Slovenia earned their first victory in the World Cup finals thanks to a catastrophic blunder from the Algeria keeper Faouzi Chaouchi – but the watching England general manager Franco Baldini will not have have found much to worry him in either team's performance.
The match looked to be heading for a goalless draw when, 12 minutes from time, Chaouchi allowed Robert Koren's harmless looking shot from just outside the penalty area to bounce off his chest and into the net.
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Until then the game, watched by a crowd of just 30,325 people at the 45,000-seat Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane, was largely noticeable for an unfortunate 14-minute cameo from the Algerian substitute Abdelkader Ghezzal, who was booked for a sliding tackle within 30 seconds of coming on, missed a clear header from 12 yards to put Algeria in front and then was sent off for needlessly handballing an overhit cross. At 14 minutes and 19 seconds, it was the fastest sending off through two yellow cards for a substitute in World Cup finals history.
But there were few moments of drama in a game that felt eerily similar to a sleepy afternoon games from Mexico 86 – only stifling heat and suffocating altitude were not to blame; just a general reluctance to commit players forward.
Algeria, who opted to pack the midfield behind a lone striker, were tidy with the ball from defence to midfield but no further; Slovenia, ostensibly playing a more aggressive 4-4-2, rarely pushed the full-backs on.
From the third minute, when Nadir Belhadj's 25-yard free-kick was tipped over by the Slovenia keeper Samir Handanovic, to the 26th minute, when a Mexican wave broke out, little happened.
The game briefly picked up in the last 10 minutes of the first half, and Algeria really should have taken the lead when, from a corner, Rafik Halliche lost his marker but put his header wide. That spurred Slovenia into some sort of response, with Valter Birsa forcing Chaouchi into a flying save and then shooting wide from a little further out, two minutes later.
But in the second half, the familiar pattern resumed – Algerians happy to sit back, and Slovenia happy to play in front of them without threatening. But even after Ghezzal was sent off, Algeria looked the more likely to score, and nearly did so when Handanovic underhit a pass to Marko Suler – and very nearly allowed Karim Ziani to capitalise. But there was no way back after Chaouchi's blunder.
On this evidence is it hard to see either side putting the frighteners up England. Then again, people said the same about the United States too.
This is not a news report and may contain views expressed by the author which are not supported by GNM.