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FIFA World Cup

Germany won't repeat 1982 mistakes

German football has for decades bought into former national manager Sepp Herberger's motto of "after the game is before the game," a useful reminder that looking back at past achievements is counterproductive.

But the World Cup has a very long memory. It doesn't forget its heroes, nor does it ever quite forgive its villains. Just when the Nationalmannschaft thought they had escaped all the conspiracy talk about a re-staging of the infamous "shame of Gijon," the convenient 1-0 win over Austria that helped both teams into the next round at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, there had been (unfounded) fear about a similar stitch-up in the last group game against the United States. Now they come face to face with yet another reminder of those days of disgrace.

Algeria, the team who were cheated by the Austrian-German collusion 32 years ago, block the path to the quarterfinals for Joachim Low's team on Monday in Porto Alegre. The 54-year-old has professed himself "irritated" by the constant "Gijon" reminders.

"Almost nobody from our squad was even born then," he said. In fact, only Roman Weidenfeller, 33, and Miroslav Klose, 36, were alive at the time, albeit too young to have witnessed the farce that happened in the stadium El Molinon.

In truth, the largest city in the principality of Asturias saw two different shams that month.

The first one came on June 15, when West Germany, the reigning European champions, opened their World Cup campaign against the Algerian Fennec Foxes.

The arrogance of Jupp Derwall's team knew no bounds. Goalkeeper Toni Schumacher, who would later in the tournament brutally clatter into France's Patrick Battiston without a hint of remorse, promised his side would score "four to eight goals just to warm up."

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Derwall, a genial man of little authority, had joked he would take "the first train back home" if his side lost and explained there was no use showing film footage of the opposition to his men. "They would have laughed about me," he said.

The Algerian coaches, Mahieddine Khalef and Rachid Mekhloufi, couldn't help but notice their opponent's overconfidence. "One German player said he could play with a cigar in his mouth," Khalef remembered years later.

After the match, the rest of the world were laughing at Derwall and his patently unfit team. Algeria, through second-half goals from Rabah Madjer and Lakhdar Belloumi, had done the unthinkable: They had beaten West Germany 2-1.

One German TV commentator handed Derwall a mock-up of a giant train ticket at the final whistle. Suddeutsche Zeitung compared the debacle to the sinking of the Titanic. This was a downfall of historic proportions.

They had had it coming.

Captain Paul Breitner, the de facto player-manager of the squad, had convinced Derwall that he should afford his players a maximum of freedom in the run-up to the tournament.

Derwall kept them on a leash so long that they were effectively doing whatever they wanted. "It wasn't rare for [tens of thousands] of deutsche marks to be at stake in poker games," Schumacher wrote in his autobiography. "Others [had sex] throughout the night and then crawled to training like pieces of wet cloth in the morning".

Paul Breitner tries to control the ball under pressure from Mustapha Dahleb during the 1982 World Cup match between West Germany and Algeria.

The lax regime came back to bite them against an Algeria side that looked faster, better organised and more athletic. The arrogance from game one was replaced by downright cynicism and unsporting behaviour a week later.

Having beaten Chile 1-0, Germany needed another win against neighbours Austria to advance to the next round. What should have been a full-blooded derby became the most shameful game ever played in the World Cup. The match was effectively over after 10 minutes, when Horst Hrubesch scored.

Because Algeria had beaten Chile 3-2 earlier, both Germany and Austria knew a narrow win for Derwall's team would see both squads through to the second stage. The 22 men on the pitch spent the entire second half passing the ball among themselves without the slightest pretence of making any effort to play properly.

"Not every end justifies the means," the German TV announcer exclaimed disgustedly. His Austrian counterpart refused to say anything at all for the last half an hour or so.

What made this football fraud worse was the complete lack of any contrition from the culprits. "I can't care about the crowd's reaction," midfielder Wolfgang Dremmler said. "They fly here to watch the game at their own risk."

The local paper, El Comercio, famously ran the match report in the crime section. As a result of this outrage, FIFA changed the competition schedule to have the last group games played simultaneously.

Under Joachim Low's guidance, the German team has redefined its brand.

As far as the reputation of German football was concerned, the damage was done in that awful week in 1982. The generation that had grown up during or immediately after World War II were sensitive to the need to portray a different, better Germany to the outside world, but the Rummenigges and Breitners, born in the booming '50s and '60s, had a different outlook on life.

Theirs was a band of players who defined professionalism in terms of winning at all cost. The horror of 1982 saw the return of the "ugly Germans," a species prepared to do unspeakable things to further their own interest. The World Cup in Spain shaped the image of German football for decades to come.

Methodical, joyless, arrogant -- a stereotype took hold, and it effectively lasted until 2006, when the young, attacking, fearless Germany of Jurgen Klinsmann and Joachim Low redefined the national team's brand.

A more humble approach replaced the old sense of entitlement, and while the trophies have proved elusive, the change in attitude has been profound enough to make another surprise result against Algeria on Monday less likely.

It's probably no coincidence that Klinsmann's and Low's men haven't lost a knockout game against an underdog in four tournaments. They define professionalism as not taking wins against so-called minnows for granted.

This healthy approach has ensured that elimination has only come at the hands of Italy and Spain. With those two out of the picture, Germany will surely not risk their chances to advance further by committing the mistakes of 1982 again.

Raphael Honigstein

Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC's German football expert and a regular guest on ESPN FC TV. He also writes for the Guardian, among other outlets, and is the author of "Englischer Fussball."