Germany edged Algeria 2-1 in extra-time behind a late goal from Mesut Ozil at Porto Alegre to stamp its ticket to the quarterfinal stage on Monday night.
Ozil’s late insurance in the final minute of the extra time period proved to be vital when Abdelmoumene Djabou snatched one back thirty seconds later. The result put Germany into the quarterfinals, with a date against France. It was hardly a convincing win for one of the World Cup giants.
”You don’t have to play fantastic every match,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said. ”You have to win. It was a victory of will power. We had major problems in the first half to organize the way we played. We made simple mistakes, which invited the opponents to start counterattacks.”
Ozil’s goal, a play run with Andre Schurrle, was a slap-shot right at the near post. The initial strike was blocked but Ozil was able to put home the rebound and you could feel the relief course through the German side. At that point, the goal had seemed like insurance. Schurrle had scored with an insouciant — and possibly unintentional — back-heel just two minutes into the extra half-hour.
But when Djabou was johnny-on-the-spot to bury a cross with only thirty seconds left, there was real fear on German faces. Keeper Manuel Neuer didn’t want to give the ball back, and when Sandro Ricci finally blew the whistle, you could almost hear the exhales from Berlin.
This was a harsh result for the Fennec Foxes and entirely unreflective of the game. For the truth is that they froze out Germany for the entire regulation game in the chill of the Brazilian winter. On paper, the tiny Algerians shouldn’t even be close to a team that is — or was, before Monday — a World Cup favorite. But its bravery and commitment exposed some fundamental German weaknesses — and the French will surely have taken note.
Manager Joachim Low has had his share of injuries — Marco Reus, Ilkay Gundogan, the Benders, and now, Lukas Podolski — but until Monday, Germany looked like a side that had been able to overcome those problems. But the absence of Matt Hummels, sidelined by the flu, left the Germans with a severely depleted, barely mobile backline that had no recognized fullbacks at all. It was nearly very costly.
Algeria, under the canny stewardship of Vahid Halilhodzic decided the best thing to do was run right at them, and force them to snap their high line. It took the Germans — and for that matter, most observers — by surprise and it turned what looked like a rout on paper into a tense and angst-filled match, particularly for the men in white.
Manuel Neuer was tested in the ninth minute, when he ambled off his line, only to see Per Mertesacker torched by Islam Slimani, forcing him to scramble back for the save. That was just a taster. Algeria started to throw runners left and right at them, with Sofiane Feghouli causing problems for Mertesacker and Jerome Boateng, and making one wonder why Philipp Lahm hadn’t been deployed at his normal position instead of sitting as a midfielder — and an ineffective one at that.
Neuer was left rooted when Mehdi Mostefa took a hard shot at his net from just outside the area — and he was fortunate to see it deflected wide of his net. When Feghouli torched Benedikt Howedes to force Neuer to run out 30 yards and clean it up, Low looked like a man who could not wait to get his team into the lockerroom.
Rais M’Bolhi was not entirely idle. As the half wore on, Ozil started to gain slight purchase, and Mario Goetze forced a good double stop off the CSKA backup. But the best chance might have fallen to Lahm in the 56th, when he sidefooted a shot on frame that the keeper did well to palm out.
But Germany were never fully able to deal with Algeria on the counterattack — time and time again Neuer was forced to essentially play as a sweeper when his defense found themselves stranded halfway up the field. Slimani forced him into a bobbling, crazy header outside of the box in the 70th that had German hearts in mouths. Feghouli whipped a ball past Neuer’s back post in the 73rd with a fine volley, then Slimani followed up a minute later off a turnover to slam a ball into Neuer’s midsection.
The final ten minutes saw Germany try and snatch something, with Low finally admitting he needed Sami Khedira in the middle. Muller forced M’Bolhi into a sprawling stop in the 80th, and Esseid Belkalem made two key blocks to deny Andre Schurrle. Thomas Muller had an even better chance three minutes later, when he settled a cross well around Belkalem but then scuffed his shot wide to the right to deflate what had been a brilliant bit of skill.
But when Muller tumbled to the ground when trying to pull off a bit of set-piece trickery — soccer’s equivalent of the hidden-ball trick — you felt that this bit of desperation summed up Germany’s night. The fact that Muller’s act was followed by Neuer sprinting madly off his line again to clean up a nasty mess — for what was apparently the 18th time of the evening — was even more telling.
But Algeria’s resolve collapsed in extra-time. Aissa Mandi coughed the ball up out wide, allowing Muller to race in and square for Schurrle. Whether it was intentional or not is unclear, but the Chelsea man’s back-heel caught M’Bohli flat, and it whipped across him and into the net. Ozil’s goal came when the legs had gone and the clock was almost up. His reaction was telling: Relief.
It was a bitter end to the game, and as the rain began to lash down on the Beira-Rio, you did get the feeling that this was a chance spurned for the Algerians. Burned 32 years ago by a scandalous arranged match between West Germany and Austria that saw them leave the 1982 World Cup, Algeria had yearned for revenge.
On Monday, they came within touching distance — but once again, exited the World Cup.
”We fell just short,” said Rais, who was voted man of the match. ”That’s why we’re disappointed, because we think more was possible tonight.”