In the knockout phase of the World Cup for the first time in the country’s history, there might be a chance that Algeria will already be taking a step back and taking satisfaction in their achievements, particularly with one of the tournament favorites now standing in their way of progressing any further. Instead, the identity of their opponents in the Round of 16 will insure that the minds of the Algerian team are focused squarely on the matter at hand.
The only previous time that Algeria threatened to make an impact on the global stage was 32 years ago. Then, in the World Cup in Spain, the Fennec Foxes had shocked the reigning European champions, the then West Germany, with a 2-1 win on the opening day. A further win against Chile meant that only a victory by a one- or two-goal margin by West Germany over Austria in the group’s final game could eliminate them. West Germany went 1-0 up early before the rest of the game was played out with shots or even tackles an ever-increasing rarity. Algeria and the rest of the world were outraged. Algeria exited with their dignity intact, as the sham forced the current policy of the final round of group fixtures now kicking off at the same time.
The memories, though, remain.
“We have not forgotten,” Algeria coach Vahid Halilhodzic said after his side secured a draw with Russia to reach the last 16. “Everybody has been talking about Algeria and Germany from 1982.”
If FIFA learned their lesson from 1982, Germany would certainly be wise to as well. West Germany had gone into that opening game against an unheralded Algeria side with one of their players openly discussing how wide their margin of victory would be. Germany are again massive favorites going into this modern-day meeting, but any complacency again has the prospect of being punished.
In South Africa four years ago, Algeria won just one point, failed to score a single goal and few if any lamented their early exit. Under Halihodzic, there is still a primary focus on being tough to break down, but that is now complemented by far greater attacking willingness and ability. This was shown in a dazzling first-half performance against South Korea that had them 3-0 up by the interval. In Valencia’s attacking midfielder Sofiane Feghouli, Algeria have a player of real quality, while their top scorer in qualifying, Islam Slimani, is a genuine threat up front. The fourth goal they scored against South Korea in a 4-2 win was a brilliant demonstration that, while they can be direct and physical, Algeria can also combine with some wonderfully intricate passing.
The scorer of that goal, Yacine Brahimi, is a symbol of the route Algeria has taken to improve their status in recent years. Having seen players with Algerian descent like Zinedine Zidane and Karim Benzema become stars for France, Algeria has taken full advantage of a recent FIFA rule change that allows players to switch national allegiance even after having appeared for a country at youth level. Two-thirds of Algeria’s squad is made up of players born and raised in France, while a third was part of the country’s youth teams. Brahimi made eight appearances for France’s Under-21s before switching his allegiance to Algeria last year.
They should certainly not be underestimated. Germany have already been given a stern test by an African side in this World Cup, having had to come from a goal down to secure a 2-2 draw with Ghana. It has been solid, rather than spectacular, progress for Germany thus far as they look to overcome becoming being the bridesmaids of international soccer. With expectations to come home with the trophy after reaching three semifinals and one final in the last four major tournaments, Germany showed this incredible quality going forward in a 4-0 dismantling of Portugal in their opening game. Despite losing Marco Reus, among others, to injury before the tournament and only taking one traditional striker, few teams can still match the strength in depth Germany possesses in midfield and attack.
That attack has so far been led brilliantly by Thomas Müller. An incredibly effective, if unspectacular looking, forward, the Bayern Munich man is again relishing the World Cup stage, adding to his five goals in 2010 with four more already in Brazil. The man who offers a more direct option, Miroslav Klose has become the joint all-time leading scorer in World Cups with his strike against Ghana taking him to 15.
Algeria should provide some initial strong resistance, but it would be a surprise were Germany not able to find a way through. Joachim Löw’s team utilized a large number of crosses in their 1-0 win over the United States and looked more dangerous in doing so when introducing Klose. It might be a wise move to start with the striker on Monday, with two of the five goals Algeria have conceded coming from high crosses and both goals scored against them by South Korea coming off the back of direct balls into the box. The movement of Müller and, if selected, Mario Götze and Mesut Özil, can also cause ample problems.
Algeria can certainly pose a threat on the break. Their best player, Feghouli, will be going up against Germany’s weak link, an out-of-position Benedikt Höwedes. Germany should progress, but, like 1982, Algeria should leave with their heads held high.
Germany 2-0 Algeria
Betting odds (bovada.lv)
In 90 minutes:
Germany win: 2/7
Algeria win: 17/2
When and where: the Round of 16 match will kick off from the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre at 4 p.m. ET.