Gary Lineker famously defined football as a simple game played by 22 men that Germany always win, and they did just that, despite being dreadful by their high standards.
At least it wasn’t on penalties, although Algeria deserved that opportunity, with Rais Mbolhi’s shot-stopping as supreme as his handling was slippery.
His German counterpart Manuel Neuer played his part too – four parts, actually, doing his bit as a keeper, sweeper, centre-half and at one point defensive midfielder. Jack of all trades, master of one; pretty, pretty good at the rest.
Increasingly certain that Manuel Neuer is a better central midfielder than Steven Gerrard.
— Alex Chick (@alex_eurosport) June 30, 2014
Certainly Neuer was more effective as a covering defender than either Per Mertesacker or Jerome Boateng, a pair that struggled in a match made in the feverish hell of Mats Hummels, whose absence through sickness made for a comedic partnership. Boateng redeemed himself late in extra-time, but France – despite being off-key in victory over Nigeria – will be licking their lips if Hummels remains poorly.
Maybe it’s the colder climate, the Northern European feel to the city, the oddly neutral design of the Estadio Beira-Rio, but the match had a very different atmosphere to other games at this World Cup.
Germany fans were in significantly higher numbers, swelled by locals descended from those parts, but even the national anthem was less pronounced than expected. Brazil shirts were only occasionally scattered around the stands, and there was certainly no half-time samba. The Algerians, however, roared their side on, even after the final whistle – you’d have thought they’d won the World Cup, not lost the match.
Perhaps that muted sensation among Germany’s fans extended to Die Mannschaft on the pitch. Who knows.
For 90 minutes at least, Germany could do nothing right, with the exception of Neuer, whose diving, clearing headers and last-gasp tackles plugged the gaping holes left by his defenders. Thomas Mueller missed a hatful of chances, Bastian Schweinsteiger struggled to get into the game, Mesut Ozil was AWOL, and even Philipp Lahm barely improved when – following an injury to Shdokran Mustafi – he was moved to his natural right-back position after toiling in midfield.
Sure, Mbolhi was inspired between the sticks, but Germany could easily have conceded three or four themselves except for Neuer’s alertness, and some wayward finishing from Algeria.Portugal, one assumed they were saving themselves in the knowledge passage was almost guaranteed from day one. Maybe a deeper malaise runs through Joachim Loew’s team, which is always there or thereabouts, but never able to actually win anything.
The match was sparked into life by a moment of brilliance in extra-time, one of the hardest chances Germany had seen all game: Mueller’s cross was just behind Andre Schuerrle, but the Chelsea man readjusted brilliantly to guide a backheel away from the unfortunate Mbolhi.
Schuerrle was fortunate to get his chance to shine like a diamond in the sea of sludge drained from the stadium site before this World Cup: Lukas Podolski, neither on form nor fully fit, was dropped for Mario Goetze, who was utterly ineffectual and hauled off at half-time, although anyone but Neuer could have been sacrificed. A third-hand super-sub, if you will.
As Algeria chased the game deep into extra-time, Germany continued to probe. It was painful that the unlucky Africans – also flying the flag for the whole Arab world at the start of the holy month – should concede a second goal immediately after going so close to levelling, Boateng with a vital interception.
Mind you, Germany barely deserved that second, the ‘orrible Ozil initially absolving responsibility but getting lucky on the rebound. He looks a man completely shorn of confidence, but perhaps this goal will spark him into life again. He seemed embarrassed to take the opportunity.
Algeria pulled back a late goal thanks to Abdel Djabou’s rasping finish but it was too late. You wouldn’t have known it though as “1-2-3! Vive l’Algerie!” resonated throughout the stadium.
Such a pity that delirious Franglais singalong wasn’t reflected in the scoreline.
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- Manuel Neuer