Germany 2-1 Algeria (AET): Algeria press and counter-attack brilliantly
Germany’s quality eventually shone through, but Algeria produced one of the best tactical performances of the tournament.
Mats Hummels was out injured, so Jogi Low moved Jerome Boateng into the middle and brought Shkodran Mustafi into the side at right-back.
Vahid Halilhodzic again made huge changes to his side – he switched five players from the XI which drew against Russia, including four of his front six. Interestingly, he didn’t select anyone who was a booking away from suspension.
Algeria had a very obvious gameplan here, and with more composure in the final third, it could have resulted in a famous victory…
Algeria have switched between a deep defensive block and a more aggressive midfield pressing system in this tournament, and here they opted for the latter. Halilhodzic formatted his midfield so the Algerian trio were in obvious positions to press the three German players in that zone, and forced Germany into some surprisingly sloppy passes throughout the first half, conceding possession cheaply and allowing Algeria to break.
Algeria were happy to keep a high defensive line, and in this period Germany lacked someone to run in behind the defence – Mesut Ozil and Mario Gotze tucked inside and came towards the ball, while Thomas Muller usually made lateral runs. It felt like Germany simply needed to turn Algeria, and knock some balls in behind their defence to make up some ground.
Algeria were determined to hit the German backline quickly, and the majority of their attacks came from their left, where they’d successfully counter-attacked against Belgium in the first half of that 2-1 defeat. Faouzi Ghoulam repeatedly got forward with Ozil showing little interest in tracking, and he played some dangerous balls in behind the defence, and combined well with El Arabi Soudani.
In Algeria’s 4-2 win over South Korea, lone striker Islam Slimani played an all-round game, capable of meeting crosses because of his height, or running in behind the defence because of his pace. That was noticeable again, and sometimes it was difficult to say whether Algeria’s passes towards him were crosses or through-balls – they were somewhere between, because they were so determined to find Slimani quickly, having broken down the flanks.
German defence struggles
Algeria were keen to exploit Per Mertesacker’s lack of pace. That’s a long-established weakness of the Arsenal centre-back, but it’s rarely been so obvious, and Algeria constantly attempted to hit long passes just beyond his reach.
The German centre-backs weren’t helped by the attacking nature of their full-backs. Yet again, they’re both simply centre-backs shoved out wide, and it’s difficult to work out the point of them pushing so high up the pitch – neither contribute much in the final third, and they surely would have been better sitting deep and protecting the centre-backs, who were clearly struggling.
The most obvious tactical feature of this game was the extremely aggressive role played by Manuel Neuer, who wasn’t so much a sweeper-keeper, more just a sweeper. He took up extremely high starting positions and repeatedly collected the ball outside his box.
There were two obvious examples. In the first five minutes he chased a long Soudani pass towards Slimani and seemed to have misjudged the situation in the right-back zone, but made up enough ground to produce a dramatic slide-tackle.
After half an hour, something similar happened – Mertesacker struggled against Slimani’s pace, and Neuer found himself 30 yards off his line, beating Feghouli to a 50:50 ball.
Any tiny mistake could have been catastrophic, but Neuer’s decision-making was spot on throughout the game, and had it not been for his proactive goalkeeping, Germany would have struggled against Slimani even more. The repeated nervous clearances helped Algeria pile on the pressure, though, and they also attacked by winning the ball high up the pitch, and through Ghoulam’s dangerous long throws.
The frustrating thing, from Algeria’s perspective, was the lack of individual quality at key moments. Sofiane Feghouli, their best player, was capable of a wild shot over the bar when he needed to roll the ball across the six-yard box for a teammate, and then a wasted free-kick from a glorious position. Algeria were tactically perfect, but individually their attackers didn’t have the composure to record an upset.
Germany move into the game
After half-time, the tempo dropped. Algeria didn’t press as intensely in midfield and Germany’s quality became obvious – they retained the ball for longer periods, worked the ball into the feet of the attackers more, and asserted their dominance. The full-backs remained in deeper positions, too, which meant the centre-backs weren’t so prone to Algeria’s counter-attacking.
That’s not to say Algeria gave up attacking – but this became more of a classic ‘possession against counter-attack’ contest between a big side and a minnow, whereas in the first half Algeria were playing on the break, but doing so proactively and were genuinely in control of the contest.
Germany turn the screw
The more the game went on, the more Germany showed their quality. The introduction of Andre Schurrle, in place of Gotze, was crucial because it provided something different – pace in behind the defence. He stretched the game, forced the Algerian defence into deeper positions, andthis helped put Germany in control of the midfield zone.
Algeria’s defenders don’t like playing deep, and gradually they started to invite crosses, particularly from the right flank – something they’d struggled to defend both in qualification, and in the group games. Germany’s threat from the right increased when Mustafi was forced to depart, and Lahm moved to his traditional right-back slot, with Sami Khedira coming into the midfield.
Germany’s opener came from a cross – from the left flank, after Aissa Mandi had been caught out of position. Schurrle was the man who grabbed the goal, which was appropriate considering what a difference he had made.
The extra-time period was end-to-end, and Algeria simply didn’t quite have enough energy to dominate this period. Halilhodzic might regret replacing injured centre-back Rafik Halliche with another centre-back, Majid Bougherra – he could have dropped a midfielder into the backline, and brought in another energetic midfielder, to help press and win the ball quickly. Yacine Brahimi and Adelmoumene Djabou provided fresh legs, but there were too many knackered Algerians in the final half hour, particularly Slimani.
Djabou’s consolation came a minute after Ozil had scored Germany’s second. It was right that Algeria had the final say after this superb performance.
Algeria’s gameplan was perfect, but their problem was not taking their chances in the first half, when they dominated with their excellent pressing and counter-attacking. They needed more composure and better decision-making from Slimani and Feghouli, and they might have been 2-0 up at the break.
Germany part-fixed the problem by introducing Schurrle to provide runs in behind, by keeping their full-backs in more conservative positions, and because the tempo dropped and their midfielders asserted their dominance. Changes are needed if they’re to triumph, but you can say the same about almost every contender.
Algeria came into this tournament as the most underrated team – 2000/1 shots to win - and they impressed throughout. Halilhodzic deserves enormous credit for getting them to this stage. His chopping and changing between matches kept the side fresh and able to press, while the tactical plans were flexible, effective and sometimes fantastic to watch – the thrashing of South Korea was one of the best first half performances of the tournament. He’s improved his reputation more than almost any other coach.
Germany 2-1 Algeria (AET): Algeria press and counter-attack brilliantly