TAKEN to the brink by an impressive Algeria, Germany eventually secured a particularly attractive-looking quarter-final appointment with France in the Maracana stadium on Friday night.
Scorers: Algeria - Djabou (120); Germany - Schurrle (92), Ozil (119)
Substitute Andre Schurrle struck just 90 seconds after the start of extra-time and then Mesut Ozil scored what turned out to be the winner in the dying moments of the second period with an emphatic finish.
Algeria scored the goal their efforts deserved just seconds later though another substitute, Abdelmoumene Djabou, who swept the ball into the net in stoppage time.
This victory bore little resemblance to Germany’s ruthless dismantling of Portugal earlier in the tournament. It had more in common with the struggles endured against Ghana.
There was even the comical sight of one of their players, Thomas Muller, falling to his knees in hapless fashion as he stepped up to take a free-kick towards the end of the 90 minutes. But he atoned for this by setting up the goal that broke the deadlock as Germany stumbled into the last eight.
Goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi could do little about Schurrle’s smart execution as he flicked in with his left foot just as Algeria were relishing Germany’s discomfort. Although M’Bohli was asked to excel on numerous occasions, Algeria had several chances to score before their late, late strike through Djabou and will be frustrated by their failure to do so, particularly in the opening half.
Mehdi Mostefa also pulled a shot wide in extra-time as Algeria responded to the dismaying setback so soon into the first period. However, it is Joachim Low’s side who progress to an encounter that, like last night’s clash, rekindles memories of Espana 82.
It was then that West Germany edged out France on penalties in the semi-final on a controversial night in Seville that is perhaps best remembered for Harald Schumacher’s stomach-churningly high challenge on France’s Patrick Battiston as he charged from his box.
Here, too, we saw a German goalkeeper rushing from his goal, though not with quite the same murderous intent. The need for Manuel Neuer to play the ‘Franz Beckenbauer’ sweeper-role on several occasions in an effort to clear the danger was a clear sign that Germany did not having everything their own way here in Porto Alegre.
The intriguing prospect of an All-African quarter-final clash had been ruled out earlier in the day following France’s win in Brasilia over Nigeria. However, Algeria were still bidding to become only the fourth African team to reach that stage. And they were aided in this quest by outstanding contributions at both ends of the park.
M’Bolhi caught the eye just as much as Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama had done against the French. The CSKA Sofia player ensured the score stayed level at the interval with a superb double save five minutes before half-time to keep shots from Toni Kroos and Mario Goetze out. However, Algeria were already ruing their own failure to establish a lead.
After a slightly nervy opening spell, they had settled into their stride. The Germany centre-back pairing of Jerome Boeteng and Per Mertesacker were given a torrid time by the quick-breaking Algerians, whose Islam Slimani led the line superbly.
For those of a certain age, such adventure from the team in green brought back memories of 1982 – although Algeria, who are featuring in their fourth finals, are not the surprise package they were then.
Still, it was a meeting that begged to be set in a historical context. Only one player in the Algeria squad was born as far as back as 1982, and even he – the former Rangers player Madjid Bougherra, who was sent as a substitute in extra-time last night – came into the world a few months after the squalid events of Espana 82.
The so-called ‘Anschluss’ agreement between West Germany and Austria, when they very obviously played out a 1-0 win for West Germany that ensured both teams qualified for the second stage at Algeria’s expense, shamed football. It also outraged those who had had their hearts captured by the Algerians’ 2-1 victory over a West Germany boasting the likes of Paul Breitner and Karl-Heinze Rummenigge in their opening group game.
For those who consider 1982 to be their first World Cup, it stands as perhaps the quintessential football shock. It certainly heaped humiliation on then manager Jupp Derwall, who had promised he would get on the first train back to Munich if they lost.
Unlike 32 year ago, Germany knew even before kick-off that they could expect to be in a game here, and nothing that happened during the 90 minutes and then extra half an hour encouraged them to change their opinion. Neuer was required time and time again to take preventive action on the edge of his box as his defence failed to cope.
Sofiane Feghouli hung his head as he wasted Algeria’s best chance after 14 minutes after blasting over from a wide position when he knew he should have squared the ball for Slimani, who also saw his header ruled out after a narrow off-side decision.
While the going was tough on the field, off the pitch the welcome was proving kinder for Germany. This really feel did like home from home for Germany, whose reward as winners of their group was an assignment in the rolling hills of Rio Grande do Sul – sometimes known as “Greater Germany”. It is to here where Germans started migrating in their thousands nearly 200 years ago.
A town by the name of Novo Hamburgo near Porto Alegre illustrates the tight connection to the area. When a pitch invader bearing an Algerian flag ran on to the pitch he was roundly booed off. However, as the game wore on and Algeria’s positivity earned them new admirers, it became clear that the partisan crowd was becoming not-quite-so-partisan.
The Mexican waves that circled the stadium did the game a disservice. It was a fascinating, engrossing tussle, and the intensity was even more admirable given reports that several of the players on show were observing Ramadan.
Schurrle’s introduction for Goetze was clearly intended to bring a new dynamism to Germany, but they continued to appear strangely muted and were hindered by Shkodran Mustafi’s hamstring tear, which saw Sami Khediri enter the action, and Philipp Lahm move to full-back.
Algeria sensed an opportunity and poured forward but M’Bolhi continued to impress, stopping a point-blank range header from Muller and ensuring that supporters in the stadium and viewers watching on television at home were treated to another 30 minutes of football on an absorbing evening in southern Brazil.
Algeria: M’Bolhi, Mandi, Belkalem, Halliche (Bougherra 97), Ghoulam, Lacen, Mostefa, Feghouli, Soudani (Djabou 100), Taider (Brahimi 78), Slimani. Subs not used: Si Mohamed, Zemmamouche, Mesbah, Yebda, Ghilas, Medjani, Bentaleb, Cadamuro, Mahrez.
Germany: Neuer, Mustafi (Khedira 70), Mertesacker, Boateng, Howedes, Lahm, Ozil, Schweinsteiger (Kramer 109), Kroos, Gotze (Schurrle 46), Muller. Subs not used: Zieler, Weidenfeller, Grosskreutz, Ginter, Podolski, Klose, Draxler, Durm.