Islam Slimani has actually stepped onto a football pitch on Tuesday night.
This staggering event has happened in Graz, Austria.
Algeria were taking on Iran in a friendly and it is the striker’s first time on the pitch since 16 January.
Islam Slimani having spent his entire time at Newcastle on the injured list.
Rafa Benitez made clear (see below) that he expected Algeria only to use him if he was fully fit and recovered from injury.
Iran led 2-0 at half-time only for Algeria to pull a goal back through Chafai on 55 minutes, then in the 64th minute Islam Slimani was brought on for Medjani.
Four minutes later and Slimani was…booked, after a collision with an Iranian defender, before then on 70 minutes putting a header just wide.
Could be good news for Rafa Benitez if he has a new forward option but a nightmare if Slimani breaks down again.
(Update: The game has now ended just before 7pm UK time and Islam Slimani has reached the end of the match apparently unscathed…final score Iran 2 Algeria 1. Initial feedback is that he didn’t look fully fit and lacked movement.)
Islam Slimani played 25 minutes of football for Algeria. Showed no signs of injury but looked unfit at times. Lacked movement. pic.twitter.com/OJG3wOWSQE
— DZ Football (@DZFootball_en) March 27, 2018
The Mag – Monday 26 March:
Rafa Benitez wasn’t happy when Algeria called up Islam Slimani, despite the striker not having being fit to play since the middle of January.
The Newcastle boss saying last weekend (see below) that ‘It is not ideal but we cannot stop them or stop him playing.’
He also expressed the hope that Algeria would only play him in the friendlies if he was fully fit.
On Thursday, Algeria took on Tanzania and beat them 4-1, Islam Slimani wasn’t involved.
All eyes then turned to the next game for Algeria, which is a friendly against Iran onTuesday (27 March).
It was then quickly reported in the Algerian media that Islam Slimani had also been ruled out of that match, some five days before it was due to be played.
However, breaking news on Monday afternoon from DZ Football, who specialise in covering Algerian football, is that Islam Slimani has made much better progress than expected and is now a possibility to start against Iran tomorrow.
“Islam Slimani recovering sooner than first thought and is a possibility to start tomorrow’s match vs Iran.”
Rafa Benitez will no doubt have mixed feelings about this news on Monday, obviously encouraged by the positive reports regarding his improved fitness to play BUT at the same time worried in case the striker breaks down again if used tomorrow.
BREAKING: Islam Slimani recovering sooner than first thought and is a possibility to start tomorrow’s match vs Iran. pic.twitter.com/Gex61HLo3E
— DZ Football (@DZFootball_en) March 26, 2018
The Mag – 17 March 2018:
Rafa Benitez is in a difficult position with Islam Slimani, having ruled the player out of playing against Royal Antwerp in Newcastle’s friendly on Sunday.
The United boss desperate for the striker to give him extra goal threat in the remaining games of the relegation fight.
However, now stuck in a club v country clash where he is powerless to dictate matters.
Rafa has explained on Saturday how they have to take it very careful with Slimani’s return but accepts there is nothing he can do if Algeria play the striker regardless and/or if Islam Slimani himself just decides to have a game.
Algeria play Tanzania in a friendly on Thursday (22 March) and that will be over nine weeks since Slimani played any football.
Rafa Benitez speaking to Matthew Raisbeck of BBC Newcastle:
“Islam Slimani had the problem before and we thought he was fine, and he was telling us he was fine.
“He was pushing himself a little bit and still he was not fully fit.
“We needed to be cautious, so we went back, started again – slowly – just in case.
(Rafa Benitez on the position with Islam Slimani and Algeria):
“It is not ideal but we cannot stop them or stop him playing.
“At the same time, we want to him to play to be sure he’s a little bit better if he has to play against Huddersfield.
“He is progressing.
“Our medical stuff are talking with the medical staff of his national team.
“Hopefully, he will progress in the days ahead and we will see if he can play some minutes there (for Algeria).”