When faced with an Algeria team who have relished the tag of underdogs in this World Cup, and were gunning for revenge, the last thing Germany should have done was give them any encouragement. And yet a slack, laconic display in Porto Alegre as they edged through 2-1 after extra-time very nearly proved costly. They are unlikely to be awarded such fortune again as France await in the quarter-final.
During Joachim Low's long tenure with the national team, Germany have done everything they 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 favourites and played like the team everyone knows they can be. By the time Toni Kroos’ long-range effort was beaten away by the excellent Rais M’Bolhi, they could have been 3-0 down as 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 half-time, Germany exerted yet more control on the game and looked far less troubled at the back, but there was still something missing. 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Thomas Muller’s ice-cold finishing ability deserted him and a criminal miss from Mario Gotze saw him withdrawn at half-time. 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 threat they pose, forcing them to shots from distance and exposed their many flaws at the back. This is not the first game where Germany have 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 they are not among the best eight teams at this tournament. But, against superior opposition to Algeria, they could have come unstuck.
That Germany can lurch from the clinical brilliance they showed in the 4-0 demolition of Portugal to the chaos of Monday casts serious doubts as to whether they can go on and win the tournament.
France, their opponents in the last eight, have shown the finishing ability Algeria sadly lacked, scoring eight goals in their opening two group games. On the evidence of this encounter, they could have Germany’s number. And if they get past France, an even greater threat lies in wait in the form of either Brazil or Colombia.
Germany escaped this time, they 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.