There was a lot of talk last week about the Shame of Gijon, also known as the nonaggression pact between West Germany and Austria at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. The reason for those reminiscences was that many people suspected a tacit agreement between Germany and the USA to draw their final Group G game so that both would go through.
As it turned out, those trips down memory lane were premature: The Shame of Gijon had no bearing on Thursday's match between Germany and USA, but it has become very important now. It's the reason that one of this year's round of 16 games -- Germany vs. Algeria -- is much more than just another knockout match at a World Cup, at least for Algeria. The Desert Foxes have had to wait a long time, but at last the chance has arrived to avenge one of the greatest injustices in World Cup history.
To understand what this is all about, we have to go back to June 16, 1982, the day West Germany and Algeria opened proceedings in Group B at the World Cup. We've briefly touched upon this game before, when we looked at Germany's history in opening games. (See: Germany all right on the night from June 3.) What we didn't say in that piece was that Algeria's fine performance shouldn't have caught the Germans as unaware as it did.
The specialist media, meaning Kicker magazine, had pointed out that defender Noureddine Kourichi was excellent in the air and that left winger Salah Assad was very quick. Meanwhile, West Germany coach Jupp Derwall had sent assistants Erich Ribbeck and Berti Vogts to watch Algeria twice; they reported back that the team was dangerous. The problem was that Derwall didn't warn his players. He later defended himself by saying his team wouldn't have taken him seriously if he had told them to be careful against such an unfancied side. That alone tells you all you need to know about this nightmare of a German World Cup campaign.
Striker Rabah Madjer put Algeria ahead in the 52nd minute when he knocked in a loose ball after goalkeeper Harald Schumacher had saved from Lakhdar Belloumi in a one-on-one situation. "Highly paid professionals against amateurs," veteran German television commentator Rudi Michel said as Derwall's men cluelessly knocked the ball about.
With 22 minutes left, captain Karl-Heinz Rummenigge tied the game from close range. Less than 20 seconds after the kickoff, Assad easily ran past Felix Magath on the left wing and sent a low cross toward the far post, where Belloumi nudged the ball in to make it 2-1. During the final minute of the game, Michel said in a grave voice: "I have seen and broadcasted many German internationals. I have never been more disappointed."
On the next day and in the same group, a much-fancied Austrian team beat Chile 1-0. The South Americans, who would turn out to be the whipping boys in this group, also missed a penalty kick. It was the first, but certainly not the last, bad break for Algeria, because a draw between Austria and Chile would have been perfect for the African team.
On June 20, West Germany beat Chile 4-1. Rummenigge, hampered by a thigh injury throughout the tournament, scored a hat trick. A day later, Austria defeated Algeria 2-0. (As you can see, the group games weren't played on the same day, let alone at the same time -- not even the final two matches.)
Algeria met Chile on June 24. This game is usually forgotten when the story of the Shame of Gijon is recounted, but it was just as crucial. Once again, Algeria were way too quick for an opponent. Two good combinations led to the first two goals, a fine individual effort to the third. After barely a half hour, Algeria were leading 3-0 and seemed through to the next round no matter what West Germany and Austria would do on the next day.
But on the hour, Mustapha Dahleb brought down Patricio Yanez in the box, and this time Chile didn't miss from the spot. Fifteen minutes later, Juan Carlos Letelier scored another one after a fine solo run. Suddenly Algeria's lead was cut back to 3-2, and the table at the end of the day looked like this:
The results meant West Germany had to win against Austria to reach the next round on goal difference. It also meant that Austria could afford a 2-0 defeat and still go through. This detail seemed to be of little importance, as the two teams were fierce rivals. (The Dutch were still a few years from taking Austria's role as Germany's natural footballing rival.) Four years earlier, in the Argentine city of Cordoba, the Austrians had inflicted a famous World Cup defeat on their bigger neighbours, and many German fans now looked at the standings, did a brief calculation and then not-so-secretly thought: We can send Austria home; this is our chance to take revenge for Cordoba!
