Slimani header gives Algeria draw with Russia, country’s first place in knockout round

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For the first time in the country’s history, Algeria has advanced into the knockout round, but having given up a goal within six minutes today in Curitiba, Brazil, the Fennec Foxes were forced to do it the hard way. At the hour-mark, however, a converted set piece allowed the North Africans to turn around Russia’s early opener, giving them the 1-1 draw they needed to clinch Group H’s second place at the 2014 World Cup.

Russian attacker Aleksandr Kokorin converted the first chance of the match in the sixth minute, heading home from the middle of Algeria’s penalty area off Dmitri Kombarov’s cross, making it 1-0. Fifteen minutes into the second half, the Algerians had their own headed goal when Islam Slimani beat Kombarov at the far post on a Yacine Brahimi restart. When Vahid Halilhodzic’s team made that goal stand up, Algeria had reached its first knockout round in four World Cups.

The means Algeria will face Group G-winning Germany on Monday in Porto Alegre, the countries’ first competitive meeting since the teams were grouped together in 1982. The year, Germany colluded with Austria in the stage’s final match to keep the Fennec Foxes out of the second round, a scandal that led FIFA to schedule final group matches with simultaneous kickoffs.

For Russia, the countdown to 2018 begins, but after failing to get out of Group H, the federation will likely take a new look at the program’s direction under Fabio Capello.

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The match’s settling-in period was cut short when Russia struck for its early opener. After getting forward down the left flank, Russian fullback Kombarov fired a cross toward the penalty spot, where Kokorin was able to run onto the ball at 12 yards out. Redirecting his shot inside Raïs M’Bolhi’s right post, the young Russia attacker gave his team its first lead of the tournament, a 1-0 advantage in the match’s sixth minute.

An Algerian corner in the 29th minute nearly pulled the Fennec Foxes even, but despite seeing Igor Akinfeev tested three times in the half, the Russians were able to take their one-goal lead into intermission, leaving them 45 minutes from a place in the knockout round.

Fifteen minutes later, Algeria had finally beaten Akinfeev. Off a restart from Brahimi from deep down the left flank, Slimani was left one-on-one against Kombarov at the far post. Beating the Russian defender to a ball Akinfeev failed to punch, the Algerian striker headed his equalizer into the empty net to make it 1-1.

Though Russia’s intensity increased in the wake of Slimani’s goal, the team’s next real chance didn’t come until the 70th minute, when an Aleksandr Kerzhakov shot from the right of goal was smothered by M’Bolhi. Four minutes later, Sophiane Feghouli was testing Akinfeev at the other end of the field, with Russia’s desperation unable to claim control of the game.

By full-time, that desperation had failed to make its mark. Russia finished the game with fewer shots on target (4-6), with only a 90th minute corner headed wide of M’Bolhi’s right post giving the 2018 hosts a chance of reclaiming their lead. When the final whistle was blown, Russia left Brazil 2014 with two points, two goals, and two losses.

Algeria, on the other hand, will play on. Finishing their group stage with four points, the Foxes get their first taste of knockout round soccer. Germany will be a huge obstacle, but it will be one that’s embraced by a team few picked to escape their group. Algeria gets its chance at revenge.

Lineups

Algeria: M’Bohli; Mandi, Belkalem, Halliche, Mesbah, Bentaleb, Medjani; Feghouli, Brahimi (Yebda 71′), Djabou (Ghilas 77′); Slimani (Soudani 86′)

Goals: Slimani 60′

Russia: Akinfeev; Kozlov, Berezutski, Ignashevich, Kombarov; Glushakov (Denisov 46′), Fayzulin; Samedov, Shatov (Dzagoev 67′), Kokorin; Kerzhakov (Kanunnikov 81′)

Goals: Kokorin 6′

Video: Ronaldo scores fourth goal, gives Portugal early lead

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He has four goals in less than two matches, and Portugal is off to another flying start courtesy of their star forward.

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Cristiano Ronaldo gave the Portuguese a 1-0 lead against Morocco in the fourth minute after brilliantly heading home a corner kick.

The Real Madrid star gave Portugal a similar spark at the beginning of their 3-3 draw against Spain in their first Group B match when Ronaldo drew, and scored a penalty kick inside of the opening three minutes.

Is there anything this man cannot do?

Reports: Alli unlikely to play in England’s second Group G match

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The Three Lions may not have taken all good news away from the team’s 2-1 win over Tunisia in their World Cup opener.

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Several reports are suggesting that England will likely be without Tottenham playmaker Dele Alli in their second Group G match against Panama on Sunday.

Alli was forced out of England’s opener with a thigh strain, which gave manager Gareth Southgate the decision to put in Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

There isn’t a timetable for the 22-year-old’s return to the pitch, but his absence will definitely present a major question for Southgate heading into the rest of group play.

Without Alli in the starting XI, it’ll likely be between Loftus-Cheek and Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard to fill the role where Alli normally sits.

In the case of Lingard, who started against Tunisia, the England boss would have to bring in another starter if Southgate opts to have the Red Devils attacker sit in as the number 10.

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

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Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.