Germany Edge Past Algeria in Extra Time!
Germany remain a bit of a puzzle. Touted as the most technically gifted team in the nation’s history, it had been hoped that they would cut a swathe through opponents at this World Cup, dazzling with fast and flamboyant football. The 4-0 victory over Portugal in their opening group tie further fired the expectations.
They have been more prosaic since, qualifying despite a wobble against Ghana and a slightly unsatisfactory win over the USA, and there could be a couple of grumbles here, despite a fully merited victory over Algeria that has set up a mouth-watering quarter-final against France in Rio de Janeiro on Friday. They were sloppy in the extreme for the majority of the first half and, for long spells, their patient possession football teetered towards the realms of the ponderous.
And yet, having gradually assumed control, having browbeaten a game Algeria team, the telling blow that they struck was coated in the highest quality. André Schürrle made the difference after he came on for the second half of regulation time and his goal early in the extra period was worthy of swinging any tie.
From Thomas Müller’s deflected cross, he showed impeccable timing to flick home with the inside of his trailing foot. Mesut Özil made certain of Germany’s progress towards the very end, when he lashed home after a combination with Schürrle and Algeria’s goal, volleyed home by the substitute Abdelmoumene Djabou, came too late to make any difference.
For Algeria, in what was their first World Cup knockout tie, there could be pride in defeat and the knowledge that they had rocked their more illustrious opponents in the early running. But there would be no revenge for what has gone down as the Disgrace of Gijón.
It had been almost impossible to separate the sense of history from this tie; those grisly memories from the Spain World Cup in 1982 when Germany and Austria carved up the 1-0 Germany win that secured qualification for both of the European nations and pressed Algeria to the exit. Algeria remain the only country to have been eliminated from a World Cup group with two wins.
The Algeria players from back then had called upon the current crop to help them forget. Algeria were flying the flag for the Arab world and, following Nigeria’s loss to France earlier in the day, for Africa as well. But despite a bright start, Germany wrestled the tie from them. Ultimately, Germany’s streetwise game management became the story.
“It was a victory of willpower,” Joachim Löw, the Germany manager, said. “We didn’t play well in the first half – we had major problems – but the important thing was that we got through. You cannot always play fantastically. You will get these games at a tournament. It’s about winning.”
The defender Per Mertesacker said: “Would you rather we played beautiful football but got knocked out? Do you think that just Mickey Mouse teams are involved in the last 16? All that matters is we’re in the quarter-finals.”
Algeria were the better team in the first half, as Germany failed to settle, even in conditions that were supposed to favour them. They had struggled in the searing heat during their group matches yet it was cooler here in Porto Alegre; even a little chilly. The name of this stadium translates as the Riverside and it felt more like an evening in Middlesbrough than Brazil.
Germany’s back line was extremely high – Löw could be seen telling his defenders to squeeze up – and Algeria sought to expose them with quick counters and balls into the channels. It was surprising to see how loose Germany were in the first half; their game was pockmarked by errors. When Benedikt Höwedes was guilty of one, Löw scowled and Germans in the crowd laughed. What was going on?
With the defenders so high, the goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, resembled a sweeper at times and he sparked alarm with a series of bolts from his line. Following the first of them, from the left-back Faouzi Ghoulam’s ball forward, Islam Slimani got around him, only to find the angle to goal against him. Slimani had the ball in the net with a first-half header from Ghoulam’s whipped cross but was correctly called back for offside, and then Ghoulam flashed wide from a tight angle and Mehdi Mostefa’s sweetly struck shot was deflected wide off Jérôme Boateng.
Germany hogged 70% of the possession but only towards the end of the first-half did they begin to stretch Algeria and ask questions. The goalkeeper, Rais M’Bolhi, saved low from Toni Kroos in the 41st minute and got up to deny Mario Götze at close quarters on the rebound. The second save was excellent and it would not be his last impressive moment.
This German generation is gifted with an abundance of highly skilled midfielders and so the temptation to cram as many of them into the team is understandable. But in doing so, Löw sacrifices pace on the flanks which clips their wings. Bit by bit, though, phase by phase, their possession game stifled Algeria. It pressed them back and, unlike in the first half, they found that they could not get out.
It came to feel like a question of when Germany would fashion the decisive moment and they threatened it in the second half. Schürrle came on for Götze on the right, which meant that Özil switched flanks, and the Chelsea player’s first involvement was a deflected shot that looped up and dropped narrowly wide. Moments later, from Kroos’s cross, Shkodran Mustafi thudded a header straight at M’Bolhi – a good chance wasted – while from Bastian Schweinsteiger’s lay-off, Philipp Lahm drew a finger-tip save from M’Bolhi.
Algeria’s power on the counter ebbed. Slimani, who has done so much to enhance his reputation at this tournament, burst forward and struck with glorious sweetness only for the effort to lack precision. It thwacked into Neuer’s midriff.
Germany pushed, and when the big chance in regulation time came, they would surely have chosen for it to fall to Müller. Sami Khedira, on for Mustafi, who damaged his hamstring, crossed from the right and Müller seemed certain to add to his tally of four goals. His free header, though, was too close to M’Bolhi, whose reflexes were sound. Schürrle’s rebound was blocked by Essaïd Belkalem.