Three quick thoughts after Slovenia's 1-0 win over Algeria in Group C:
1. It's a good thing the game started at 7:30 on a Sunday morning. This wasn't exactly the kind of match FIFA needed casual fans -- who might develop into serious buffs -- to see. Any goodwill soccer haters might have given the beautiful game after last night's U.S.-England cracker would have been lost, had most of the haters not presumably slept through this decidedly un-beautiful match. It was a game largely bereft of real chances, and the few enterprising moves generally fizzled out with poor execution. It seemed like the most common expression from players on both sides were the patronizing thumbs-up (international symbol for "nice idea -- a little more skill next time, please") and the palms-up ("Dude, what the heck?"). Each team took off a striker within the first hour (in each case, the phrase jotted in my notebook was "horribly ineffective"). The Algerian sub, Abdelkader Ghezzal, proceeded to pick up a yellow within 30 seconds of stepping on the pitch and got a second 16 minutes later. In fairness to Ghezzal, he came close to scoring on a couple headers prior to being sent off, so before being on the receiving end of a big, sheepish palms-up, he did earn a patronizing thumbs up.
2. Irony and karma are alive and well in Group C. Earlier in the week, Algeria caught what looked to be a break. The Desert Foxes were supposed to be without left back Nadir Belhadj and goalkeeper Faouzi Chaouchi, both of whom picked up red cards in the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year. But Belhadj's one-game ban and Chaouchi's two-game suspension (he tried to head-butt the ref) were overturned by CAF (the African confederation). FIFA rubber stamped the move under the logic that Africa was the only confederation to have a competition before the World Cup, so it wasn't fair that only players from that continent ran the risk of picking up bans that would carry over into South Africa. (Here's a thought: Don't want to get suspended? Don't try to head-butt the ref.) Cleared to play, Belhadj was solid, but Chaouchi essentially cost his team the game with a gaffe that didn't send the needle on the howlerometer all the way over to "Robert Green" -- but it certainly came close.
3. Terrible result for the U.S. and England. A draw would have been ideal for those two, because that would have meant that for either Algeria or Slovenia to advance, they would need a win and probably a draw. But now, Slovenia sits atop the table in a position where a draw could conceivably see them through. (The U.S. advanced with four points in 2002.) Had Algeria pulled out the gamewinner instead, that would have been one thing: the Desert Foxes are not known for their composure and stout defending. (They got lashed 3-0 by Ireland in their last World Cup tuneup, a result that somehow still flattered them.) But if there's one thing Slovenia can do, it's scratch out a draw. Remember, Matjaz Kek's men gave up only four goals in 10 World Cup qualifying matches, and in Samir Handanovic, they have one of the top keepers in the tournament.