Pretty much all of the round of 16 matches so far at the 2014 FIFA World Cup have been about keeping it tight at the back. With that clichéd chess match coming to the fore for much of the game before late strikes, as the mind and body tires, turning the game on its head and eventually deciding the course of the game – be that extra time, penalty shootout or a stunning win.
Well, the Germany vs Algeria match in a chilly Porto Alegre certainly stuck to that script, as the European heavyweights huffed and puffed against an effervescent Algerian side, before an Andre Schurrle goal (no, not Thomas Muller, although he did provide the assist, though) early in extra time, and a Mesut Ozil strike right at the death, helped the Germans scrape into the quarterfinals with a 2-1 result – Abdelmoumene Djabou's goal with virtually the final kick proving to be scant consolation for Algeria.
It was a game that could have easily gone Algeria's way, had they taken their first half chances, but Germany, the impeccable machine and all, grew stronger and stronger as time wore on, before the Algerian house finally fell in the extra 30 minutes – the first time goals have been scored in extra time at this World Cup -- to give one of the pre-tournament favourites a "phew we're glad we escaped that massive hurdle" win, and with it a mouthwatering clash against France, who were made to work pretty hard by Nigeria as well.
While Germany bossed possession from minute one, Algeria gave their opponents a right old scare with their quick attacks and created quite a few openings in the first half to give Joachim Low plenty to worry about.
Islam Slimani, who has been a revelation for Algeria at this World Cup, used his pace to put Germany under pressure time and again, and the forward had two good chances early on. The striker first nearly slipped past the entire German side, latching onto a long pass down the left channel, with Manuel Neuer forced to come well outside his own box and make a last-ditch tackle –Neuer would have to do that a few times later as well.
Slimani was at it again, terrorising Jerome Boateng, who always has a few mistakes in him every game, with his positional sense also leaving a lot to be desired. Per Mertesacker had to bail his central defensive partner out on a couple of occasions, otherwise Slimani or Sofiane Feghouli would have broken clear to score.
Germany were clearly struggling to stop Algeria's counter-attacks with Mertesacker not quite gelling with Boateng as he has done with Mats Hummels, who missed the game through flu, and Feghouli should have done a lot better after bursting clear on the right channel, with the forward firing his cross/shot well wide.
Slimani finally did put the ball into the back of the net with a wonderful header off a left-wing cross from Fauzi Ghoulam, but the goal was correctly ruled out for offside. Ghoulam then blazed his shot just wide of the post after making a nice run down the left as Germany hung on a little.
The favourites had 69 percent of the possession in the first half, but looking at the chances, there really was only one team in the first 20 minutes. However, great teams always respond, and Germany, slowly but surely, got back into their groove, spraying those quick passes, with Mesut Ozil, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos getting into the game more.
Despite their dominance on the ball, though, all of their best chances came from long-range efforts, with Ozil forcing a couple of smart saves from Rais M'Bolhi, while Schweinsteiger also stung the fingers of the Algerian goalkeeper.
Kroos, however, did force the best save from the Algerian custodian, with M'Bolhi having to be alert to not just stop a rasping Kroos effort, but also stay big to prevent Mario Gotze from following up. Muller, looking for his fifth goal of the 2014 World Cup to go level with top scorer James Rodriguez, was on the periphery for much of the first 45, with the forward only managing a couple of headers which did not trouble the goalkeeper too much.
Low needed to shake things up a bit and add a little bit more pace and directness to his side, and with Lukas Podolski ruled out through injury, Schurrle came in for the ineffective Mario Gotze in the second half. The forward nearly made an immediate impact, latching onto a through pass from Ozil, before seeing his deflected shot just crawl past the post.
Germany, knowing their first half performance was nowhere near good enough, cranked up the pressure in the second, with Shkodran Mustafi seeing his header from close-range kept out by M'Bolhi.
Skipper Philipp Lahm then decided to have his say, taking a shot, off a nice layoff from Schweinsteiger, from 22 yards which looked like it was going to ripple the top corner netting only for M'Bolhi to stick his hand out and just tip the ball away.
Germany, who were forced to rejig their defence again with Lahm dropping to his old position at right-back following an injury to Mustafi, threw the kitchen sink, and then some, at the Algeria defence in the final 15 minutes, but try as they might the ball just would not hit the back of the net.
Schweinsteiger, first, fired his header from five yards wide after some brilliant work from Muller, with Germany's top scorer then seeing his close-range header brilliantly turned away by M'Bolhi. Muller would miss again a minute later, unable to find the target after finding space inside the box off a ball over the top.
Algeria also looked dangerous with their counters, with Slimani and Feghouli's pace against causing the German defence problems, as Neuer had to come well out of his box on quite a few occasions to sweep clear. But the force was with Germany, all that was missing was the goal.
The goal did come, just not in normal time like Germany would have preferred, but not too long into extra time either – in the second minute of the extra 30 to be exact. That man machine Muller ran down the left channel, before picking out Schurrle, who somehow managed to drag the ball into the net past M'Bolhi, with the Algeria keeper, for once, unable to intervene.
Algeria, energy sapped and hopes dashed, could not muster up a real reply, with Ozil adding what seemed like the icing in extra time stoppage time with a thumping finish, only for Djabou to answer back immediately – but it was too little too late as Germany breathed a huge sigh of relief.