Will whoever had "the 59th minute of the first game" in the when-will-Algeria-melt-down-in-the-World-Cup pool please step forward and claim your gilded vuvuzela? For the better part of an hour against Slovenia on Sunday, the Desert Foxes were not especially good, but at least they were composed. Then striker Abdelkader Ghezzal picked up a yellow card for a rash challenge less than 30 seconds after coming on as a sub, and 20 minutes later the day devolved to a level of farce not seen in African soccer since, well, Algeria's flameout against Egypt in the African Cup of Nations in January.
In that game, a 4--0 loss, left back Nadir Belhadj and goalkeeper Faouzi Chaouchi were sent off, the latter after having attempted to head-butt the referee. Both were suspended for the Slovenia match, but last week FIFA approved an amnesty for players who were red-carded in the African Cup, clearing the way for them to play. That turned out to be good news—for Slovenia. Fourteen minutes after his first caution, Ghezzal saw red for trying to make a spectacular one-handed catch of a long ball in the Slovene penalty area. Six minutes later Chaouchi did his best Robert Green impression, spilling a low Robert Koren shot into the net to hand Slovenia a 1--0 win.
The result all but eliminates the slim hope Algeria had of getting out of the group stage, and to hear coach Rabah Saadane talk after the game, it's hard to envision a scenario in which Algeria takes so much as a point off England on Friday or the U.S. on June 23. "When you get to the World Cup for the first time in 24 years, you have to be happy with that," said the English-speaking Saadane, who used the phrase learning curve four times in 10 minutes in explaining why no one should expect a team as young as his to perform better.
Slovenia will play a more significant role in how Group C shakes out. Assuming that both England and the U.S. beat Algeria, the Slovenes would need to grind out at least two points from their remaining two games to advance. Based on Sunday's performance, that seems far-fetched. The Green Dragons looked slow at the back, and despite some flashes from Valter Birsa, the midfield did little that would strike fear in the hearts of England and the U.S. Still, the Slovenes' strength is their defense, particularly goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, who made a spectacular save in the third minute on a Belhadj free kick. No, Slovenia doesn't have much beyond great goalkeeping. But as we've seen in Group C, that could be enough to move on.
CAMERON SPENCER/GETTY IMAGES
COFFIN KOREN A shot in the 79th minute by Slovenia's Koren struck down an already wobbly Algeria.