Slovenia 1, Algeria 0
Hey England and America, look who’s on top of your World Cup
group. Little Slovenia!
Robert Koren scored a late goal Sunday to give Slovenia a 1-0
win over 10-man Algeria in the teams’ tournament opener, putting
the World Cup’s smallest nation – population 2 million, about the
size of Houston – ahead of the United States and England in Group
The Slovenian captain struck 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 was a
challenge for goalkeepers.
“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.”
Algeria substitute Abdelkader Ghezzal was ejected seven minutes
earlier, picking up a second yellow card for handling the ball
inside the Slovenian penalty area.
It was the first World Cup victory for Slovenia. The Balkan
country lost all three of its group matches in the 2002
“It was a mental victory,” said Slovenian coach Matjaz Kek.
“We wanted to win so much, so it’s great for our confidence to get
Both sides knew they were heading into a match in which a loss
would be costly, with England and the United States – both higher
ranked – left on the schedule. The Group C favorites tied 1-1
Saturday after a blunder by England goalkeeper Robert Green allowed
Clint Dempsey’s shot to trickle into the net.
Algeria twice came close to scoring in the first half, when
Nadir Belhadj’s 25-yard free kick forced Slovenia goalkeeper Samir
Handanovic to stretch and push the ball over the crossbar, and when
defender Rafik Halliche headed the ball just wide.
Algeria coach Rabah Saadane said Chaouchi apologized to the team
for failing to track Koren’s shot. But the coach refused to
criticize the goalkeeper.
“We must recover and prepare for an even more difficult match
against England, which is the best of the group,” Saadane said.
“It’s going to be very difficult now. We had a great opportunity
today and we missed it.”
The players seemed nervous 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 minute, tipped over the bar
with a spectacular right-hand save by Chaouchi.
The match could have taken a different turn two minutes before
Koren’s winner when Algeria’s Karim Ziani caught defender Marko
Suler off-guard and pushed toward the Slovenian goal, but was cut
off by Handanovic.
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 fans who were pushed back briskly by security
Algeria beat North African rival Egypt in a tense playoff to
qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986. Slovenia
reached its second World Cup with an upset playoff victory over
Slovenia faces the U.S. next, while Algeria travels to Cape Town
to take on England.
The game at the newly built Peter Mokaba Stadium was the first
World Cup match played on a surface partly consisting of artificial
grass. Similar turf is being used at some major stadiums in
“I do not agree with this turf,” Kek said. “It’s no excuse,
it’s the same for Algeria as well. But it is a different game on