Slovenia, Algeria in battle for survival

Slovenia, Algeria in battle for survival

Slovenia and Algeria will already be playing for World Cup survival when they meet in their opening Group C match.


Polokwane: Slovenia and Algeria will already be playing for World Cup survival when they meet in their opening Group C match on Sunday.

After reaching South Africa 2010 via continental playoffs, Slovenia and Algeria are underdogs in a group which also contains England and the United States.

If anything, that favors Slovenia, which had to overcome European heavyweight Russia to earn a spot in the World Cup for the second time and has recently beaten Qatar 4-1 and New Zealand 3-1 in international friendlies.

Attacking midfielder Nejc Pecnik said the team still won't take anything for granted against the lower-ranked African opponent, which Slovenia has never played before.

"Our coach and his assistant have had a good look at them, and they play organized football. We will respect them," Pecnik said.

It would be a major upset for either Slovenia or Algeria to finish first or second in the group and advance to the knockout stage — let alone after starting off with a defeat.

But defeat hasn't come into Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek's calculations. He says "we are able to make it to the second round."

The Algerians won every home match at home during qualifying but had to beat Egypt in a playoff to secure the last of the African spots at the first World Cup ever staged on their continent.

Increasing the degree difficulty, Algeria coach Rabah Saadane has announced he will drop captain Yazid Mansouri for the Slovenia game because his form was not good enough.

The team's most experienced player with 67 caps will be replaced in midfield by Medhi Lacen, while defender Anther Yahia will wear the captain's armband.

"We have nothing to lose," Algeria defender Madjid Bougherra, "We have no pressure."

After the World Cup qualifying, Algeria went on to reach the semifinals of the African Cup of Nations but then lost momentum when it was beaten 3-0 by both Serbia and Ireland in two recent warmup matches.

Unlike Slovenia, Algeria has at least won a match at a World Cup — but that was 28 years ago.

Neither team has gone beyond the group stage at the World Cup. Algeria came close in 1982 but wins over Germany and Chile weren't enough to progress — even if it was the first African country to win two group matches at a single World Cup tournament. In its only other appearance at the finals four years later, Algeria ended bottom of the group.

Slovenia's only previous experience in football's marquee event was in 2002, when it lost all three matches against Spain, South Africa and Paraguay.

Slovenia has no injury concerns ahead of the match at the newly built 45,000-seat Peter Mokaba Stadium and was expected to start with West Bromwich midfielder Robert Koren as the most experienced player with 46 caps and Koeln striker Milivoje Novakovic, who scored 16 goals in 28 matches for the national team.

It will be the first ever World Cup match to be played on a surface partly consisting of artificial grass. The Polokwane venue has millions of threads of synthetic grass fibers woven in between and beneath the natural grass.

The Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, where play gets underway on Wednesday, has the same surface, which is already being used at some major stadiums in Europe.