From almost three decades, all major tournaments in world football have followed one rule that has irritated the viewers extensively. Be it the Euros, Copa America or even FIFA World Cup, the viewers miss a match for sure. Reason? The final round of the round robin format is played simultaneously. So, if you are watching one match, you have to skip another. That’s depressing, yet followed. Major International competitions coupled with TRP warfare, TV rights etc. encourage separate timings for matches as they generate more revenue but, FIFA doesn’t allow that. It seems like stupidity on FIFA’s part but, one incident from the past forced them to inculcate this rule; and apparently change the viewership experience forever. It has been forever referred to as the Disgrace of Gijón.
The African newcomers
It was the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain. The carnival had begun. The groups became more and more intriguing as every match progressed. One of the more easily predictable groups was Group A consisting of favorites Germany, talented Austria, combative Chile and new comers Algeria. Nobody took Algeria seriously back then. It was their first appearance and no African nation had caused an upset so nobody expected them to do anything like that. Pundits considered Algeria a team that would gift ‘two points’ to all opponents.
The pundits probably didn’t know what Algeria really was; maybe they hadn’t followed their warm up campaign much. In the few matches leading up to the World Cup, Algeria had beaten Republic of Ireland, the mighty Benfica side that boasted a huge array of stars and finally Real Madrid of Spain- arguably the best football club at that time. Moreover, they had beaten Nigeria in two legs to book a place in the World Cup. Had the experts seen this record, they wouldn’t have undermined the African participants to this extent.
Algeria showed what they were as good as the European teams in the first match of the group stage itself. The tiny nation on paper attacked with incredible grit and pace and backed it up with strong physical defending. Most importantly, they played like an impenetrable unit that collectively contested for the ball and liked to attack. Their first victim was none other than a country that was tipped to be the favorite- Germany. The German team publically undermined the Algerian team. They went on their confidence roll and claimed that they would dedicate the 7th goal to their wives. But, destiny had humiliation written in the German script.
In a close contested battle, Algeria emerged 2-1 winners. The neutrals went berserk and roared in applause of the African nation. The Germans seemed uninterested throughout the first half. They came on all guns blazing in the second period, that’s when Algeria showed their class and scored a minute after Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s equalizer. Lakhdar Belloumi was the scorer and a determined defense ensured that the lead wasn’t lost till the final whistle. The world was in shock. The German fans went on to boo their side after a dismal performance.
Germany bounced back strongly and beat Chile 4-1 in the very next match. Algeria succumbed to its inexperience and lost to Austria, 2-0. Austria had already beaten Chile in the first match and topped the table. The final match though was a disgrace to football. It was probable that the Germans will beat Austria and qualify. The only problem was that, if Algeria beat Chile- the former goes through and either Germany or Austria gets eliminated. Algeria seemed guaranteed to qualify as they beat Chile 3-2 and topped the group temporarily.
When all the calculations were done, a solution for avoiding German humiliation was plotted. If Germany beat Austria with a difference of one goal, both Germany and Austria qualify. The ideal result would be 1-0. The final match kicked off and Germany looked determined to win. They scored in the 10th minute and the stadium erupted with ecstasy. But, that was the last entertaining moment of the match. For the remaining 80 minutes, Germany kept the ball casually. Austria didn’t show any intent to get the ball and equalize.
The fans in the stadium started booing both the teams. When the final whistle was blown, both participating teams showed limited joy of qualifying. But, it was Algeria’s plight; they were eliminated on basis of goal difference. A FIFA enquiry was demanded. The conclusion of the enquiry was a feeble one, something that troubled the fans but not the German team that had disgraced the game.
It was decided by FIFA enquiry committee that the final match of major tournaments shall be played simultaneously to avoid such a situation again. Germany was not punished. They lost in the final to Italy and most of the football fanatics across the world believed that the Germans deserved it. Algeria was deprived from the pride of being the first ever African team to qualify for the knockout stages. Cameroon would wear that pride 8 years later. Algeria made history in the 2014 World Cup and qualified for the knockout stage. Coincidence or part of the script, we don’t know, but Algeria faced Germany in the round of 16 and it took the Germans an extra period of 30 minutes to get the better of their African opponents. Algeria may have gone one better than their last stint back in 1984, but they have gone more far in earning the respect of the fans.