|Stadium||Arena Fonte Nova|
There can never be justice for the shameful way Algeria were eliminated from the 1982 World Cup but, after the longest of waits, this felt like catharsis for an entire nation.
Fully 32 years since wins over Germany and Chile were rendered meaningless by the famous ‘Disgrace in Gijón’, when Austria and Germany played out a “rigged” 1-0 win to eliminate them, Algeria are in the last 16 of the World Cup.
It is the first time they have reached this stage and, should they continue to play with the attacking verve that has already seen them score six goals in the tournament, Germany’s expected path into the quarter-finals will be no formality. Another first is the elimination of Fabio Capello’s Russia from a World Cup without having registered a single win.
Capello himself has also overseen just one victory in seven matches in the competition with England and now Russia, a record that is already prompting questions about whether he should see out his contract with the hosts in 2018.
The decisive moment here was controversial, with Islam Slimani heading Algeria’s 60th-minute equaliser into an empty net after a laser pen had been shone at the Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev. It is doubtful whether the light was directly responsible for Akinfeev’s lapse but it certainly prompted Capello to go on the offensive. “He was blinded – that’s the truth,” said Capello.
“You can see that in the footage. I’ve never come up with excuses to get by in life but, about the laser, you can see. The goalkeeper was unable to do his job. It is a fact. We also suffered a goal when the referee should have whistled before in our favour.” Asked if he himself had made any mistakes, Capello said: “We didn’t – we played an excellent game.” He also reiterated his desire to stay on as Russia manager, albeit with the caveat “if they still want me”.
For all Capello’s complaints, little could detract from Algeria’s achievement, nor the spontaneous scenes of delirium that greeted the final whistle. In Algiers, there were street celebrations, while the players and coaching staff stayed long after the final whistle to savour the moment with their raucous fans.
Even grown men in the press-box were embracing. It had looked like Russia would qualify for most of the match, with Capello initially rewarded for the bold decision to start both Alexander Kokorin, the 23 year-old face of Russian football, and Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who is second on his country’s all-time goalscorer’s list, in attack.
After six minutes, left-back Alexander Samedov overlapped to reach the byline and his cross was delivered invitingly to the edge of Algeria’s six-yard box. Kokorin, playing in a slightly deeper striker’s role, had also timed his run perfectly and exploited a huge gap between centre-backs Rafik Halliche and Esseid Belkalem to head powerfully into the top corner. Rais Mbolhi, the Algeria goalkeeper, had not even moved by the time the ball had nestled into the goal.
Algeria already looked jaded but, for what coach Vahid Halilhodzic had described as the biggest match in their history, it was inevitable that there should be a reaction.
First Yacine Brahimi produced a moment of wonderful skill to dribble his way into the Russia penalty area and then Djamel Mesbah forced a save from Igor Akinfeev. There were also two chances shortly before half-time from headers, with Slimani prompting one good save but then aiming his effort wastefully at Akinfeev. Algeria kept coming and, from Aleksei Kozlov’s foul, Abdelmoumene Djabou curled a freekick into the Russia penalty area.
A laser light was clearly being shone on Akinfeev as he made his botched attempt to collect the ball but he never really got near to the cross, allowing Slimani to head into an empty goal and create Algerian football history.