The Panenka

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The Disgrace of Gijon: German and Austrian Anschluss Annexes Algeria

In order for both teams to progress to the knockout stages, one of the most blatant examples of match fixing went unpunished at the 1982 World Cup when Germany met Austria in their final group game.

With Algeria having played Chile a day before, it was clear to Austria that if they could avoid defeat by one or two goals, both sides would proceed to the knockout stages and Algeria would be eliminated.

During the game at Sporting Gijon’s El Molinon, West Germany took the lead after 10 minutes via Horst Hrubesch, assuringly setting the game up for a continuation of Die Mannschaft’s dominance. The remaining 80 minutes of the tie however was characterized by few serious attempts by either side where fans and commentators alike questioned wha they were witnessing. Afterwards both sides were accused of match-fixing although FIFA ruled that neither team broke any rules.

The 1982 World Cup had opened with a surprise, the holders Argentina losing 1-0 to Belgium, but a far bigger shock was to follow. In the first match of Group 2, the mighty West Germany and reigning European champions were defeated 2-1by a plucky Algeria team.

West Germany boasted a world-class squad of players including Paul Breitner, Lothar Matthaus, Hansi Mueller and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. They were one of the favorites to lift a third World Cup that summer.

The Fennec Foxes meanwhile were a physically capable side co-managed by Mahieddine Khalef and Saint-Etienne legend Rachid Mekhloufi, Algeria prided themselves on fitness and technical ability, in 1978 they had won the All-Africa Games in Algiers.

After Rabah Madder netted Algeria’s opener, the West Germany players were rubbing their eyes in disbelief. Algeria had controlled much of the first half, and shortly after the restart Madjer completed a counter-attack by finishing cleanly past goalkeeper Harald Schumacher. Rummenigge managed to equalize but  following the Bayern Munich forward’s goal, Algeria embarked on an intricate move that culminated in Lakhdar Belloumi’s winner.

Germany rebounded from their shock defeat to thrash Chile 4-1 while Austria threw the group wide open by defeating the previously euphoric Algerians 2-0.

West Germany went into their final group-stage match against Austria knowing they had to defeat their regional rivals in order to advance. If the Germans could do it while sending Algeria out of the competition, their embarrassment from their earlier game would offer some sort of retribution. What followed was one of the most controversial matches in World Cup history.

Algeria had played their final group-stage match the day before, and their 3-2 win over Chile meant that Austria, by virtue of previous results, would be heading out of the World Cup with a loss by three or more goals.

After Hrubesch put Germany 1-0 up the exhibition of European solidarity sickened the Spanish crowd who chanted “Fuera, Fuera!” (“Out, Out!”). The collusion meant that the first African team to beat European opposition would be sent home, robbed out the opportunity to become the first African side to reach the knockout stages.

There is no concrete proof that the two teams conspired to achieve this result but the statistics from the game show that both teams must have understood that wth the scores as they stood that the result would be mutually beneficial to both sides. The Guardian compiled some stats to show how little competition there was during the game.

“Opta have a detailed archive of every World Cup game since 1966, and there are some belting statistics for [the second half]. There were only three shots, none on target. West Germany made only eight tackles, around one every six minutes. Both sides had an overall pass-completion ratio in excess of 90%, a level usually reserved for people like Xavi and Paul Scholes – and, more tellingly, Jamie Carragher, the king of the no-risk pass. Austria had a 99% success rate with passes in their own half; West Germany’s was 98%.”

Inside the stadium a smattering of Algerian fans in the Gijón crowd burned peseta notes to show their suspicions of corruption, while most of the Spaniards in attendance waved hankies throughout the second half in a traditional display of disdain.

The next day newspapers in Spain denounced “El Anschluss” and there was outrage in Wst Germany and Austria too. Eberhard Stanjek, commentating for the German channel ARD, almost sobbed during the match as he lamented: “What is happening here is disgraceful and has nothing to do with football. You can say what you like, but not every end justifies the means.” The Austrian commentator, meanwhile, told viewers to turn off their sets and refused to speak for the last half-hour.

The gangsters, however, were unapologetic. When German fans gathered at the team hotel to protest, the players responded by throwing water bombs at them from their balconies.

Algeria were not as incensed as one would think though. Defender Chaabane Merzekane remarked “To see two big powers debasing themselves in order to eliminate us was a tribute to Algeria. They progressed with dishonor, we went out with our heads held high.”

Due to international pressure FIFA investigated the result but the federation’s three-and-a-half hour meeting about the subject returned no proof of tampering or illegality. It was from this point that group stage matches at major tournaments happen simultaneously in the hopes of preventing any sort of collusion in the future.

Midfielder Lakhdar Belloumi, inventor of the blind pass, said, “”Our performances forced FIFA to make that change, and that was even better than a victory,” Belloumi says. “It meant that Algeria left an indelible mark on football history.”

1 Comment

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