For the Algeria squad, this has been a tournament of breaking new ground. Algeria won its first World Cup match since 1982 — a 4-2 victory over South Korea, and then on Thursday it qualified for the knockout stages for the first time.
Islam Slimani’s 60th -minute headed equalizer was enough to gain his team a 1-1 draw against Russia and the one competition point it needed to place second in Group H behind Belgium.
Now, Algeria has another 32-year anniversary on its radar. On Monday, the Algerians will meet Germany in the Round of 16 in Porto Alegre. The teams haven’t met since 1982 when Algeria beat West Germany, one of the tournament favorites, with Lakhdar Belloumi memorably stroking home the winner.
Though it went on to win another game in that tournament, Algeria failed to qualify for the second round of the World Cup after West Germany and Austria played out a result that suited both of those teams. The European teams, meeting a day after Algeria had won its last group game, knew that a 1-0 win for West Germany would put both through to the second round at Algeria’s expense.
Qualification for the second round in Brazil finally allows the team from north Africa to move on from one of the World Cup’s most contentious episodes.
And the relief was certainly evident in the celebrations on the pitch.
Qualification prompted mass celebrations in the packed Algerian section in Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, and on the pitch among the players. Even the combative coach, Vahid Halilhodzic, was hugging staff and players and shaking his head in apparent disbelief.
“I’m very proud of what we achieved tonight,” Halilhodzic said. “I think Algeria played a heroic match and our qualification is perfectly deserved.”
Algeria had to come from behind to get through. Russia, needing a win to advance, went on the attack from the start and dominated the first half with its intricate and swift passing movements through midfield.
The Russians took the lead in the 6th minute when Alexander Kokorin powerfully headed in a left-foot cross from Dmitry Kombarov. Slimani’s equalizer came after Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev failed to catch a swinging left-foot free kick from Yacine Brahimi.
Halilhodzic said he told his team at halftime not to panic after Russia’s strong start to the game.
TEN-MAN BELGIUM WIN
SAO PAULO: Jan Vertonghen’s late goal saw 10-man Belgium beat South Korea 1-0 in their final Group H match, despite having Steven Defour sent off just before halftime for a nasty two-footed challenge. The win made it a maximum nine points for the Belgians, who meet the United States in the Last 16 in Salvador on Tuesday.
Belgium coach Marc Wilmots made seven changes from the team that beat Russia, with captain Vincent Kompany and fellow defender Thomas Vermaelen dropping out due to injuries and playmaker Eden Hazard starting on the bench. “This is a Cup played in a very hot country, so you have to anticipate,” he said, when asked to explain his new-look team. “I saved, I spared those I thought I had to spare. Now everybody is at the same level.”
For Korea, the tears in the eyes of players and fans at the final whistle said it all. They were out of the World Cup after gaining a single point and finishing bottom of Group H. (Reuters)