|Algeria's Islam Slimani scores off a header past Russia’s Igor Akinfeev, in Curitiba, on Thursday
Curitiba: For striker Islam Slimani and his Algeria teammates, the World Cup has now officially taken on “dream come true” status.
Beaten narrowly in their opening Group H game by Belgium, Algeria bounced back with four points in their next two games to qualify for the knockout stage for the very first time. The Sporting Lisbon star weighed in with a goal and two assists in the 4-2 win over South Korea, before heading in the equaliser against Russia to book Algeria’s ticket to the Round of 16.
“Things went really well for us in our previous game and we knew that we were in with a good chance,” Slimani said. “We got it into our heads that we could do it and we did. It was a really important goal, more so, as we started the game badly.
“They scored very early and that changed everything. We believed in ourselves and fought for every ball. I’d said that reaching the next round was more than just a mission… It was a dream… So, to achieve it is a dream come true. And I don’t want this dream to end.”
The explosion of joy on the final whistle at the Arena da Baixada was a tangible display of how much a Round of 16 berth meant to everyone involved with Algeria, as well as the sense of unity in the camp.
“It was unbelievable, simply unbelievable,” Slimani said. “The fans have been following us throughout the tournament and they spent the entire match cheering us on.
“We’re a united squad, which is why this is a just reward for a fantastic team. I’m delighted to be part of this national side.”
Come the last 16, Algeria will be up against three-time world champions Germany – winners of Group G — on 30 June at the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre. “The Germans are playing very well and everyone knows what they’re capable of,” Slimani said. “We’re clearly the underdogs, but we’re confident we can put in a great performance. We’ll have to be more focused than ever before and play our very best football.”
Algeria opened their campaign at Spain 1982 with a 2-1 win over the former West Germany, and the on-form forward sees no reason why the 2014 team can't repeat the feat. “We know all about the win over Germany in 1982, when we had the likes of (Rabah) Madjer, (Salah) Assad and (Lakhdar) Belloumi. We’d love to follow in their footsteps,” he said. “If it was possible back then, why shouldn’t we dream of doing it again?
“We came to Brazil aiming to get through the group phase. Now that we’ve done it we can be proud, but we shouldn’t be happy to stop here. You always want more and we’re hoping to keep this dream going. I don’t want anybody to wake me up yet.”
Coach Vahid Halilhodzic heaped praise on the competitive spirit of his side as it broke new ground on Thursday. “I love it as a coach to see my team fighting in this manner,” he said. “We’ll get better. Maybe in the next round against Germany.”
That said, by no means are the Algerians are going overboard with this achievement. They know it well enough that the team could be brought down to earth in no time by the formidable Germans.
“They are a huge team. It’s going to be very complicated for us. We are a small Algeria against a big Germany. I hope the Brazilians (supporters) will get behind us.”
Algeria: Rais M’Bolhi, Aissa Mandi, Esseid Belkalem, Rafik Halliche, Djamel Mesbah, Carl Medjani; Nabil Bentaleb, Yacine Brahimi (Hassan Yebda, 71), Sofiane Feghouli, Abdelmoumene Djabou (Nabil Ghilas, 77), Islam Slimani (El Arabi Soudani, 90)
Russia: Igor Akinfeev, Aleksei Kozlov, Vasily Berezutskiy, Sergey Ignashevich, Dmitry Kombarov; Denis Glushakov (Igor Denisov, 46), Viktor Fayzulin, Oleg Shatov (Alan Dzagoev, 67), Alexander Samedov, Alexander Kokorin, Aleksandr Kerzhakov (Maksim Kanunnikov, 81)
Man of the Match: Islam Slimani
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey)