I volunteered for this game. On paper it seemed a good idea to do. I’d seen Slovenia play Spain at Euro 2000, and Slovenia are some of the loudests fans I’ve ever come across. They only really have one song: “Kdor ne skače,ni Slovenc, hej, hej, hej”. And when they sing, they jump up and down in unison, and if you’re in the upper tier of a stadium with 10,000 Slovenians ten feet away for them, you get that a great atmosphere, with the slight sense of unease that the stadium is going to collapse.
But, we get none of that, because all we can hear is the vuvuzela. I must admit, I hated the vuvuzela during the Confederations Cup last year, but on Friday afternoon, with South Africa kicking off their World Cup campaign to the sound of 85,000 plastic trumpets, it all felt good. And it almost drowned out Peter Drury. And they’ll piss off any commentator and pundit who loves the sound of their own voice. Naming no names. Of course. Ahem. That the vuvuzelas drowned out the England band was another good thing, but they’ve drowned out everything good or bad, except for the stadium announcer. And that’s actually a bad thing. The World Cup is primarily about the hosts fan culture, but never before has it been so much at the expense of everyone else. Every Fleet Street journalist has the line “vuvuzelas to a samba beat” primed and ready for Brazil’s debut on Tuesday, but lets be honest, is the droning whine equivalent to the sound of 50,000 Alan Greens.
One plus point before the game is that Algerian keeper Faouzi Chaouchi and defender Nadir Belhadj were supposed to be suspended for this game. Both players were sent off in the African Nations Cup Final, but FIFA have decided to waive their suspensions. The game starts deceptively bright, as Belhadj has a free kick tipped over the bar, and it gives us our first outing of “free kicks have been a bit disappointing so far”. Thank you, Mark Bright. And that’s it. A swirling Slovenian freekick that sees Bostjan Cesar foul Chaouchi, and a Belhadj volley landing square in Aleksander Radosavljevic’s face (and his booking for the subsequent revenge) are pretty much all that happens in the first half. The only other chances of note see an unmarked Rafik Halliche head wide from a corner, and Chaouchi tip over a 25 yard shot from Valter Birsa. The teams are nervous. The tactics are defensive. The passing is wayward. Both teams are so afraid of losing (and possibly consigning themselves to elimination), that they’re giving England and the United States the perfect scoreline. 0-0.
The second half is more of the same. We have a couple of crosses that get claimed by the keepers, and a bit of pinball in the Slovenian box, but the biggest thing that happens is the introduction of striker Abdelkhader Ghezzal for Rafik Djebbour. Or rather, what he does. As well as managing to get himself booked within a minute of coming on for a needless tug of Marko Suler, he then gets a second yellow card twelve minutes later for deliberate handball, when trying to control the ball. It’s not a subtle handball, to say the least, he’s waving his arm like he’s trying to hail a taxi, and referee Carlos Batres has no choice. This fires up Belhadj (by far the best player on the pitch) whose surging run comes to nothing. Algeria almost get another chance a minute later, when keeper Samir Handanovic distributes a backpass to a half-asleep Suler, who returns it almost allowing Karim Ziani in. And then, eleven minutes from time, something happens. We get a goal. Robert Koren hits a speculative shot from outside the area. It has a slight bend on it, but Chaouchi should gather it easily, but doesn’t. The ball goes in off his upper arm, just the same as Clint Dempsey’s goal was scored last night. Slovenia do not deserve this. 1-0.
And that’s it. Slovenia are just as content to sit on a 1-0 scoreline as they were when it was 0-0. A couple of Algerians huff and puff, and they only have one real chance in injury time, but they still don’t get a decent shot. A late scythe on Belhadj saw a late booking for Slovenian substitute Komac, and Hassan Yebda gets the same punishment for raking his studs down a Slovenian thigh, and that’s it. Batres puts us out of our misery after 95 minutes, and the Slovenians celebrate to the never ending sound of the vuvezla. Now that there’s an invention that blocks out the sound of anything else, we just need something that can block out the sight. A vision vuvzela. Just for games like this.