Just under a week ago, South Korea secured a battling draw against Fabio Capello’s Russia, a match which for large parts they looked like winning. Organisation, drive and team chemistry were all present. Fast-forward five days to today’s encounter in Porto Alegre and the side is simply unrecognisable. The defensive duo of Hong Jeong-Ho and Kim Young-Gwon looked as though they have never played a game together before, while the attackers failed to work together as they impressively did last week. Of course, South Korea’s deterioration was Algeria’s gain. Although Algeria fell to a narrow 2-1 defeat by Belgium in their first game, the performance was one which lacked attacking spark as they sought a point. But knowing another loss could all but end hopes of a passage to the knockout phases, Vahid Halilhodzic’s men left South Korea in their wake. Islam Slimani was a constant thorn in the opposition back-line and the midfielders’ willingness to get forward and aid up the field ensured a blitz on Jung Sung-Ryong’s goal. After the break Hong Myung-Bo’s team-talk certainly had an impact as his troops came out rallying but with the damage already done, fans will be pondering why it took the Taegeuk Warriors so long for them to turn up.
At half-time, not even the craziest of predictions could have envisioned a second-half fightback from the South Koreans. Son Heung-Min’s well-taken goal gave the side hope, and when Koo Ja-Cheol made it 4-2 with 18 minutes left, there were jitters among the African outfit as Myung-Bo’s men strived to keep the pressure on. The chances came, along with two penalty appeals, which on another day, by another referee, may have been given. First came Madjid Bougherra’s handball as he blocked the ball pout for a corner. With it clear for everyone to see that the ball had struck the former Rangers’ man’s hand, the question was whether it was worthy of a penalty. The South Koreans certainly thought so, and with Bougherra’s hand somewhat outstretched, they were unlucky not to have received the decision. In stoppage time there was another element of contoversy as Carl Medjani looked to have fouled Son with a push in the back, only for the referee to wave play on. The damage was no doubt done in the first half but on the basis of the South Korea display after the interval, along with the two penalty appeals, this could have so easily been a day to forget for Algeria, rather than one that will remain in the country’s folklore for decades to come.
Prior to the Group H clash in Porto Alegre, South Korea had never lost to African opposition at the World Cup finals. In a first-half blitz, climaxed by three goals, it was clear that the record was set to be broken. Aside from that, the victory gave Algeria their first victory at a World Cup in 32 years, as they look to progress past the group stages for the very first time. It was a determined performance from the first whistle and after failing to make a mark in South Africa four years ago, the players have done the nation proud. It was those people who voted for Halilhodzic to remain in the post when it looked likely he was set to be sacked. If he can achieve the remarkable feat of guiding his troops to the last 16, those calling for his head should no doubt issue an apology to the man in charge. For that to happen, the team must continue the intensity produced today when they face Russia, a side who are yet to turn up and will be looking to give their fans something to shout about.
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