I mentioned the ‘Schande von Gijon’ in the last blog (when West Germany and Austria colluded to qualify from their group in the 1982 World Cup at the expense of Algeria), and that was one of the two main stories in the run-up to this game.
What was the other main story?
Jögi Löw running topless on a beach.
That possibly happened, and it would have certainly been filmed if it did happen, but I didn’t notice that in the build-up. Which is just as bastard well, really, as I’m getting increasingly disturbed with this ongoing Löw-in (do you see what I did there?). It’s a bit like the plot from Something about Mary – everyone seems to falls in love with the main character. Although, the less said about Löw’s choice of hair products as part of this comparison, the better.
Sorry, I digress. Both Sebastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira are coming back from injuries during this World Cup, and the way time is being split between them was the other main story over the days leading-up to the game. Khedira played well in the first two group games, with ‘Schweini’ doing well when coming on to replace him. Löw switched them around for the USA game, leaving Khedira on the bench until bringing him on for the Bayern central midfielder. The performances of both left the manager with the classic ‘good dilemma to have’ in the run-up to this game.
But why can’t they play together, as they have previously (so, Euro 2012, for example)? Well, for one, the development of Toni Kroos, who has turned into one of Europe’s best, and most dangerous midfield playmakers, has guaranteed him a spot on the pitch. Coupled with this, Philipp Lahm has excelled this season after being moved from being one of the best full-backs in the world, to one of the best central midfielders in the world. Realistically, these four players have to squeeze into the three midfield roles, as Lahm looks unlikely to move back to full-back during this tournament.
Naturally, though, with big characters, there are some hints of discontent. When asked about the USA game, Khedira said that the team lacked drive in the midfield (he’s more of a box-to-box player then the Bayern man). And what did Schweinsteiger have to say?
No one knows, actually. He’s refused to talk to the press since just before the tournament started. Some have speculated that this is as he feels unfairly singled out for criticism about a decline in his skills, but we can’t really know. But, as he’s not talking, the press are making quite a bit of this story. Whether it is a problem in the German camp or not, we can’t really know until later on, when players start talking. Both, however, are very important and influential members of the squad.
And it was Schweinsteiger who was chosen at the expense of Khedira, keeping his place in the centre of the park. The only change from the team that faced the USA was Mustafi coming in for the flu-stricken Hummels. Boateng moved into the heart of the defence, and Mustafi (also a centre defender) slotted-in at right-back. This meant – once again – that Germany were playing with four central defenders (five, if you count Neuer as a sweeper).
I’ll keep this short as I know most of you watched the game. Safe to say, it exceeded the (minimal) hype in the build-up.
Germany started the game looking very vulnerable, with the pace of the Algerians on the counter, and some intelligent movement and runs causing each of Germany’s four defenders problems individually, with none of them looking comfortable. Luckily for Germany, Manuel Neuer was in one of those ‘I’m bored of standing back here’ moods and was on to any mistakes or through balls like a flash to clear up the danger. In fact, as Oliver Kahn agreed at half-time, Neuer was the best defender that Germany had. It worked very effectively, but if he had fucked any of those ‘adventures’ up, it would have been a goal.
Going forwards, Germany didn’t create much of note. A few good crosses were wasted, a few long-range shots were handled, and Götze had his close-range effort saved well by the Algerian keeper. To be honest, I think Miroslav Klose would have buried that (as well as the early header Müller missed from Mustafi’s cross).
To be honest, at half-time, the mood in the Berlin Bunker was a mixture of panic, worry, hilarity and aggression. The panic and worry were on behalf of the missus, who is German. The hilarity was the amount I laughed throughout the first half as the Jormans struggled. And the aggression? That was the comments that occasionally flew in my direction mid-laughter. But, as they say, football is a game of two halves. Just like a marriage. Or something like that.
Germany came back into the game a lot more in the second half (they couldn’t have been much worse, to be fair). After Mustafi went off injured with 20 minutes left, Khedira came on to play alongside his ‘rival’, with Lahm moving back into his ‘natural’ position at full-back. A full-back playing full-back? Löw must have been smoking something mind-altering during the break. And did it work?
Well, Germany started to look a lot more balanced, and a lot quicker and more comfortable at the back. As brilliant as Lahm is, there’s an argument to moving him to his best position (full-back) in order to bring in another strong player; currently, a strong player (Khedira/Schweinsteiger) is kept out of the team, while a young, vulnerable defender is played in a position which is not his natural one.
Good saves, last ditch defending and some poor chance-taking from the Germans in the second half saw this match go into extra time, while their defensive frailties remained apparent at the back (although well-covered by the hyperactive Neuer).
And then, at the start of extra time, Germany shocked us all by finally scoring. Müller’s cross was mis-hit by The German Shola (he was trying the hit it with his left foot, not his heel) and beat the excellent M’Bolhi in the Algerian net. Still, Germany were leaving the Algerians free on the flanks, but the incisive passes were becoming less and less frequent. Algeria seemed unwilling to commit too many men forwards – and the ones they did have were clearly knackered – until Özil got Germany’s second. They then managed to pull a quick goal back after a smart finish, but it was definitely a case of too little, too late.
Algeria deserve a lot of credit for the way they played, and Germany should be (and are) worried by how poorly they played (especially in the first half).
What a game it was, though!
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