Heartbreak has been the order of the day for the non-traditional soccer powers in the Round of 16 here in Brazil. Chile, Mexico and, Nigeria earlier today against France, put a scare into countries with bigger reputations.
Then in Monday’s late match Algeria gave Germany a real run for their money, taking mighty Germany to extra time, 90 minutes at 0-0.
Algeria were every bit Germany’s equal in those 90 minutes, and if not for some aggressive goalkeeping from Manuel Neuer the Desert Foxes may have taken the lead several times.
Neuer brought new meaning to the term sweeper-keeper, racing from his box almost 20 times to break up surging runs from Algeria’s pacey attackers Sofiane Feghouli, and Islam Slimani.
Germany were playing at a much slower speed than usual, and Joachim Löw’s lineup featuring Philip Lahm at midfield instead of fullback, wasn’t clicking. It may sound cold, but it worked in Germany’s favor when fullback Shkodran Mustafi went off injured.
Löw had to turn to Sami Khedira, meaning Lahm had to go back to fullback.
Still no one could make a breakthrough until extra time. Germany got the goal from half time sub Andre Schurrle in the 92nd minute.
The underdogs had a mountain to climb now, and as time went on Algeria tired visibly. With Germany peppering his goal Algerian keeper Rais M’Bolhi was outstanding, but eventually, in the 119th minute Mesut Ozil added a second goal for the favorites.
Slimani got one back less than a minute later, but Algeria’s brave challenge fell short, sending Germany on to the quarterfinals.
France also left it late Monday afternoon, but in the end Les Blues beat Nigeria 2-0 to advance to a quarterfinal showdown against Germany on July 4.
That 2-0 scoreline greatly flatters the French, who were outplayed by the Super Eagles for considerable stretches of this entertaining match.
Both teams came out determined to attack, with each side creating numerous chances. Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama and French custodian Hugo Lloris took turns frustrating the opposition in a game that seemed destined for goals.
Surprisingly we would have to wait until the 79th minute for that goal to finally come, with Paul Pogba the scorer for France. 21 year old Pogba became the youngest goalscorer in a World Cup for France since Thierry Henry, also 21 at the time, scored in a 3-0 French victory over South Africa at France 1998.
The goal that eventually put Nigeria on the ropes came from a corner kick, but it was Nigeria’s inability to make something of the numerous corner kicks that went their way that kept the game level at 0-0 until Pogba opened the scoring.
The French turnaround roughly coincided with the introduction of Antoine Griezmann for Olivier Giraud in the 62nd minute. The change allowed Karim Benzema to move to the center of a three man front line after playing out wide.
Griezmann better fills the role of the absent Franck Ribery, who missed the Cup through injury, and Benzema is better suited to the central role.
Nigeria were hoping to qualify for their first ever World Cup quarters, and for much of the afternoon the raucous pro-Nigeria crowd in Brasilia had to be feeling pretty good about their chances.
But then Enyeama’s weak swat at a French corner kick which Pogba took full advantage of and headed it home to give Les Blues the lead, from there it was all France and Joseph Yobo’s late own goal sealed it. It was harsh on the Nigerian keeper who had been so good up until this point, not just today, but throughout the World Cup.
For France this World Cup has been all about wiping out the stench of South Africa 2010, and restoring pride in Les Blues.
The project went very well in the first two games, a 3-0 win over Honduras and a 5-2 pasting of Switzerland. A 0-0 draw with Ecuador was less impressive in their final group game, now France will try to recapture the magic of those first two matches next Friday against old rivals Germany.