World Cup Soccer
Several Slovenian players celebrate following Robert Koren's goal against Algeria in Polokwane, South Africa

History at Polokwane for the tiny nation of Slovenia


Several Slovenian players celebrate following Robert Koren's goal against Algeria in Polokwane, South Africa
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"History at Polokwane for the tiny nation of Slovenia"
Caption: Several Slovenian players celebrate following Robert Koren's goal against Algeria in Polokwane, South Africa
Location: Polokwane, South Africa
Image by: Valery Hache

Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane, South Africa will host six group stage matches and a quarter-final at the 2014 African Nations Championship (not to be confused with the African Cup of Nations). This venue was the northernmost among the 10 venues at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, as well as one of the newest stadia to open.

This stadium had only one major international friendly before the tournament, and on June 13, 2010, Peter Mokaba Stadium would be put to the test, especially given that this was the first FIFA World Cup match contested on artificial grass.

The FIFA World Cup often features matches between nations meeting for the first time ever. Algeria and Slovenia was no exception, given that this match could have possibly been Russia and Egypt. With England and the United States drawing 1-1 a day earlier in Rustenburg, a winner at Polokwane would top Group C briefly.

Despite defeating Slovakia twice, Slovenia finished behind Slovakia in Group 3. Goalkeeper Samir Handanovic starred in a defense that allowed only four goal in the group stage. Milivoje Novakovic led Slovenia with five goals, including two in a 2-1 victory over Slovakia. But Nejc Pecnik scored the away goal against Russia in the first leg, before Zlatko Dedic scored the only goal in the second leg as Slovenia reached the tournament on away goals amidst controversy.

Slovenia reached its first major tournament since the 2002 World Cup, where they lost all three group stage games at their first trip to the World Cup. Before the 2010 World Cup, Slovenia played only two matches following its 1-0 victory over Russia: a 4-1 victory over Qatar on Mar. 3 and a 3-1 victory over New Zealand on June 4.

Algeria followed up its dramatic play-off victory over Egypt in Omdurman, Sudan by finishing fourth at the 2010 African Cup of Nations in Angola; it was impressive considering Algeria only scored one goal in the group stage, which was enough to advance to the quarterfinals and upset the Ivory Coast 3-2. 

It would be nearly four months before Algeria played a match; before the World Cup, Algeria lost 3-0 at the Republic of Ireland before winning winning 1-0 over the United Arab Emirates in Fürth, Germany.

Algeria reached its first World Cup since 1986, but had not won a World Cup match since June 24, 1982. They would get a big boost before the tournament, as its Faouzi Chaouchi and Nadir Belhadj would be in the lineup after their red cards from the 2010 African Cup of Nations were overturned on appeal.

It would be Algeria who had an excellent opportunity to score the first goal of the game. Belhadj curled a free kick that went over the Slovenian wall before Handanovic tipped the ball over the crossbar. Both teams alternating chances to attack for the gaol, includign Slovenia’s first chance on goal. In the 22nd minute, following a foul against Madjid Bougherra, Andraz Kirm fired a 35-yard shot toward Bostjan Cesar. Before Cesar could attempt to head the ball into the net, Chaouchi punched the ball clear.

In the 38th minute, Algeria had its third corner of the match, with Karim Ziani curling his shot toward Rafik Halliche. Handanovic left the goal exposed, by Slovenia escaped after the attempt sailed just wide right.

Right before half-time, Slovenia’s best chance of the game came from Valter Birsa. Slovenia strung several excellent passes, ending with Birsa having an attempt on goal and Chaouchi making a great save Birsa had a similar chance in injury time, but the attempt was nowhere close on goal. Forty-five minutes passed and both teams remained scoreless.

Slovenia’s first substitution came in the 53rd minute, as a striker swapped another striker: Zlatan Ljubijankic replaced Dedic. Algeria’s first substitution came five minutes later, but that would ended up being costly 15 minutes later.

Not even a minute after substituting for Rafik Djebbour, Abdelkader Ghezzal received a yellow card for tugging Marko Suler’s jersey. In the 73rd Belhadj struck a long pass that found Ghezzal in the penalty area. Ghezzal stretched his arm out to handle the ball and would be shown his second yellow card; Algeria would play with 10 men for the rest of the game.

Slovenia made the man advantage count six minute later, when captain Robert Koren drove a low shot that Chaouchi never cleanly saved and palmed  the ball into the net. The goal allowed was similar to what had happened for England’s goalkeeper the day before against the United States.

Slovenia was looking to hold on for the victory, even with four minutes of injury time. Algeria had one last chance, with Belhadj crossing into Slovenia’s penalty box. Handanovic fumbled the save, allowing Bougherra with a chance to tie the match, but his attempt went over the crossbar, and so did Algeria’s chance to tie the match.

After upsetting Russia to reach the tournament, Slovenia won its first ever World Cup match in one of the tournament’s ugliest games. Slovenia won the match despite failing to connect on a single cross in 19 attempts, which was the most by a winning team at a World Cup in 36 years.

Following this victory, this was a match that Slovenia was looking to continue its surprising run, and had a chance to become the first nation to reach the Round of 16 at the tournament. Unfortunately, Slovenia could not only a 2-0 lead against the United States and only managed a 2-2 draw. Even after losing 1-0 to England did Slovenia still have a chance to reach the Round of 16, until the United States scored a late goal and Slovenia was eliminated from the 2010 World Cup. Algeria failed to score at the 2010 World Cup, despite a heroic draw against England and a valiant effort against the United States.

 

More about this author: Antonio Martinez