Why Germany Must Be Careful Not to Underestimate Sofiane Feghouli and Algeria

Clark WhitneyFeatured ColumnistJune 29, 2014

Algeria's Sofiane Feghouli celebrates after the group H World Cup soccer match between Algeria and Russia at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, Thursday, June 26, 2014. The match ended in a 1-1 draw, but Algeria qualified for the round of 16. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press

Compared to Brazil's meeting with Chile, Germany's pairing with Algeria in the World Cup round of 16 may look like a cakewalk for the Group G winners. Joachim Low's men are supremely experienced and entered the tournament among the favorites to lift the trophy.

Considering the fact that Monday's encounter occurs during Ramadan, the holy month during which Muslims abstain from food and water, among other things, from sunrise to sunset (although Algeria's players have thus far been mum as to exactly how they will approach their situation), the Germans may find themselves with an overwhelming physical advantage.

But to write off the match as a foregone conclusion would be a mistake.

Algeria have history on their side; they are one of only three teams (along with Egypt and the now-dissolved East Germany) with a perfect record against Germany and the only team to have gone 100 percent over multiple games.

Algeria's first encounter with Germany came in a 1964 friendly in which the Maghreb side came out 2-0 winners. But the most memorable meeting between the two was in the 1982 World Cup. In the group stage opener for both sides, Algeria shocked West Germany 2-1, and by the last match of the first round, they looked to be well positioned to advance. It was not to be.

Algeria had beaten Chile 3-2 to put them level with Austria, who had a goal difference advantage of +3, one day before the Austrians met West Germany in the final group stage match. It took Horst Hrubesch just 10 minutes to put the Mannschaft ahead against Austria, after which time precious little happened, with both sides appearing content to advance to the second group stage with the score as it was.

Three teams finished with four points in the group, but Germany and Austria progressed due to superior goal difference. Played at El Molinon, the match is now remembered as the "Shame of Gijon."

None of Germany's current players participated in either of the Mannschaft's losses to Algeria, as Benedikt Hoewedes pointed out in a recent interview with the official website of the German F.A. (DFB). But 1982 especially will serve as added motivation for a confident, aggressive and resolute Algeria side.

In another interview for the DFB website, chief German scout Urs Siegenthaler described Algeria as a team that play with "extreme passion."

Low carefully picks his words at the press conference.
Low carefully picks his words at the press conference.Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

Low agreed with his scout in a pre-match press conference, adding (via Sky Sports): "I've rarely seen a team defend so vehemently, but still attack with purpose. Their whole country is euphoric, so we're up against strong opponents."

Low admitted that the 1982 match "may be an additional motivation" for his opponents but would be meaningless to his players, given that all but two of them (Miroslav Klose and Roman Weidenfeller) hadn't even been born at the time.

Germany are well aware of the influence of motivation and drive on a team's performance at a major tournament. At Euro 2012, a seemingly superior Mannschaft were defeated by Italy after apparently crumbling under the pressure of the favorites tag while perhaps remembering their record of never having beaten the Azzurri in a major international tournament. The same Italy were eliminated in the group stage of the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

Drive is what saw unfavored teams like Mexico, Chile, Greece, Uruguay the United States and indeed Algeria advance to the knockout rounds at the expense of Spain, Croatia, Ivory Coast, Italy, England, Portugal and Russia. As Siegenthaler admitted, the number of favorites eliminated in the group stage may be unprecedented.

Algeria's squad may be worth just under one-ninth of Germany's, according to Transfermarkt, but Vahid Halilhodzic has some quality players at his disposal.

Sofiane Feghouli won and converted a penalty and gave an assist during the group stage; the Valencia man is far and away Algeria's most dangerous player and will come against Germany's least convincing defender, the out-of-position Benedikt Howedes, on the right-wing.

In addition to Feghouli, Islam Slimani is a player the Germans will want to keep under wraps. After only coming off the bench in the opener, the Sporting striker scored against both South Korea and Russia.

In his press conference, Low admitted that his side had yet to hit full stride at the World Cup but also conceded that the tournament was a marathon rather than a dead sprint. Still, his side will need to be very careful as they face a dangerous Algeria on Monday. As he warned:

If anybody thinks or believes—and I think this is a feeling among the general public—that Algeria are easy opponents and that we can already start thinking of the next round, then they're making a huge mistake.

With 90 minutes separating both sides from progression to the quarter-final, Low's Germany may face their toughest challenge yet.


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