Slimani's equaliser gives Algeria historic last-16 spot
Qualification for last 16 for the first time heralds a new era for Algeria football, says coach Halilhodzic
(Islam Slimani 60)
(Alexander Kokorin 6)
Islam Slimani headed an ecstatic Algeria into the last 16 of the World Cup for the first time, with a 1-1 draw against Russia this morning (Singapore time) that dumped Fabio Capello's team out of the tournament.
On a momentous night for the North Africans, who were the last team through to the knockout rounds with Belgium already qualified as Group H leaders, Algeria recovered from an early Alexander Kokorin goal to advance.
The point, in a tense match at the Baixada Arena with everything still at stake and 2018 hosts Russia needing a win to go through at Algeria's expense, was all the "Desert Foxes" needed to make history.
Algeria coach Vahid Halilhodzic heaped praise on the competitive spirit of his Algerian side as they broke new ground.
"I love it as a coach to see my team fighting like this. We'll get better. Maybe in the next round against Germany," he said of their next match in the second round in Porto Alegre on Monday.
"They are a huge team. It's going to be very complicated for us. We are small Algeria against big Germany.
"I hope the Brazilians (supporters) will get behind us. I know the Brazilians like technical football and we can do that. We can satisfy you even if we are not at the level of Brazil."
With Belgium finishing on nine points, Algeria ended with four to Russia's two and South Korea's one.
The draw was all they deserved but it came after an early set-back, with Kokorin meeting a beautifully-flighted Dmitry Kombarov cross to nod in a perfectly-executed header in the sixth minute.
Algeria, whose Bosnian-born coach had called the match the most important in the country's soccer history, rarely threatened in the first half and looked a shadow of the side who thumped four goals past the Koreans.
Slimani had an effort tipped over the bar by goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev in the 30th minute, but the linesman had already flagged for offside and Algeria's other tame attempts had Halilhodzic gesticulating furiously from the touchline.
It all changed in the second half, though, with Algeria looking far sharper before the goal and then resisting the pressure.
Slimani seized his chance in the 60th minute with a powerful header at the near post from a Yacine Brahimi free-kick that Akinfeev failed to reach.
Capello had made just one change to the side who lost 1-0 to Belgium, handing a first start of the tournament to veteran striker Alexander Kerzhakov in place of Maxim Kanunnikov but the goals failed to flow.
Instead, Algeria once again denied the Italian three points after holding Capello's England to a goalless draw in South Africa four years ago.
That time it was England who went through but this morning belonged to Algeria, their fans praying for the match to end and erupting at the final whistle.
Capello was happy with the effort of his players.
"It (their goal) was a free-kick from a foul which I thought the referee had given our way," he said.
"We played a good game, had enough few chances to win and their goalkeeper pulled off some great saves.
"The foul from which the goal came was a foul for us. I have to think about the refereeing we had against Belgium too."
Progress past the first round at the fourth attempt for Algeria presented a new and positive image of Algerian football.
"We have got a lot of support from the Arab world, from countries in the former Yugoslavia, even in Brazil. People love our skills and our strength. I can only be proud of the way the team played," Halilhodzic said.
"But let's not go too far ahead of ourselves. There are many better teams than us," added the Franco-Bosnian coach.
But, despite his obvious delight, Halilhodzic managed to keep up his penchant for testy encounters with reporters, refusing to answer questions about how the Algerian players will approach the upcoming Ramadan fast nor about his own future with the team.
I love it as a coach to see my team fighting like this. We’ll get better. Maybe in the next round against Germany.
— Algeria coach Vahid Halilhodzic
Capello: Laser 'blinded' goalkeeper
Russia's goalkeeper was "blinded" by lasers for the equaliser scored by Algeria which sent his team out of the World Cup this morning (Singapore time), coach Fabio Capello.
Russia and Algeria drew 1-1 in their final Group H game, with the African side advancing at the expense of Capello's team.
Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev failed to reach a cross which was headed home by Islam Slimani in the 60th minute to earn Algeria a point.
Television images showed what appeared to be green laser beams flashing across the goalkeeper's body as he tried to reach the cross.
"Our goalkeeper was affected by a laser 10 seconds before the goal. He was blinded by a laser, there are photos, films of it," Capello said.
"I'm not looking for excuses. I accept defeats," added the Italian.
Akinfeev made a blunder in the opening Group H game against South Korea, letting in a shot from Lee Keun Ho to allow the Asian side take the lead in the 1-1 draw.
Use of lasers by fans is an increasingly common problem in North African football.
Last year, the second leg of the African Champions League final in Cairo between Egypt's Al-Ahly and South Africa's Orlando Pirates was badly affected by green lasers beamed into players faces. - Reuters.