Algerians Want to Right a 32-Year-Old Wrong
Algeria play Germany in the 2014 FIFA World Cup on Monday for a quarterfinal spot. In the 1982 edition of the tournament, Algeria had beaten West Germany 2-1 as huge underdogs but the Germans ensured that Algeria do not go through to the knockout stages by staging a slim 1-0 win over Austria.
Soccer and fairness are hardly constant companions. Dominate play, create chance after chance, and your team can still lose on a lucky bounce, on a referee's judgment call or on the roulette wheel of a penalty shootout.
Soccer fans grow up with such paradoxes and, in most cases, accept them. But it only feels right that Algeria gets its place in the second round of a World Cup, and though it would be more appropriate if it had come at the expense of Germany, it is still a fine fit that Germany will be Algeria's opponent. (Also Read: Algeria seek revenge against Germany)
None of the German and Algerian players who will face one another here on Monday in the Round of 16 had any direct role in the wrong at the World Cup in Spain in 1982, when no member of this Algerian team was even born.
"The 1982 team had their period; I think in 2014 it's about something else," defender Rafik Halliche said in a news conference Sunday night.
In 1982, West Germany and Algeria were in the same first-round group. The Germans were the reigning European champions and one of the tournament favorites and were none too concerned about playing the Algerians, who had never qualified for a World Cup and whose players were, for the most part, little known outside their country.
The Germans did not bother to watch game film before the match and were in a lighthearted mood, with their manager, Jupp Derwall, reportedly announcing that if the Algerians won he would "jump on the first train back to Munich."
The Germans did lose, 2-1, in one of the great World Cup upsets. Derwall did not jump on the train back to Munich, and in West Germany's final match in the group, against Austria in Gijon, the Algerians, the Germans and the Austrians were all still in contention for the two second-round slots.
A one-goal or two-goal victory for West Germany would allow the Austrians and the Germans to advance. A bigger German margin of victory, a tie or an Austrian victory would send Algeria through.
Ten minutes into the match, Horst Hrubesch of West Germany scored the first goal. There would be no more to come and no discernible threat of more to come as both teams effectively spent 80 minutes trying not to score, all too aware that a 1-0 victory for the Germans would serve both their purposes.
It was unsporting. It was unfair, and there was nothing the Algerians or any other outsiders could do to stop it.
In his book on African soccer, "Feet of the Chameleon," Ian Hawkey wrote that Algerians in the stands in Gijon waved peseta bills toward the players, implying that the match had been fixed. Spaniards disapprovingly waved handkerchiefs. Austrian television commentators recommended that viewers turn off their sets.
The Guardian reported that Eberhard Stanjek, commenting on the match for the German network ARD, said on air, "What is happening here is disgraceful and has nothing to do with football. You can say what you like, but not every end justifies the means."
The headline in the French newspaper L'Equipe the next day was "22 Red Cards." In Spain and elsewhere the headlines were about a new Anschluss.
Michel Hidalgo, the French manager who was in Gijon to scout potential opponents, took no notes and told reporters acidly that the teams should share the Nobel Peace Prize.
But there would be no peace of mind for the Algerians, who watched the match in their team hotel.
"We couldn't believe it," Rabah Madjer, a striker now considered one of the best players in Algeria's history, told L'Equipe. "There are ways to make it not look so obvious, but the players were actually walking on the field. Everything was in slow motion."
The Algerian federation duly filed a protest with FIFA, soccer's world governing body, but despite calls for sanctions or a replay of that travesty of a match, FIFA rejected the appeal.
"That two big soccer countries could agree among themselves to eliminate a little country like Algeria, which was in its first World Cup, which had just been born in terms of international football, was a shock," Madjer said. "It was the match of shame."
To avoid further shame, FIFA changed its World Cup rules to mandate that final matches in a group be played on the same day, at the same time.
But that was not much of a consolation prize for Madjer and the members of the 1982 team. Neither were the apologies that came much later from some of the German players, including goalkeeper Harald Schumacher.
Still, finally reaching the second round - 32 years later in Brazil - has certainly lifted the mood of Algeria, which beat South Korea and tied Russia to finish second in its group behind Belgium.
Now comes Germany, not West or East Germany, just Germany, and though Germany coach Joachim Low sees talk of 1982 as irrelevant to this game, Algeria's coach Vahid Halilhodzic feels differently.
"We haven't forgotten," said Halilhodzic, a Bosnian who was a reserve for Yugoslavia in that cup. "We talk all the time about this match in 1982. History repeats itself 32 years later."
A true repeat looks unlikely. The Germans, with players like Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller, are again favorites, but they will certainly watch plenty of film this time. Low will surely make no jokes about catching planes back to Munich.
It is, in short, very hard to see the Algerians surprising the Germans at this stage, but it is, in the grand scheme of things, an undeniable pleasure to see the Algerians playing at this stage.
© 2014 New York Times News Service