Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Underdogs Algeria can leave World Cup stage with real pride

PORTO ALEGRE, BRAZIL - JUNE 30:  Andre Schuerrle of Germany celebrates scoring his team's first goal in extra-time past goalkeeper Rais M'Bolhi of Algeria during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Round of 16 match between Germany and Algeria at Estadio Beira-Rio on June 30, 2014 in Porto Alegre, Brazil.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
PORTO ALEGRE, BRAZIL - JUNE 30: Andre Schuerrle of Germany celebrates scoring his team's first goal in extra-time past goalkeeper Rais M'Bolhi of Algeria during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Round of 16 match between Germany and Algeria at Estadio Beira-Rio on June 30, 2014 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

To Germany the victory. To Algeria the credit. What a cracking contest. Another one in this wonderful World Cup.

Nobody gave the Africans a chance. It wasn't a case of who would win, it was a case of how many the Germans would win by... just 2-1 at the end of a thrilling 120 minutes, but only after Algeria had given Joachim Low's men the fright of their lives.

With a little more fortune and better finishing, today we would have been talking about one of the biggest shocks in the history of the competition.

Instead the Germans, thanks to goals from substitute Andre Schurrle and Mesut Ozil, are in the quarter-finals where France await.

Germany, after a sloppy start, grew into the game. Algeria stood tall all night.

They tested their opponents throughout normal and extra time, driven on by their own hopes and dreams and a burning sense of injustice from over three decades ago.

While in Northern Ireland we celebrate Espana ‘82, that competition stirs up feelings of anger and bitterness in Algerians.

They famously defeated West Germany 2-1 back then in the first game in Group 2. In the last game, the Germans beat Austria 1-0 with both going through to the next stage, and Algeria exiting on goal difference.

Controversy raged because Algeria cried foul, launching a protest, claiming the match was fixed. Many felt they had a point because both West Germany and Austria appeared content to play the second half without a meaningful tackle or attempt on goal.

The result stood and while the Germans went on to reach the final, the Africans went home.

The game led to Fifa playing future final group games in the World Cup at the same time, but that was of little consolation to what was considered the most gifted Algerian side in the nation's history.

The hurt in Algeria hearts and minds remains. Already the first Algerian team to make the knockout stages, the current squad wanted to create more history by qualifying for the last eight and make up for what had gone before.

Last night they played with ambition and adventure. All that they lacked was a killer pass or clinical finish. When they did hit the net in the first half, Islam Slimani was inches offside.

The underdogs continually stretched a laboured German defence which needed some serious protection from the alert Manuel Neuer, playing the role of sweeper as much as goalkeeper.

When Germany found their form, Algeria number one Rais Mbolhi was equally as impressive at the other end, making a number of spectacular saves.

He could not keep out Schurrle's clever flick at the start of extra time, however, and Ozil's deadly strike at the end of it.

Algeria were brilliant and refused to surrender even then with Abdelmoumene Djabou smashing home, but by then their brave race had been run.

Like in 1982 Algeria can leave this World Cup with their heads held high.

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