Algeria expose soft South Korea
Three thoughts from Algeria's 4-2 win over South Korea, which give them a good chance of qualifying from Group H.
1. Defence hamstrings Korea
That this was another fantastic game for the neutrals will not provide much consolation for a South Korean team that was hoping to keep things tight early on and make use of the expected space behind the Algerian back line. The room was all at the other end of the pitch.
There were concerns going into the tournament about whether the Korean back line was up to the job. Russia didn't really test it, but the Algerians did and then some. From the start, the signs were there, and a very good shout for a penalty early in the game could have started it off even worse. In the first half, Korea just never got going, and although they seemed to weather the early storm, it started to go very wrong, very quickly.
A simple, though classy, ball over the top caused all sorts of problems for Hong Jeong-ho and Lee Yong, and they failed to deal with the run of Islam Slimani; a bouncing ball and the kind of goal that Korean fans are used to seeing conceded was the result.
Worse was to follow. Goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong came for a corner but got nowhere near it, and Rafik Halliche headed the ball into an empty net. Algeria continued to cut through a lax defence, and the third seemed to confirm the inevitable.
But not quite. Korea spent much of the second half attacking and started brightly. A well-taken goal from Son Heung-min had fans starting to believe that a comeback was on. A fierce shot followed from Ki Sung-yueng and was just tipped over by the keeper. The Algerians were pinned back and had lost their rhythm. At that point, most would have predicted that the next goal would come from a man in red.
But soon after, the Korean back line once again made it all too easy for the Fennecs and the nascent comeback was nipped in the bud. A team that doesn't give up, Korea scored again, but it was too little, too late.
2. Algeria close to their dream
Rarely can there have been such an improvement from one World Cup to the next. This is a team that failed to score a goal in 2010, but Algeria attacked from the start in Porto Alegre and got their reward. In the opening period, Algeria simply steamrolled the opposition. In truth, they could have scored more before the break, and those 45 minutes must rank in Algerian football history alongside the exploits of the 1982 team.
Coach Vahid Halilhodzic made changes from the opening defeat at the hands of Belgium and was vindicated in doing so. Quick, organised and full of energy and passion, it was a joy to watch for any non-Koreans.
Yacine Brahimi was everywhere, and while the Korean defence made it rather easy, the passing and movement caused all kinds of problems. The powerful Slimani was a real handful for the central defensive partnership of Hong Jeong-ho and Kim Young-gwon.
There were nerves in the second half in the midst of a Korean fightback, but when Brahimi stroked home the fourth, it was almost game over. The defence held firm for the most part when put under pressure to ensure that while there was hope for the Asians, that is all there was.
Not only was it the first time that an African team has scored four in the competition, but it also puts Algeria in the driver seat for second place. Halilhodzic's men face an insipid Russian team full of confidence in the knowledge that, unless Korea go goal crazy against Belgium, even a draw will send them into the second round for the first time -- 32 years after they should have been there.
3. World Cup joy for Africa, woe for Asia
After eight games from Asian teams, there have been three draws and five defeats. There is a very real prospect of the second round being free of AFC representation. In theory, Iran, Korea and Japan are still in the hunt with a game remaining, but with just three points among them, none control their own destiny.
At the moment, the highlights come in the defeats of Australia to the Netherlands and Iran to Argentina -- not the kind of stuff from which World Cup legends are made. There is still time for some unlikely scenarios to play out, but if not, the inquests will be lengthy.
Africa has recovered from an indifferent first round of games to enjoy a much better time in the past few days. At the moment, Algeria, Ivory Coast and Nigeria are looking good for the second round while Ghana are still in with a chance. Only Cameroon have really let the side down with two defeats. Less than two representatives in the last 16 and Africa would, from this stage, be something of a disappointment. This day belonged to Africa, and especially Algeria.