History for Algeria wraps up World Cup group stage…

Algeria - fifa 2014Algeria finally exorcised the spectre of 1982 as they held Russia for a 1-1 draw and reached the second round of the ever-dramatic 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil.

Les Fennecs (Desert Foxes) have never previously escaped the group stages. Most notoriously they were denied progress back in Spain 32 years ago by a connived result between West Germany and Austria.

This time the Algerians achieved their own slice of football history entirely on their own merits.

Beaten 2-1 unluckily by Belgium in their opener, the Algerians defeated South Korea 4-2 in a thriller then hit back from a goal down to force a 1-1 draw with Russia in Curitiba to earn a knockout clash with Germany – of all people – in Porto Alegre.

Russia face a major rebuilding job in the next four years to present a worthy force for their World Cup hosting in 2018. Fabio Capello, having failed to steer Russia through the group stage at Euro 2012, witnessed another progressive failure despite an early thunderous header from Aleksandr Korkorin.

Another header, from Islam Slimani on the hour to a left-wing free kick, secured the all-important group runners-up slot for Algeria.

Belgium topped the table, achieving a third win out of three games by 1-0 over South Korea despite having Steven Defour sent off in the first half. The Red Devils had keeper Thibaut Courtois to thank for some alert goalkeeping. By contrast, it was a handling blunder by opposite number, Kim Seung-gyu, which presented Jan Vertonghen with Belgium’s winner.

Group G saw Germany and the United States progress, predictably, after a 1-0 win for Joachim Low’s men over their old boss, Jurgen Klinsmann, and a United States side who benfited from magnificent support.

Ghana – ravaged by a pay row and internal strife which saw Sulley Muntari and Jeromne Boateng expelled from the squad – lost the other group game 2-1 to Portugal.

World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo, troubled throughout the finals by injury, had the minor consolation of signing off with the Portuguese winning goal.

The concluding matches saw Brazil 2014 set a group stage record of 136 goals, six more than the 2002 finals in Japan and South Korea.

In the continental context Asia, for the first time since 1990, will be without any representation in the second round, by contrast with the unprecedented success rewarding the efforts of Africa, with two survivors, and CONCACAF with three.