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Jun 30, 2014

Germany pushed to the limit

Immediately following Germany's second goal, Algeria's Abdelmoumene Djabou charged downfield and got one back.

Here are three thoughts from Germany's hard-fought 2-1 win over Algeria in the World Cup round of 16.

1. History drives Algeria on, but not far enough

History didn't repeat itself, but it did have a few echoes. After a somewhat harsh elimination for an admirable Algeria side, Germany will meet France in a heavyweight quarterfinal. The game did not involve all the controversy of 1982, but it was still difficult not to feel some sympathy for the North African side. They pushed Germany to the edge, and almost out of the competition.

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Match 54
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Had Jogi Low's formation been founded on any goalkeeper other than the onrushing Manuel Neuer, this could have got rather concerning for the Germans rather early. Indeed there could even have been a repeat of Algeria's 2-1 victory in 1982. As it was, Andre Schurrle ensured there was a repeat of some of the old German fortune from that period. The Chelsea forward clearly intended his deliciously inventive backheel, but there was an element of luck in how it ended up hitting the net for the opening goal rather than going pretty much anywhere else.

On the whole, though, this game created more doubt about how far Germany can go in this World Cup. The one saving grace is that it is something of a common theme for pre-tournament favourites to not look like potential champions. Algeria, meanwhile, will look back on this match with some regret. The famous 2-1 was reversed.

2. Questions remain over Germany defence

One deep question undercut this German team even before the ragged nature of this unconvincing performance: what would tell the most -- a prolific forward line or a problematic defence? Here, with the forward line so wasteful, it almost led to them suffering one of the historic shocks.

That in itself should not actually be surprising though. Germany had the worst defensive record of all the European group winners in qualifying, and the warning signs have been there throughout this tournament. In fact, it probably says a lot that their single truly convincing score line so far (4-0 over Portugal) involved some of the worst defending. Before Mario Gotze got the benefit of a borderline penalty call in their opening win, Portugal had been gifted multiple chances. What should have been most galling was that the majority of those didn't come from particularly adept attacking, but rather remarkably open defending.

It was the same against Ghana and USA, but a similar story here. Algeria would not exactly have been bad value for a healthy early lead, as they seemed to repeatedly swarm around and through the German back line. Two images defined the defending of Low's team. The first was from an Algerian attack in the second half when, in the briefness of one quick break, they had completely outnumbered the German defenders. The second was the less-than-satisfactory solution: one of Low's defenders desperately hacking the ball away.

It also reflected the lack of balance brought by the decision to play four centre-halves across the back. The only actual anchoring foundation was goalkeeper Neuer, who was all too willing to abandon his line to play as sweeper. It repeatedly created a risk but, for his part, the Bayern Munich man was utterly secure in every charge out. He also comfortably held a series of searing long shots. Whether Germany can hold their nerve against a higher-quality team is much more open to question. They can't seem to hold a line.

Andre Schurrle broke the deadlock early in extra time before Mesut Ozil's last-minute clincher was needed as Algeria scored late on.

3. So close, and yet so far

For Algeria, as brilliant as they were, it all came down to their final ball. With better delivery, they could have provided the result to end all results in the country's football history.

Up until the key pass, there was so much to admire about their play. It says much that the pattern of their attacks was often so much more impressive and dazzling than the German efforts. That has been an increasing quality of the side over the past few years, and the attritional football of 2010 now seems so much further in the past than four years ago.

Instead, Algeria have developed some dynamic football very quickly, and proved themselves to be one of the most progressive teams in the tournament. The trouble here was that they couldn't truly make that count until it was too late, and Germany made their overall superiority count.

Low's attack did not look superior, though. The recent vibrancy was gone. The onslaught of goals from the qualifiers had evaporated. It remains to be seen whether that will return. Algeria will remember, however, on their way home, that it could have been very different.

Miguel Delaney

Miguel Delaney is London correspondent for ESPN and also writes for the Irish Examiner, the Independent, Blizzard and assorted others. He is the author of an award-nominated book on the Irish national team called 'Stuttgart to Saipan' (Mentor) and was nominated for Irish sports journalist of the year in 2011.