COMMENT: Vahid Halilhodzic's men failed to avenge 'The Shame of Gijon' but their exciting and spirited team gave Joachim Low's Germany a huge scare in Porto Alegre
By Liam Twomey in Brazil
For a time it seemed as if bonus rows, training boycotts, on-field underachievement and players sent home in disgrace would ensure that this World Cup would go down as a black mark on the history of African football.
But after all the extraordinary events of the past fortnight, it will be remembered rather differently in Algeria.
At the final whistle in Porto Alegre on Monday there was no triumphalism to be seen. German players walked, dazed and relieved, back to the tunnel while exhausted Algerians fell to the turf. Coach Vahid Halilhodzic unsuccessfully fought back tears as he embraced his players. Little satisfaction in victory, no consolation in defeat.
In truth, Algeria’s history had been made before that. The first African team to score four goals in a World Cup match with a 4-2 win over South Korea, the first Algeria team to ever make the second round of a World Cup after a hard-fought draw against Russia. The identity of their last 16 opponents should have been an irrelevance.
But back home there was talk of revenge. For Algeria, a clash with Germany was always going to be about more than enjoying a ride in uncharted waters. Halilhodzic’s men were tasked with healing wounds that had festered for over 30 years. They came so mightily close.
Back in the summer of 1982, nine days before what became known as ‘The Shame of Gijon’ sent them packing from the World Cup, Algeria had stunned the football world by beating West Germany 2-1. Lakhdar Belloumi, one of the scorers that day, insisted earlier this week that a rematch more than three decades in the making would inspire his countrymen, but few others expected this.
The north Africans ruthlessly and repeatedly exposed the lack of pace in a high German backline with a potent combination of incisive aerial balls and direct running from deep, creating numerical advantages in the final third which, but for an agonising lack of composure - and, on one occasion, the assistant referee's flag - might have yielded a famous win.
At the other end Lady Luck undoubtedly played her part; it is hard to recall Germany being this profligate in a crucial tournament match. Thomas Muller is targeting the World Cup goal record jointly held by Ronaldo and Miroslav Klose – who rather mysteriously remained on the bench – but will never reach it with finishing like this.
There had been speculation that the onset of Ramadan might affect the North Africans, but no lack of energy was apparent. Algeria worked tirelessly to break up the German passing rhythm early and often, eventually forcing Joachim Low to replace the twinkle-toed Mario Gotze with the less subtle but more direct Andre Schurrle.
It proved a decisive change but, even once behind, Halilhodzic’s men did not allow their illustrious opponents to relax. Feghouli and substitute Yacine Brahimi prodded and probed from deep as Slimani drove on undeterred.
Mesut Ozil settled matters on 119 minutes but Abdelmoumene Djabou’s late strike provided a final scare, as well as a scoreline which better reflected the intensity of the battle that had raged.
Defeat always carries a bitter taste. But when the dust has settled and Algerians take stock – of the righteous indignation of 1982, the humiliation and joylessness of 2010, and the apparent poor health of the rest of African football – disappointment will surely give way to burning pride.