Robert Koren’s 79th minute strike was enough to give Slovenia victory against 10-man Algeria in a woeful contest but it owed a lot to a massive error by Algerian goalkeeper Faouzi Chaouchi. Abdelkader Ghezzal had been dismissed just 15 minutes after coming on for two needless yellow cards with the score still 0-0.
Nadir Belhadj came closest to opening the scoring in an otherwise uneventful first half an hour, his third minute freekick tipped over the bar by Samir Handanovic in the Slovenian goal. Handanovic was left stranded as Rafik Halliche got his head to Karim Ziani’s 36th minute corner at the far post but his effort was off target. Minutes later Karim Matmour cut in from the right but his left footed shot sailed high and wide, summing up a very disappointing first half. Slovenia’s only real effort did not come until the 43rd minute when Chaouchi had to push Valter Birsa’s strike from range over the bar.
Despite a brighter start to the second half, clear opportunities still proved hard to come by. Hassan Yebda had a 25-yard shot comfortably saved by Handanovic before Andraz Kirm stung the palms of Chaouchi after cutting in from the left. Substitute Ghezzal headed a cross over in the 70th minute before he was given his marching orders moments later for a second yellow card. His first booking came seconds after replacing Rafik Djebbour for pulling back Marko Šuler deep in the Slovenian half, and his dismissal was just as avoidable, handling a high cross in front of goal.
Despite their man advantage, Algeria looked the brighter side immediately after Ghezzal’s dismissal, but it was Slovenia who claimed the win thanks to a howler from Chaouchi. Koren’s 20-yard shot should have been comfortably held but Chaouchi let the ball go straight through his arms.
It is hard to fathom why there was such a lack of attacking ambition by both sides in the first half. With their Group C opponents England and United States playing out a 1-1 draw on Saturday night, there was a chance to top the table for the winner of this match. After Algeria’s erratic form over the past 12 months, Slovenia must have fancied their chances of victory but there was absolutely no sign of this out on the pitch. Aside from a few free-kicks which were easily dealt with by Chaouchi, it took until almost half time for Slovenia to actually make an attempt on the Algerian goal. Even then, the shot came in from distance, and it is hard to remember the Slovenian forwards breaching the penalty area markings at any stage.
Algeria showed more willingness to at least cross the halfway line but Rafik Djebbour was left isolated every time the ball was played forward quickly. There was a distinct lack of bodies in the box for crosses to aim for, and the majority of crosses that did come in were from far too deep. It was a waste of possession by the Algerians considering the complete lack of pressure on their defenders when in possession. A few more risks surely needed to have been taken by both sides with a draw suiting neither team.
With French legend Zinedine Zidane watching his ancestral Algeria from the stands in Polokwane, there were at least some signs of increased urgency after the interval. The Algerians looked to try and get the creative Ziani into the game more whilst Slovenia brought on striker Zlatan Ljubijankic. Considering Ljubijankic managed just four goals in the Belgian league this season, it was hardly a guarantee of a goal, but at least it meant Slovenia now had two genuine forwards on the pitch. Despite the relatively brighter signs, it was little surprise that it took a huge blunder for the deadlock to be broken. Moments before Koren benefited from Chaouchi’s howler, Ziani could have put Algeria ahead after he pounced when Marko Šuler dwelled on the ball. Unfortunately for Ziani, his touch was heavy and Handanovic was out quickly to claim, but it seemed increasingly like a goal would only come from a defensive mistake, such was the overall lack of attacking play.
Chaouchi had looked fairly comfortable throughout the game, claiming high balls into the box and punching clear anything he could not hold. For a keeper who generally looks like he could drop a clanger at any moment, it had been an encouragingly steady performance by him. Unlike Robert Green for England on Saturday, nerves can hardly be attributed for his howler considering he had enjoyed plenty of settling touches on the ball earlier in the game. Having only been given permission to play by FIFA days earlier following his red card in the African Cup of Nations, it was unfortunate for Chaouchi to prove so costly to his team, his error coming in a match that had otherwise looked set to end goalless. Both England and United States can rest easy on this evidence.
Algeria – Chaouchi – Bougherra, Halliche, Yahia – Kadir (Guedioura 82), Yebda, Lacen, Ziani, Belhadj – Matmour (Sa