slovenia ‘keeper Handanovic found his centre back asleep and allowed Ziani to nip in and rob the ball. Fortunately for Slovenia, Ziani’s touch took the ball just too close to Handanovic who was able to scramble out and recover the ball, but it could so easily have led to a goal out of nothing for the Algerian playmaker.
Not longer after, Slovenia made the breakthrough, although they have Algerian ‘keeper Faouzi Chaouchi to thank for that. Slovenian captain Robert Koren received the ball on the edge of the box, turned well and bent a decent shot towards goal, but the ‘keeper looked to have it covered until it somehow eluded his grasp and bounced off of his arm and into the net.
It was a terrible mistake from Chaouchi, who was only playing because FIFA overturned his two match ban for head-butting a referee in January’s African Nations Cup. The referee in question, Benin’s Codjia Koffi, will be forgiven a wry smile at Chaouchi’s misfortune, or incompetence, but it was perhaps fitting that this game was decided by an error rather than a goal of quality.
The five minute spell of drama soon passed, and the rest of the game returned to the dourness of what had gone before as the game finished 1-0. The result sealed a first ever World Cup victory for the Slovenians, who now have a good chance to challenge for a place in the group’s top two. Algeria on the other hand, seem intent on causing more problems for themselves and the officials than they ever do to the opposition.
Man of the Match: Bostjan Cesar. Not a great deal to choose from in this game, but centre-back Cesar was the pick of a Slovenian defence which kept a clean sheet. He wasn’t challenged a great deal by the Algerian attack, but was solid nevertheless.
Moment of the Match: Ghezzal’s moment of madness. Maybe it was instinct, but the act of stupidity Ghezzal produced to earn his second yellow card will be difficult to match for the tournament’s craziest red card.