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Germany exorcise demons of Gijon '82 with late victory over brave Algeria

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The ghost of world cups past almost came back to haunt Germany this afternoon as they advanced to the quarterfinals following a narrow victory over Algeria. Their prize is a quarterfinal date with France in Rio on Friday 4 July and the renewal of an old rivalry with their esteemed neighbors. After a goalless 90 minutes Joachim Low’s team finally won through thanks to extra-time goals from Andre Schurrle in the 92nd minute and Mesut Ozil in the 119th. Algeria’s late consolation goal, scored by Djabou in the 120nd minute, was no less than the North Africans deserved after an afternoon when they placed one of the world’s great footballing nations under concerted pressure throughout.

Much of the talk prior to kick-off, however, was of a previous matchup between the two teams. In 1982, the then West Germany, reigning European champions and much fancied by the game’s cognoscenti to go on and win that year’s World Cup in Spain, faced Algeria in the opening game of Group 2. Expectations were of a routine victory for the Germans, a side which, after all, contained two-time European footballer of the year Karl-Heinz Rummenigge along with Paul Breitner, Uli Stielike and Manfred Kaltz. Instead, the World Cup witnessed an upset of the like it had seldom seen before. Jupp Derwall’s German team, invincible in qualification where they had scored 33 goals in eight games, was run ragged right from the start. Appearing out of sorts and unusually leaden footed, Germany was humiliated 2-1 as the Algerians struck thanks to goals from Madjer and Belloumi. Much worse was to come for Germany, though.

Eventually getting their rhythm going thanks to a victory over Chile where Rummenigge came good with a hat-trick, Germany then contrived, along with Austria, to bring the whole tournament into disrepute. In the same muggy heat in which they had been beaten by Algeria, the Germans and their Austrian neighbors went through the motions in the northwest Spanish city of Gijon. After the Germans scored in the 11th minute through Horst Hrubesch, the game effectively ended as a contest with each team taking it in turns to play keep-ball. A 1-0 German victory meant that each side was guaranteed to advance to the next stage at the expense of Algeria. As television cameras panned the crowd picking out groups of tearful Algerians, a deep sense of disgust took over proceedings. The sour taste left by the events in Gijon was not simply confined to Algerians and neutrals, but to the wider football community. Indeed, the German commentator covering the contest claimed “What’s happening here is disgraceful and has nothing to do with football”. The resulting German victory ensured that both teams progressed as the Algerians, level on points with both Germany and Austria, had an inferior goal difference. The upshot of the scandal was a FIFA decree stating that final group stage matches must kick off simultaneously, thereby not granting any team an unfair advantage.

Germany’s woes at the 1982 World Cup, brilliantly covered in lavish detail by Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger in his book Tor!, did not end in Gijon and with Austria and Algeria. Having ground their way through to the semifinal in Seville, they then became embroiled in one of the World Cup’s classic games on 8 July. On that night, deep in the south of Spain, they faced the romantics’ choice in France, then hailed as “the Brazilians of Europe”. What happened on that balmy evening in Seville colors this coming Friday’s quarterfinal matchup between the same two nations as, uncannily, the ghosts of Spain ’82 appear to point the way for Germany and their progress in Brazil 2014.

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