Following a flurry of goals unseen before in their previous World Cup appearances, Algeria can cement a place in the next round with a victory over Russia in Group H action Thursday at Arena Da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil.
Eyeing their first trip to the Round of 16, Algeria could even move into first place with a victory and a Belgium loss. Despite the letdown to Belgium, Russia’s draw with South Korea afforded them one point and a victory over Algeria by two goals and a loss or draw for the Taegeuk Warriors against Belgium puts them into the knockout stage for the first time since 1986, before the break-up of the Soviet Union.
Winning their first match in 32, years, the Desert Foxes unleashed an attacking display in their 4-2 drubbing of South Korea that nearly eclipsed their all-time goal total in the World Cup. In the 1982 and 1986 World Cups Algeria scored six goals and won two matches, but went winless and goalless in 2010.
After losing a one-goal lead and falling to Belgium 2-1, Algeria’s attack came to life behind Sporting Lisbon striker Islam Slimani. The 26-year-old scored the game’s first goal and assisted on the third to put Algeria up 3-0 at the half.
The only troubling issue was Algeria’s failure to put more pressure on South Korea in the second half, which let them climb back into the match with two goals and allowed several opportunities in front of the net that luckily for the Foxes went wide.
Next up is a Russian squad eager for a taste of the knockout round that may have learned from its mistakes. Group H could have been far more intriguing if manager Fabio Capello’s side and goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev managed to blank South Korea in their opening match. The CSKA Moscow netminder’s bobbled save attempt of Lee Keun-ho’s right-footed strike in the 68 th minute was the blunder of the World Cup this far, and without it Russia would also be in the fight for first in the group.
Nevertheless, this is the same Russian side that limited Belgium’s overall effectiveness and probably created the blueprint to slow down its striking, and was only two plays away from making the knockout stage a foregone conclusion.
Lost in the hub-bub surrounding Akinfeev is his overall effectiveness this Cup. He’s totaled five saves and defended nine corner kicks in to two matches with no attack backing him up.
Striker Alexander Kerzhakov is the only player to score for Russia, tying the all-time scoring list for his country with his 26 th goal against South Korea, and he’s spent a little over 20 minutes on the pitch with Capello not opting to start him. That could change with forward Aleksandr Kokorin failing to impress, but the 26-year-old has gotten little set-up help from top midfielders Alan Dzagoyev and Yuri Zhirkov.
Capello has only started one forward at the top of his attack, Kokorin, but a two-headed attack might be more suitable against Algeria with Russia needing several goals in order to advance.
Start Time: Thursday, 4 p.m.
TV Channel: ESPN2
Live Online Stream: A live online stream is available at Watch ESPN here
Betting Odds: (bovada.lv)
Over/Under: 2.5 goals
Prediction: Russia 2-1 Algeria