By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Algeria drew 1-1 with Russia at the Arena da Baixada yesterday (June 26th) to make it through to the last sixteen of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Their reward is a match with Germany, one of the favorites for the title, on Monday, June 30th, at the Estádio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre.
The scenes at the end were truly heartwarming as Algerian players took part in a group hug to mark their accomplishment. Drawn in a group alongside Belgium, South Korea and Russia, few had given them a chance of progressing to the knock-out phase.
The biggest hero of all was Islam Slimani. His goal on the hour mark to level the game was the crucial strike in securing their passage to the second round.
Russia, meanwhile, had been expected to go through and will now have to wait until 2018, when they host the competition, to make amends. The position of coach Fabio Capello, last week unveiled as the highest paid coach at the tournament, also remains unclear.
It all started so well for the Russians. Kombarov crossed from the left and and Kokorin found space between the central defenders to head the opening goal after only five minutes. Nerves and tension were apparent on the faces of the Algerian players, having been dealt such a tough blow so early in the game.
Their best chances came from dead-ball situations, Slimani twice forcing saves from Akinfeev in the Russian goal. Russia looked secure and at half-time they held a vital 1-0 lead.
In the beginning of the second half, Algeria appeared to have left their nerves in the changing room. Their main weapon was high balls into the penalty area and on 59 minutes it paid off. Brahimi whipped in a free-kick from the left and Slimani rose highest to head the ball into the back of the net. Akinfeev, who hesitated on coming off his line, could perhaps have reached the curling free-kick had he gone with confidence.
With qualification in their sights the nerves returned to the Algerian players, but they hung on to complete one of the fairytale stories of this highly entertaining World Cup tournament.
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