In those final moments in Curitiba as Algeria’s players, staff and boisterous supporters prepared themselves for the most important referee’s whistle they had ever heard, the emotion bubbled like a shaken up bottle of champagne, waiting to pop. When the World Cup qualification they had waited over decades for was confirmed, out it all flowed. Algeria’s team ran across the pitch with their flag hoisted above their heads. It was a moment that should have happened 32 years ago, and today’s players felt they were representing not only themselves, but their footballing ancestors too. There was history as well as a glorious present in that celebration.
The fate that befell Algeria in 1982 is part of World Cup folklore. It’s a stain of a story, and one that has shuddering resonance considering who the Fennec Foxes meet next in Brazil.
In 1982, the route out of the group stage Algeria merited was sabotaged by one of the most suspicious cases of match-fixing to afflict the competition. The North African team, mainly home based and little known to outsiders, had defeated West Germany in their opening game. That in itself was a shock of the ages. The zest in their football caught their illustrious opponents by surprise, and they won again against Chile to give themselves every chance of continuing their World Cup adventure.
The way the group subsequently panned out, all eyes were on West Germany and their neighbors Austria in the final match. A win for the Germans would edge Algeria out on goal difference and allow Germany and Austria to walk off hand in hand into the next round.
The manner of that game, played with even less ambition than a non-competitive practice match once Germany took the lead, smacked of a mutually satisfying arrangement. There were no risks, no challenges to speak of. The onlookers inside the Spanish stadium cried of a scandal. Some Algerians in the crowd waved money to register their disgust. Even though an agreement was never officially uncovered, the plot was so obvious even a German commentator sobbed at what he saw, while an Austrian counterpart was ashamed enough to advise viewers to switch off the last half hour of the broadcast.
The question of revenge was inevitable as soon as Algeria’s 2014 vintage were able to take that vital step denied from their predecessors. "We have not forgotten," Algeria’s coach Vahid Halilhodzic said. "Everybody has been talking about Algeria and Germany from 1982." He had been a player at the time, representing Yugoslavia at that World Cup.
As the Algerians were then in Spain, his modern team have been a breath of fresh air at this tournament. They are arguably the most improved of all the squads at this World Cup, considering how drab they were four years ago at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where they finished bottom of their group and were not able to register a single goal. Algeria scored in each of their group games, six times in total.
Germany knows they have an intriguing test on their hands. Joachim Low’s team has the expertise, the style, and Thomas Muller’s admirable knack for scoring on their side. But both Ghana and to an extent the United States showed that they can be surprised by pace and determination in an opponent’s attack.
Germany will be prepared. It is not possible for them to be lulled into the kind of complacency that featured in 1982. Algeria’s defender Chaabane Merzekane recalled that one of the Germans said he would play with a cigar in his mouth when they met. The coach, Jupp Derwall, had been given a video of Algeria in action but saw no benefit in asking the players to watch it. How they suffered when Algeria zipped into a 2-1 lead which they joyously held.
Islam Silmani, the forward who struck the equalizer against Russia which confirmed this modern rematch in Brazil, is using that legendary victory as inspiration. "We all know about the win over Germany in 1982," he said. "We’d love to follow in their footsteps. If it was possible back then, why shouldn’t we dream of doing it again?"
There is romance in this Round of 16 match in Porto Alegre. Algeria feel buoyed by it. Germany proved, though, as they focused sufficiently to ignore any emotion when meeting Jurgen Klinsmann with the USA to win through, that sentiment must be put to one side.
"We must remain focused and on our toes because any complacency will be punished," Low told reporters earlier in the week. "I know we’re up against a very compact side who run a lot and are aggressive. Their whole country is euphoric, so we’re up against strong opponents."