Sunday, June 13, 2010

Robert Koren's late goal gave Slovenia victory first ever at World Cup finals win.

**Robert Koren's late goal gave Slovenia victory over 10-man Algeria in their opening World Cup game in Polokwane to send them top of Group C.

The former West Brom midfielder's dipping 20-yard drive slipped through the grasp of Algeria keeper Faouzi Chaouchi and into the corner of the net to give the European side their first ever World Cup finals win.

The goal came just seven minutes after Desert Foxes substitute Abdelkader Ghezzal had seen red for two bookable offences as what had until then been a truly dire encounter came briefly to life.

In the 72 minutes prior to Ghezzal's dismissal, for a needless handball, two limited sides were only able to fashion a handful of chances between them, the best of which Algeria defender Rafik Halliche headed wide from a corner.

With group favourites England having drawn 1-1 with their perceived closest rivals USA yesterday, Algeria and Slovenia knew a victory here would send them top and raise their hopes of achieving an unexpected place in the last 16.

This tantalising prospect made for two anxious, edgy teams and an error-strewn encounter, characterised by the regular relinquishing of possession by both sides.

At their best Algeria are a capable outfit, as arch-rivals and qualifying play-off victims Egypt will testify, and the Desert Foxes looked arguably the sharper, aiming to exploit the pace and ability of Karim Ziani and Nader Belhadj.

The early signs were promising when Belhadj drew a good save from Slovenian keeper Samir Handanovic with a curling 25-yard free-kick in the third minute but this turned out to be the only effort on goal in the opening quarter of the match.

It was not until the 36th minute that either side fashioned anything further of meaning.

Ziani's well-taken corner was met by Halliche, who had found space amongst a crowd of players in the box, but he failed to make full contact with his header and the ball flew past the far post with Handanovic stranded.

Slovenia's only previous World Cup appearance came in Japan and South Korea in 2002, during which they failed to claim a single point and scored only twice.

Prior to Koren's decisive strike, the closest they came to adding to their tally was a 20 yard shot from Valter Birsa, which drew a fine one-handed save from Chaouchi just before half time, and an Andraz Kirm 10-yard shot from an angle early in the second half which the Algerian keeper also saved.

Algerian substitute Ghezzal's presence on the pitch was short but eventful. In 15 minutes he produced two headers which failed to find the target and picked up two bookings - the first for shirt pulling, the second a needless handball when trying to provide another header on goal - which resulted in his side playing the final 15 minutes of the match with 10 men.

Despite their numerical disadvantage, Algeria were presented with a glorious chance to score minutes later as Handanovic's pass out to defender Marko Suler was intercepted by Ziani but his first touch was too heavy and the keeper was able to gather at his feet.

Slovenia's next attack proved decisive as Chaouchi badly misjudged the flight of Koren's speculative, dipping effort and allowed it to pass him and find the corner of the net.

While not a good game for a neutral, it will make for heartening viewing to England and their fans who will fancy their chances of securing positive results against both these sides.

Team Line-Ups:

Algeria: Faouzi Chaouchi; Majid Bougherra, Rafik Halliche, Yahia (C), Nadir Belhadj, Karim Matmour (Rafik Saifi 81), Hassan Yebda, Medhi Lacen, Karim Ziani, Fouad Kadir (Adlane Guedioura 82), Rafik Djebbour (Abdelkader Ghezzal 58).

Slovenia: Samir Handanovic; Miso Brecko, Marko Suler, Bostjan Cesar, Bojan Jokic; Valter Birsa (Nejc Pecnik 84), Robert Koren (C), Aleksandar Radosavljevic (Andrej Komac-87), Andraz Kirm; Zlatko Dedic (Zlatan Ljubijankic 53), Milivoje Novakovic.


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