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FIFA World Cup: Old scores to settle

Algeria come into knockout game against Germany harbouring a 32-year-old grudge.

Germany’s goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and teammate Bastian Schweinsteiger run during a training session in the village of Santo Andre, north of Porto Seguro. (Source: Reuters) Germany’s goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and teammate Bastian Schweinsteiger run during a training session in the village of Santo Andre, north of Porto Seguro. (Source: Reuters)

If revenge is a plate best served cold, Algeria will hope to dish it out to Germany in their World Cup Round of 16 match on Monday 32 years after one of the most shameful games in the tournament’s history. In all likelihood, however, a powerful Germany side will  bring the Desert Foxes’ run to an end and deprive them of retribution and further glory. But it might not be easy.

The Germans, champions in 1954, 1974 and 1990, arrived in Brazil as one of the favourites. They showed their credentials  by demolishing Portugal 4-0 in their opening game but stumbled slightly against Ghana, drawing 2-2. They then dismissed the United States with a strong performance that still left some room for improvement, although Thomas Mueller showed again what a lethal striker he is.

Algeria, masterminded by the wily French Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic and carrying the hopes of the Arab world with them, have impressed with their tenacity and ball skills.

After losing their opening match to Belgium, they overwhelmed South Korea 4-2 in an epic match in Porto Alegre. In their crucial final group game, a headed goal by Islam Slimani brought them back from 1-0 down against Russia to secure a draw, sending them through to the last 16 and their fans — possibly the most devout in the tournament — into ecstasy.

Algeria have beaten Germany in the World Cup before, defeating the then-West Germany 2-1 in Spain in 1982. But what followed was a travesty. After also defeating Chile, Algeria were on the cusp of qualifying for the knockouts. West Germany met Austria in the final group game with a narrow German victory enough for both teams to go through and see Algeria eliminated. After an early German goal, the two kicked the ball around aimlessly without trying to score again.

The cynical display  caused worldwide outrage and has gone down in the annals of soccer infamy as “the Shame of Gijon”. So the stage is set for a grand show in Porto Alegre’s Beira Rio stadium , with the winner’s reward a quarter-final against France or Nigeria.

While satisfied with Germany’s performance against the United States, coach Joachim Loew signalled they needed to tighten up in several aspects of their play.

He criticised the finishing and said they were also careless in the match’s later stages, squandering possession in midfield. “We lost the ball at the end of the match unnecessarily and  that’s really dangerous — other teams take advantage of that,”  Loew said.

Still, with four goals, Mueller is joint second in the list of leading scorers in Brazil, along with with Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Brazil’s Neymar. The German machine must be favoured to accomplish their mission.

Propitious venue
Algeria will hope Porto Alegre will be propitious for them after their historic battle here against South Korea, when their four goals made then the highest-scoring African side in a single World Cup game. This is also the first time two African sides have reached the last 16 — African champions Nigeria being the other.

Halilhodzic had complained after the loss to Belgium that his team lacked the fitness to press to the end and needed to be psychologically stronger. That seems to have been rectified.

Algeria, whose team is built around French-born players from the former colonial power’s immigrant community, were on the back foot against the Russians for much of the first half but they rallied magnificently in the second. Slimani is also proving to be one the tournament’s players to watch and after his 60th minute goal, Algeria had the discipline to hold firm against surging Russian attacks.

Podolski to miss game
GERMANY forward Lukas Podolski has been ruled out of Monday’s World Cup last 16 clash against Algeria in Porto Alegre with a thigh injury. The 29-year-old Arsenal star – who is in his third World Cup finals — suffered the injury in Germany’s 1-0 win over the USA on Thursday in their final group stage match and an MRI scan on Saturday revealed a small tear. “Lukas must rest for two or three days, but should we progress in the tournament it won’t be a problem for him to play,” said Germany coach Joachim Loew. With Podolski out, Bayern Munich’s Mario Goetze is set to take his place on the left wing.

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