And that's very much the spirit in which the game began. After only 90 seconds, West Germany's Paul Breitner went very close with a header. In the 10th minute, Horst Hrubesch brought West Germany ahead from a Pierre Littbarski cross. Two minutes later, a fantastic combination involving Hrubesch and Breitner freed Wolfgang Dremmler, who was clear through on goal. It was another important moment that is only rarely mentioned when the Shame of Gijon is remembered, but it was one more bad break for Algeria because Austria's goalkeeper, Friedl Koncilia, brilliantly saved from Dremmler. Maybe, just maybe, it would have been a different game if the Germans had gone two goals up so early into the game and wouldn't have been just a single goal from elimination anymore.
In any case, the encounter was still a proper match at this point. Breitner missed the target from an offside position, then Hrubesch had a good chance. Some people in the crowd accompanied every German pass with chants of "Olé!"; so pleasant was the mood. In fact, when Breitner's dangerous shot was deflected at the last moment only a few minutes later, West Germany had already won their sixth corner and were clearly in command and on form.
But then, after about a half hour, the game just petered out as a contest. It's difficult to say what exactly caused the increasingly comatose atmosphere. One possible option is that the Germans noticed that the Austrians were in no hurry to carry the ball upfield whenever they were building from the rear. At one point, a German television commentator noted, "The Austrians are now playing two back passes before they play one forward pass." Maybe everybody thought it wise to get into the half-time break with the score line at 1-0 and then reconsider the approach for the second half. So very little happened in those last minutes of the first period.
To this day, what people always want to know is whether there was a verbal agreement between the Germans and the Austrians to just run down the clock and do absolutely nothing after the break. In all likelihood there wasn't, despite the recollections of Austrian striker Hans Krankl, who claims that Breitner said, "We've both made it, this thing's over." This truth is bitter, as any form of conspiracy would actually be a redeeming feature: If you collude, you have a sense of wrongdoing and attempt to cover up your deeds.
But the most outrageous aspect of the Shame of Gijon, at least for the Austrian and German fans watching the game, was that the 24 men on the pitch (for unknown reasons, West Germany made two substitutions) plus the two coaches never felt they were doing something unbecoming.
During the entire second half, the teams just passed the ball around and made no attempt to attack, let alone score, while the crowd angrily booed and waved handkerchiefs. Some Algerians in the stands even brandished money bills to indicate the players had been bribed. But, and that is what really sends chills down your spine, the footballers felt they were doing the right thing -- they were being professional.
As it became apparent that the two teams had unspokenly decided to do nothing and thus effectively knock Algeria out of the tournament, an Austrian television commentator told his viewers to boycott this sorry spectacle and turn off their sets. His German counterpart was audibly disgusted, too. "What is happening here is shameful," he said.
When the final whistle blew, the football tournament known as the World Cup -- not exactly a charity event to begin with -- had lost a good deal of its innocence. FIFA would soon change the rules so that the final matches in a group had to be played simultaneously, but it was too late for Algeria, who would never again come this close to surviving the group stage until the 2014 tournament.
Kourichi told German reporters, "Some of these players were laughing as they went off the pitch. They were having fun at our expense. I'm enormously disappointed. A game like this is the death of football. Please tell the German players that they should be ashamed of what they have done to us Algerians today."
As deep as Algeria's hurt was, it shouldn't be forgotten that the Shame of Gijon was also very acutely felt by German fans. Kicker reported, "During the hours after the game, all hell broke loose in Gijon. German fans met in front of the team's hotel to voice their anger." The writers reported yells of "Crooks!" and "Arrogant bastards!"
Told that the people back home were indignant and disgusted, unused sub Uwe Reinders clearly spoke for the rest of the team when he said, "What do I care if someone is in uproar at home? If we beat England on Tuesday, everything will be forgotten." According to Kicker, an unnamed teammate of Reinders called the German fans "idiots and dupes" and Schumacher, just two weeks before his dreadful foul on Patrick Battiston, further provoked the supporters with an obscene gesture.
Reinders was wrong. The game wasn't forgotten. Actually, it not only led to a lasting and deeply felt resentment in Algeria but also lost the West German national team a generation of (German) fans, even as West Germany lost in the World Cup final. I can say this with certainty because I'm one of them and have met many others for whom the 1982 World Cup, especially the Shame of Gijon, was a sobering moment.
One Algerian got his revenge only five years later. Rabah Madjer scored Porto's legendary equaliser against Bayern Munich in the 1987 European Cup final and also set up the winner. But there hasn't been another game between (West) Germany and Algeria since June 1982, so the rest of the country had to wait until, well, now.