CURITIBA, Brazil — Algeria qualified for the World Cup knockout stages for the first time, with Islam Slimani’s headed equalizer giving his team a 1-1 draw against Russia on Thursday and enough competition points to move into the second round.
Algeria was the last team to secure a spot in the Round of 16 when it placed second to Belgium in Group H. Its progress means Africa has two representatives in the second round for the first time — Nigeria qualified on Wednesday. The Algerians next play Germany on Monday.
The victory prompted mass celebrations on the pitch among the players, and had coach Vahid Halilhodzic shaking his head in apparent disbelief.
“I think Algeria played a heroic match and our qualification is perfectly deserved,” Halilhodzic said.
Russia, needing a win to advance, went on the attack from the start and dominated the first half with its intricate and swift passing movements through midfield. The Russians took the lead in the 6th minute when Alexander Kokorin powerfully headed in a left-foot cross from Dmitry Kombarov.
Slimani’s 60th-minute equalizer came after Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev failed to catch a swinging left-foot free kick from Yacine Brahimi. That was the second costly error that Akinfeev has made in the tournament for Russia.
However, there were indications on the TV broadcast that a green laser was being shone toward the goalkeeper just before the free kick was taken.
As well as bemoaning the match officials, Russia coach Fabio Capello said his goalkeeper was “blinded by the laser beam.”
Failure to advance put pressure on Capello’s position, although he said it was up to the Russia’s football federation to decide whether he was the right manager to lead the team when the country hosts the World Cup in 2018. Capello recently signed a contract extension that would see him at the helm through the 2018 World Cup.
Asked whether he would stay, he said: “If they still want me, yes.”
Halilhodzic said he told his team at halftime not to panic after Russia’s strong start to the game.
“During the first half Russia used its experience …. my players were a bit naive,” he said.
The team has shown signs of progress during the tournament and Halilhodzic thought they could compete well against Germany.
In the second half, Brahimi troubled the Russia defense consistently until his substitution late in the game. Along with midfielder Sofiane Feghouli and man-of-the-match Slimani, he helped neutralize much of Russia’s attacking intent through the second half.
Before Algeria’s equalizer, Russia had chances to double its lead, notably in the 26th minute when Oleg Shatov weaved through the Algeria midfield but his right-foot shot drifted wide of the Algeria post.
Algeria came closest to qualifying for the second stage at the World Cup in 1982, but West Germany and Austria played out a result that suited both of those teams. The European teams, meeting a day after Algeria had won its last group game, knew that a 1-0 win for West Germany would put both through to the second round at Algeria’s expense. It remains one of the most contentious group games in the tournament’s history.
Now that it has qualified for the second round, Algeria can look at the tournament from a different perspective. After all, it beat West Germany 2-1 in one of the great World Cup upsets in 1982.