Robert Koren's 79th-minute goal handed Slovenia a 1-0 win over 10-man Algeria on Sunday in Polokwane for their first-ever FIFA World Cup™ victory. Following the US and England's 1-1 draw the night before in Rustenburg, the Slovenians jumped to the top of Group C at a boisterous Peter Mokaba Stadium, which also witnessed second-half substitute Abdelkader Ghezzal sent off after just 15 minutes on the pitch.
A mostly cagey but hard-fought affair was settled by the West Bromwich Albion man from a seemingly innocuous shot that bounded past the out-of-sorts Algerian goalkeeper, Faouzi Chaouchi. The two teams packed their midfields and looked to hit on the counter-attack or via dead-ball situations, but Algeria's Nadir Belhadj was the main instigator of attacking football from his left back position. In just the third minute, the Portsmouth player unleashed one of his trademark free-kicks, which seemed destined to dip under the crossbar, but goalkeeper Samir Handanovic was able to punch the 20-yard blast over his bar.
The sides continued to feel each other out until around the half-hour mark when the north Africans seemed to gain in confidence, spurred on by the majority of travelling supporters and the South Africans in attendance as well. In the 34th minute, Belhadj won a free-kick down the left and then sent in a dangerous cross. From the resulting corner, which was sent in well by Karim Ziani, Rafik Halliche rose highest and looked certain to score, but he headed agonisingly wide.
However, Slovenia's Valter Birsa had perhaps the best chance of the opening period just before the break. But his 25-yard rocket after a quick turn was acrobatically tipped over the crossbar by Chaouchi.
After the half-time interval, the two teams continued to battle it out in the middle of the park, but Andraz Kirm looked like opening the accounts just after the hour mark. He found himself alone on the left side of the box after some nice build-up, but his shot was right at the goalkeeper.
Algeria brought on Ghezzal for the tiring Rafik Djebbour, but a quick yellow card set him up for disaster as he received another caution in the 73rd minute for bringing down the ball in the box with his arm. Despite going down to 10 men, Algeria almost took the lead when Slovenia goalkeeper Samir Handanovic was too lax with a pass and slid it straight into the path of Ziani. But the Udinese netminder scrambled to cover the ball bravely at his feet.
In the end, the extra man did not do much for Slovenia, but Budweiser Man of the Match Koren hit his shot well from the edge of the area. Chaouchi seemed to be well-placed to save the shot, but to the shock of the colourful supporters from Algeria, the ball bulged the back of the net.
Slovenia next meet USA in Johannesburg's Ellis Park on 18 June, while Algeria will try to rebound against group favourites England the same day in Cape Town.