Joachim Low's side put in a poor performance but eventually prevailed against Algeria, though serious questions remain about its ability to win the World CupWhen faced with an Algeria team which has relished the tag of underdog in this World Cup, the last thing Germany should have done was give it any encouragement. And yet a slack, laconic display in Porto Alegre in a 2-1 win after extra-time very nearly proved costly.
Germany is unlikely to be awarded such fortune again as France awaits in the quarterfinal.
During Joachim Low's long tenure with the national team, Germany has done everything it could to shirk the old stereotypes of efficiency and a game built on a solid mentality.
But this performance took things to new levels. Passes went astray, Per Mertesaker was routinely exposed – and outpaced – by his hungry opponents, Benedikt Howedes looked incapable of winning a duel and Shkodran Mustafi was horrendously out of his depth.
Half an hour had passed by the time Germany took on the mantle of favorite and played like the team everyone knows it can be. By the time Toni Kroos’ long-range effort was beaten away by the excellent Rais M’Bolhi, the Germans could have been 3-0 down. Faouzi Ghoulam, Islam Slimani and Sofiane Feghouli all missed excellent chances to put one past Manuel Neuer, who lurched from shocking overconfidence to brilliance within seconds.
Either side of halftime, Germany exerted yet more control on the game and looked far less troubled at the back, but there was still something missing.
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Mesut Ozil had a mixed game, looking capable of unlocking the stubborn north Africans one minute and carelessly giving the ball away the next.
Thomas Muller’s ice-cold finishing deserted him and a criminal miss from Mario Gotze saw him withdrawn at halftime. Prior to his opener just after the start of extra time, his replacement, Andre Schurrle, barely had a sniff of the ball. When Ozil put the result beyond doubt, his celebrations were those of a man who knew he was under pressure.
Algeria made a great effort of nullifying the German threat, forcing Low's men to shots from distance and exposing their many flaws at the back. This is not the first game where Germany has been stung by direct running and pace behind the back line and it will not be the last.
Schurrle and Ozil’s goals in extra time secured Germany’s passage and few can argue that it is not among the best eight teams at this tournament. But against superior opposition to Algeria, it all could have come unstuck.
That Germany can lurch from the clinical brilliance it showed in the 4-0 demolition of Portugal to the chaos of Monday casts serious doubts as to whether it can go on and win the tournament.
France, its opponent in the last eight, has shown the finishing ability Algeria sadly lacked, scoring eight goals in its opening two group games. On the evidence of this encounter, France could have Germany’s number. And if Germany gets past France, an even greater threat lies in wait in the form of either Brazil or Colombia.
Germany escaped this time, but it may not against a better team. It’s up to Low to ensure that the world sees a repeat of the showing against Portugal, not the slip-shod one against Algeria.