Spare a thought for Algeria. On Monday, after playing Germany, the country became the latest and perhaps the greatest team to go through the agonizing throes of " if only " and " we were so close. "
If only their super keeper Raïs M’Bolhi had saved one more German strike to add to his total of nine stunning saves, the team might have gone through on penalties. Algeria was so close to its first quarter - final place, and so close to one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history.Even so, for the African underdog, which barely distinguished itself in the group stage, it was a stunning and brave performance — made all the more stunning by the fact that most of the team were fasting for Ramadan. Germany, for its part, played a panicky game, like a team spooked. Perhaps what spooked them was the cultural memory of the last time these two teams met in World Cup competition, in West Germany's opening match in 1982, when Algeria beat the favorites 2-1. (Sure, few members of this team were even alive then, but soccer fans have long memories, and they extend pre-birth.) The only reason Algeria didn't exit the group that year was the fact that West Germany and Austria played a game known as the Disgrace of Gijón — where the two sides effectively colluded to hold the game to a 1-0 score, allowing Austria to qualify and sending Algeria home. If you were wondering why the last two games of each World Cup group are played simultaneously, the Disgrace of Gijón is the reason. Algeria failed to properly avenge that game. But even so, by forcing the game into extra time, by shutting the Germans out until the 92nd minute, by replying to the second German goal by scoring one of their own with 30 seconds left on the clock, they showed that this team of wunderkinds, which looked so strong in its demolition of Portugal, can be beaten. Especially, it seems, beaten by African sides — given that it was also held to a 2-2 draw by Ghana. Perhaps France, which faces Germany on Friday, could hire the Algerian team to give them some lessons. Then again, the French comfortably defeated its own African underdog team, Nigeria, 2-0 in regulation time. Very little has troubled this French side so far, after a group stage in which it annihilated Honduras 3-0 and Switzerland 5-2. Its only desultory result was against Ecuador, 0-0, when the game didn't really matter. And so we have, thus far, three epic quarter-final lineups. We have three teams that are relative underdogs according to FIFA rankings — Colombia, Costa Rica and France — playing supposedly superior Brazil, Netherlands and Germany respectively. And yet in each of those instances, the underdogs have given a far better accounting of themselves in this World Cup so far.