West Germany, who had so often relied on superior fitness and will-power in the past, were severely lacking in ideas.
“In midfield, nothing at all happened,” Kicker magazine wrote in their match report. Up front, it wasn’t much better. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the two-time Ballon D’or winner (in 1980 and 1981), could hardly run because of a muscle injury, while Horst Hrubesch was expertly marked out of the match by Noureddine Kourichi.
“I tried to give him as little room as possible on the ground or in the air, until he slammed the floor in frustration,” the former Bordeaux player says. He had faced the tall centre-forward before, eight months earlier in the second round of the UEFA Cup, but with less success, as Horst Hrubesch scored twice in the second leg to win the tie 3-2 on aggregate for his Hamburger SV side. This time, Kourichi had the upper hand.
“They wanted to tire us, they felt we would fold physically,” Mustapha Dahleb said. “But we were just waiting for them, ready to pounce on the break.”
At the break, co-manager Mahiedine Khalef told the team they should go for it even more in the opposition half. “With a bit more pace and energy up front,” he said, “you can beat them”.
His players took note. Rabah Madjer gave them the lead in the 54th minute, poking a rebound into the net at the end of a sweeping break after Schumacher could only parry a shot by Lakhdar Belloumi. On Algerian TV, a commentator named Mohamed Sellah was so enraptured that all he could shout was “Belloumi, Madjer! Belloumi, Madjer! Belloumi, Madjer!”, an ecstatic synopsis that immediately entered Algerian folklore.
After the goal, Algeria kept coming, the crowd olé-ing as slicksters in green-and-white buzzed and cut through their illustrious opponents.
“The crowd were a definite boost for us,” Kourichi remembers. “The familiar chants of the Algerian fans never stopped, but the roars from the Spanish crowd grew louder with every run we made. Added to passing ability of our midfielders [Mustapha] Dahleb and [Ali] Fergani and the sharp runs of the wingers Madjer and [Salah] Assad, we became hard to stop.”
Chaâbane Merzekane and Assad, in particular, were uncontainable, inspiring whoops of glee from fans as they deepened West Germany’s torment with every burst and pass.
But West Germany did not wilt, at least not immediately. Rummenigge, for once, stole a march on defenders to stab in a low Felix Magath cross for the equaliser in the 67th minute. But anyone who thought that heralded an inevitable return to the natural order was about to be proven wrong again.
One minute later, Algeria ripped through West Germany with a wonderful nine-pass move, Assad flying down the left on the overlap before receiving the ball and fizzing it across the face of goal. Lakhdar Belloumi slammed it home. “Belloumi does it! Belloumi does it!” chanted Sellah as if entering a euphoric trance.
“It was the perfect goal, one of the best moves of the whole tournament,” recalled Merzekane. “And after that we didn’t hang on, we continued to attack and we could have won by three or four.”
Merzekane almost scored the third goal himself, charging forward from his own box before being thwarted at the other end by Schumacher. In Britain, the wowed ITV commentator, Hugh Johns, proclaimed Merzekane “one of the discoveries of the World Cup”.
Algeria didn’t increase their lead, as it happened. “They tried to fight back, but our goalkeeper Mehdi Cerbah, one of the shortest men on the pitch, played his part, frustrating successive attempts from [Pierre] Littbarski, Hrubesch and Rummenigge,” Kourichi says. He could see that the Germans were getting increasingly desperate.
“[Harald] Schumacher was shouting at [Manfred] Kaltz, and I later heard Schumacher being angry in the changing room as well.” In the end, 2-1 was enough to secure a famous win. In Algeria, and in Algerian communities in cities across the world, people poured into the streets to jubilate.
“The Germans didn’t show us any respect, we were angry about that,” Khalef said. “For that reason alone, this victory feels good. Even European champions shouldn’t look down on Africa as if there’s no football being played there.”
Twelve-year-old Ashraf Laidi visited Algeria’s base camp after the game with his father, a diplomat who knew the Algerian ambassador in Spain. The team were staying in Ceseda, 30 minutes outside Gijón, in villa that belonged to a local ophthalmologist who used it as a holiday home and for family get-togethers. Celebrations were controlled — “they’re only drinking cola,” a visiting reporter from Kicker magazine noted — but Laidi remembers a great sense of pride and achievement.
“Algeria’s first game in the World Cup, and we beat Germany. Everyone realised that they had pulled off a feat, something that would go down in the nation’s history.” The Algerians were very humble in their moment of triumph. Laidi recalls his father asking Dahleb for a photo and addressing the player as la vedette, the star. “You are the star,” Dahleb replied, pointing at the boy.
Following the win, 40,000 Algerians flooded into Spain. The players could not avoid being a little affected by the euphoria. Five days later, they seemed drained, even a touch complacent, against Austria. They lost 2-0.
“That’s where we showed our inexperience,” Belloumi explained. “We should have kept a cool head before that game and probably changed a couple of players but, in fairness to the Austrians, they had studied our style and knew we could be vulnerable on the counterattack.”
In contrast to the Germans’ snootiness, Austria’s manager, Georg Schmidt, had been monitoring the Algerians since the Africa Cup of Nations in Libya and knew their strengths.
“Our loss to Austria was a partly a result of lack of concentration and few tactical changes in the second half, which cost us the game. We remained dominant throughout the game, but it was not enough,” Kourichi recalls. Germany, meanwhile, bounced back with a 4-1 win over Chile, Rummenigge scoring a hat-trick.
Algeria were back to their swashbuckling best for the group dénouement. They raced into a 3-0 lead against Chile, Assad netting twice while Tedj Bensaoula, who started in place of the injured Belloumi and teed up the opening goal with a sublime pull-back, drilled in their third from 20 yards. A rash foul by Mahmoud Guendouz gave Chile a route back in the second half, and when Juan Carlos Letelier dribbled his way through the defence to make it 3-2, the seemingly rampant Algeria found themselves hanging on.
They got the win, but the two goals they let in proved costly, as Algeria were denied a place in the next round on goal difference. Algerians still debate to this day whether their team was partly culpable for that. Even the players cannot agree.
“We showed our inexperience, we should have seen that match out and preserved our three-goal lead,” Belloumi said, while Merzekane took the opposing view: “Some say we should have stopped attacking, but we had come to the World Cup to show the Algerian style and we weren’t about to start playing defensively.”
Kourichi says the team were essentially left to their own devices. “None of the coaching staff pressed us to score more goals or said anything about the importance of goal difference. I personally was urging my team-mates to go for more goals and I even made a few runs into the Chilean box.”
Of course, goal difference only mattered because the next day, with the benefit of knowing the exact score that would suit both teams, West Germany and Austria contrived for the last group game to end with a 1-0 win for the Germans. That result looked conveniently likely from the moment Horst Hrubesch opened the scoring in the 10th minute.
Fans in Gijón howled at the blatant lack of effort from both sides as time ticked towards the score that would send the two European teams into the next round and Algeria out of the tournament. Algerian fans in the crowd burned peseta notes to show they interpreted what had happened as corruption, and the Spanish paper El Commercio famously ran the match report in their crime section.
“A disgrace,” German TV commentator Eberhard Stanjek called the game. He remained silent in protest through most of the second half. Derwall’s side improved over the course of the competition to make it to the final, lost 3-1 to Italy, but their reputation was forever tarnished by a hat-trick of transgressions: the naked arrogance of the Algeria defeat, the collusion with Austria, and Schumacher’s brutal foul on Patrick Battiston in the semi-final against France.
This is an extract from Against All Odds: The Greatest World Cup Upsets (Halcyon Publishing) that was compiled and edited by Adam Bushby and Rob MacDonald and is available to buy now