Slovenia 1 - 0 Algeria
It's an exhausting business, blogging the World Cup during the three games a day phase. It takes six hours a day just watching the games, then you have to actually write about it. Worse, when England play you kind of want to have a little drink, and then you get even further behind. When this game kicked off I'd nearly finished South Korea v Greece, just started Argentina v Nigeria and hadn't so much as clicked on New Post for the England game. I was starting to lose my race against time.
So it was a real boon to get a game with so little to say for it. There's a few every World Cup, and this one was perfectly timed.
It was another shadow challenged stadium. There's probably nothing to be done, it's not like you can build them transparent, but maybe they could turn on the lights on the dark side or something. It's not a problem when the whole stadium's in shadow, because then they just turn down the filters on the cameras. It's when they have to balance the glare across one half of the stadium against the gloom in the other. Today the pitch was precisely bisected by dark and light, from one penalty box to the next. At least the slow march of the shadow across the centre circle offered some distraction from the quality of the football.
Algeria had the best of it early on, with a Belhadj free kick being tipped over by the well named Slovenian keeper Handanovic and Halliche heading just wide from a corner. Handanovic came for the ball, changed his mind, got caught betwixt pillar and post and was lucky not to concede. His opposite number would be less lucky later on. For Slovenia, their captain Robert Koren, lately of West Brom, had a good shot not long before the break. It was a comfortable save for Chaouchi, but their best effort of the half.
So a dreary start to the game then. Alan Hansen wanted to know why he was being forced to watch it on his birthday. At least the moany old git was being paid though. The rest of us were suffering on our own time.
One problem, as with all the games so far, was that the ball seemed too light, and kept sailing over people's heads. The designers have countered with the claim that it's the roundest World Cup ball ever, and you have to say that's a great achievement for the game. It's mostly forgotten now, but when England won the World Cup in 1966 the balls they used were almost cubic. How far we've come.
After the break Algeria brought on Ghezzal for Djebbour, only to see him get a yellow card for a tug on Suler's shirt thirty seconds later. Having got immediately booked, he then headed over from fifteen yards out ten minutes later. It must have made him a little excitable, because he deliberately handled the next cross when he couldn't quite reach it, got a second yellow and found himself sent off.
Handanovic had a bit of a rush of blood himself, passing out of the box to Suler when Ziani was far too close. Suler failed to notice him, and Ziani got in first, but luckily for Handanovic it squirmed back to him. Must have the same goalkeeping coach as Dean Gerken, plus a little luck.
Which was more than the Algerian keeper Chaouchi had. In the eightieth minute Koren had a shot from about the same distance as Clint Dempsey last night, and Chaouchi made a total hash of it, letting it squeeze under him as he dived to the left. Not as bad as Green but bad enough, was the general verdict.
A goal and a man down, Algeria might have been expected to throw caution to the wind. Instead, they managed one half chance, Bougherra lobbing over in injury time. And that was that.
So good news for everyone except Algeria. Slovenia somewhat implausibly top the group after the first two games, while England and the USA will feel they can demolish these two if they play halfway decently. Expect Algeria to come out fighting against England next Friday though.