Not a single player that took the chilly Estadio Beira-Rio field on Monday night was born when Germany last met Algeria at a World Cup. Yet, that most historic game from the 1982 World Cup must have seeped into their collective DNAs. For when the two met in Porto Alegre 32 years after Gijon, the match began, unfurled and climaxed with a bouquet-full of uncanny similarities.
Quite like in Gijon, the mighty Germans couldn’t beat the inspired Algerians over 90 minutes. And just like in Gijon, it was the Germans who proceeded to the next round by the skin of their teeth, while Algeria were left to ponder what could have been.
But unlike in Spain, the Germans went through fair and achingly, square.
For the uninitiated, here’s a quick recap. Germany (West Germany then) had underrated the Desert Foxes during a Spain ’82 group game much to their despair. They lost 1-2.
And once Algeria had beaten Chile 3-2, they had all but become the first African nation to qualify for the knock-out stage. But there was a catch. If West Germany were to beat Austria 1-0, the two European teams would proceed instead of the Algerians.
You know what happened, but how it happened has been hotly criticised ever since. In what is still considered to be the most blatant case of match-fixing at a World Cup, West Germany and Austria kicked the ball impotently for about 80 minutes after the former went ahead in the 10th minute — a scoreline agreeable to both sides.
Thirty-two years later, the Algerians from Spain ’82 (including Djamel Zidane, Zinedine’s uncle who played in the win over West Germany) begged Rafik Halliche’s men for salvation. There was no redemption from the past, but the Algerians would have been proud of how well the future has shaped up.
For the first 45 minutes, Algeria dominated proceedings. ‘Contra-ataque’, Portuguese for counter-attack, is a favoured word by Brazilian commentators. The men behind the mikes had their fill on Monday with its usage, as the wily Foxes gave them enough opportunities to do so.
Every time the Algerian central defenders Halliche and Essaid Belkalem quelled a threatening wave (which they did rather often), they would hold the ball dangerously in their possession for a second or two longer to draw more German forwards ahead. And when they arrived, either Halliche or Belkalem would find right-back Faouzi Ghoulam on the wing, who would instantly slalom the sphere into opposition territory.
Now, Germany’s backline is a tall one. But even the likes of Per Mertesacker (1.98m) and Shkodran Mustafi (1.84m) were found well short of their ground when dealing with Algeria’s long ball treatment. In the 26th minute, Ghoulam threw one ahead in the hope to find Islam Slimani, the fleet-footed striker from Algiers. Only, the ball fell to El Arabi Soudani, who played Slimani into space with a through-ball past Germany’s back-four.
Slimani charged the ball with everything he had, but from the other end so did Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. By the time the goalie hoofed the ball away in clearance like a defender, the six-yard box was about 12 yards behind him.
Neuer would be forced to make such intercepting runs over and over again, 11 touches outside the box in the first half to be precise. While he continued to be under the pump and on his toes with Algeria’s long balls even in the second half, the second period of 45 minutes was all about his opposite number, Rais M’Bohli.
With Germany desperate to press ahead, coach Joachim Loew kicked out Mario Goetze and Mustafi at separate intervals, replacing them with Andre Schurrle and Sami Khedira, respectively, after the breather .
Khedira was the first to make an impact, with a low cross from the right that increased in gradient just high enough to clear the Algerian backline. The ball was perfectly captured by Thomas Mueller’s run down the middle, who thudded it goal-ward with a powerful header.
Mueller must have wondered how he hadn’t scored the fifth goal of this campaign and his 10th World Cup goal overall, for the save required the goalie to defy gravity. Leaping horizontally to his left, M’Bohli managed to use his right hand to paw the ball vertically over the crossbar. The crowds oohed. Then they aahed when he did it again, this time acrobatically blocking a Bastian Schweinsteiger attempt in the dregs of injury time to extend play by a further 30 minutes.
It was always going to take more than one person to beat M’Bohli in this form. And that’s exactly what happened when two minutes into the first quarter of extra-time, Mueller forced the Algerian goalie to take-off once more to parry his ball away. But the block fell straight to Schurrle, who angled the ball timely past a fast rising M’Bohli.
Germany didn’t look content with one. And they would be glad they weren’t as just a minute after Mesut Ozil doubled the lead and with a minute to go for the final whistle, Algeria pulled one back. Abdelmoumene Djabou slid deep into the German box and flicked both ball and self past Neuer’s grasp.
For a minute all of Beira-Rio — players, referee, spectators — fell silent.
Then they rose as one in appreciation, gloriously burying the ghosts of an inglorious past.