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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Algeria 0-1 Slovenia


An awful game, bereft of class and style, but if England fans think that they can relax, they should think again. There was just enough in this strangely compelling display of mutual ineptitude to concern Fabio Capello. Slovenia, gifted victory by a goalkeeping error of such magnitude that it may even have cheered Rob Green up, are by no means potential winners, or even dark horses, but they have a few weapons in their arsenal that could hurt England.

Valter Birsa, for example, is a lively midfielder who loves to swirl a shot in from range. That’s not something that Capello or Green would want to hear. Robert Koren isn’t a world class midfielder, but he does have a remarkable eye for a pass and he’s able to carve open a ponderous defence with one swift reverse ball. Most importantly, Slovenia seem secure at the back. The defensive four were quick to shut Algeria down, tightening and swarming around their opponents whenever they approached. They won’t be pushovers.

Algeria are less able, but they still have Nadir Belhadj, who was a menace on the left flank. The Portsmouth full-back was their best outlet for attacking, but then the competition wasn’t up to much. Nevertheless, the North Africans were the brighter team for much of this grindingly dull encounter. They moved the ball quickly, mixing direct passes with short ones, which sounds impressive until you discover that at least half of them seemed to go astray.

This was a desperately scrappy encounter, low on quality and low on thrills, but the temptation to write both sides off because of their inability to entertain should be resisted. They can both hurt England if Capello’s side fail to respect their strengths. England are always at their best on the back foot, battling against overwhelming odds. Against the teams that they expect to beat, or that they take an early lead against, they grow soft and complacent. The mistakes of Saturday night shouldn’t be forgotten just because these two teams looked so poor.


Faouzi Chaouchi, in his lilac shirt, orange boots and peroxide crew-cut, looked pretty silly before the game had even kicked off. By the final whistle, he was facing up to the fact that he might be the silliest thing at this World Cup since the opening ceremony’s giant dung-beetle. Faced with a routine shot from Robert Koren in the 79th minute, the Algerian goalkeeper dangled his arms out and fell over, letting the ball slip past him into the net. If anything, it was worse than Rob Green’s error on Saturday night. At least the West Ham keeper’s technique was almost perfect. Chaouchi just looked like an outfield player covering for an injured colleague. And no, you can’t blame the ball.

Just as with Green, there was barely any deviation in the flight path of the much-criticised Jabulani. It wasn’t a powerful shot, it didn’t zip through the air like an inquisitive UFO, rising and falling against the laws of physics. It was just a normal shot and Chaouchi made an awful, awful mess of it.


Yes, Abdellkader Ghezzal was on hand to even the balance of stupidity. The Algerian striker had only been on the pitch for 30 seconds when he picked up a yellow card for a needless shirt-pull, but he saved his best for last. Unable to get his head to another searching cross, the big striker stuck his fist out, Superman-style, and punched the ball high into the air for reasons that we can only guess at. Referee Carlos Batres had no option but to wield the second red card of the tournament.


Magic Moment - Madjid Bougherra thwarted Milivoje Novakovic with a perfect second half tackle. Yep, a tackle was the best moment.

Laser-Guided - Robert Koren’s smooth reverse flick to Andraz Kirm should have been rewarded with a goal. Instead, there was just another weak shot.

Safe-Hands - Credit where it’s due, Faouzi Chaouchi did make one decent save, tipping over Valter Birsa’s long range cannonball.

Tactical-Master - Matjaz Kek kept Slovenia calm and insisted that they hold their shape and keep their nerve. They eventually received their reward.

Danger! - Andrej Komac hit Nadir Belhadj so hard that it looked like the Algerian might clear the advertising hoardings and end up in the crowd. Ouch.

Dunce - Chaouchi, it’s very simple. Get your body behind the ball, not alongside. Come on, man. It’s elementary goalkeeping!

Looney - The Algerian who turned up in a yellow ogre mask and gigantic top hat was obviously making a point, but what on earth was it?

Ref-Watch - Another day, another fine refereeing performance. Carlos Batres barely put a foot wrong.


MAN OF THE MATCH - Robert Koren. The best of a bad bunch.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY - "If all games were this awful, I could make a single notepad last an entire season."