The players who were foiled by one of the most infamous episodes in World Cup history hope that their heirs will avenge them on Monday. The Algeria-Germany last-16 tie in Brasília will take place in the shadow of the so-called Disgrace of Gijón, when West Germany and Austria were accused of colluding to ensure that they both reached the knockout stages of the 1982 World Cup at the expense of the north African side.
“The Germans and Austrians contrived to make sure we didn’t go through and now the present team has a chance to gain revenge,” says the former Algeria midfielder Lakhdar Belloumi. “The idea of doing that will not put pressure on them, it will inspire them,” believes Belloumi, who scored the winning goal in his country’s shock 2-1 victory over West Germany in the teams’ first match at the finals in Spain.
That win was followed by a 2-0 defeat to Austria then a 3-2 victory over Chile. The group results meant that Les Fennecs – the Desert Foxes – would become the first African team to make it past the opening round unless West Germany went on to beat Austria 1-0 or 2-0 in the final match – and lo and behold, after the Germans took an early lead the intensity faded from the game as the European neighbours spent the remainder of the match trundling cynically to a mutually beneficial outcome as onlookers fumed. The display drew so much condemnation that Fifa changed the rules for tournaments, to stipulate that all final group matches would be played simultaneously to reduce the risk of collusion.
“The Algerian, Spanish and even Germans fans in Gijón were disgusted by what they witnessed and waved white hankies and so on to protest,” says Chaabane Merzekane, a full-back whose swashbuckling performance in toppling the Germans earned him the man-of-the-match award. “But while other people were outraged, we weren’t bitter. We we were satisfied because we had done what we had to do.
“We were a team that was all about putting on a show and we had played with panache. We couldn’t defend and we didn’t want to defend: our midfield had two wingers and two playmakers and we were all technically strong and could run for ever: that’s Algerian style! As it turned out, our fate was determined by things outside our control. And the fact that Fifa changed the rules shows that we made our mark on world football.”
If the past adds extra spice to Monday’s game in Porto Alegre, it should also ensure that there is no chance of the Germans suffering from as much complacency as they did in 1982, when the team’s manager, Jupp Derwall, did not ask the then-European champions to watch a video of their unheralded opponents because he was afraid they would laugh at him. “Maybe they did underestimate us but that is not why we beat them,” Merzekane says. “We beat them because we played better than them.”
In Algeria the teams of the 1980s are regarded as a golden generation and most of the players plied their trade at home until a change in the country’s law in 1984 allowed them to move abroad, enabling Rabah Madjer, for instance, to score the winning goal for Porto in the 1987 European Cup final. But while the team are remembered with huge affection, an unsettling pall was cast across the era in 2011 when questions were raised as to whether players had unwittingly taken performance-enhancing substances.
The question was raised for a disturbing reason. At least seven players who appeared for Algeria during their decade of glory, including three members of the 1982 squad, later had children who were born with disabilities. The coincidence alarmed them and they began to wonder whether supplements that they had been given by a Russian doctor who worked with the team for a spell in the 1980s were indeed vitamins, as the doctor told them at the time and has insisted since.
The affected players lobbied for an investigation. For a while any suggestion of potential wrongdoing was treated as taboo and other players pointed out that they passed every drugs test that they underwent during that era. But the affected parents kept demanding answers and, in 2012, the Algerian government opened an inquiry. No findings have yet been disclosed. Belloumi sympathises with his former team-mates but does not believe anything sinister occurred. “Any doping allegations are completely false, totally untrue,” Belloumi says. “The investigation hasn’t found any evidence because there is none to find. We were all given the same things but only a few have had problems. There must be other explanations for those problems.” The parents continue to wait for such explanations.
Returning to the present day, Merzekane and Belloumi believe Vahid Halilhodzic’s side can break more new ground. “This team has some very good players who are recapturing the traditional Algerian vivacity,” says Merzekane, who singles out Yacine Brahimi and Abdelmoumene Djabou. “Players like Brahimi or Djabou are technically excellent and very quick. Better German sides than the present one have struggled against those sort of players, who can dribble in between them.”
In addition to the 1982 win, Algeria beat West Germany in their only other previous encounter, a 2-0 victory in 1964, giving the country a rare 100% record against one of the game’s giants. “The players should have nothing to fear,” Merzekane says. “We have already seen in this World Cup that European powers are on the wane. The South Americans, in particular, have shown that teams whose game is based mainly on keeping possession are vulnerable to teams who play with dynamism and explosiveness.
“Algeria may have less defensive rigour than the South Americans but the present team is in the process of relaunching Algerian football using the skill and vivacity with which we have always tried to play. What is more, having already achieved what they have, they can play with freedom while Germany will be under a lot of pressure.”
And if Les Fennecs do exact retribution for Gijón, what fans and players would like is a chance to contest an even bigger grudge match: against France. Algeria’s former colonial rulers, are potential quarter-finals opponents on 4 July, the eve of Algeria’s Independence Day.
Source: The Guardian
...And this, and other teams acting the same way, is why we have group matches at the same time.