For the first time in the history of FIFA World Cup, the 1982 edition of the tournament in Spain saw 24 teams take part instead of the usual 16. There were a lot of new faces, such as Algeria, Cameroon, Honduras, Kuwait, and New Zealand. Some of the regulars like Netherlands, Mexico and Sweden also failed to qualify, and this left a lot of vacancies up for grabs. Belgium, Czechoslovakia, El Salvador, England and the Soviet Union were all back in the field after more than a decade of absence.
The 1982 tournament was also the first where penalty shoot-out was introduced to break a tie. This was also the last World Cup to feature two rounds of group stages, and the third time in which all four semi-finalists were European. But things could have been different.
The tournament began with one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. On the third day of the tournament, Algeria defeated West Germany 2-1. West Germany at that time were the most dominant force in world football. After winning the UEFA Euro 1980, they cruised through qualification winning all of their eight qualifying matches. With a string of successes behind them, the West German team was buoyant with confidence. They saw their first match against the lowly Algeria as a cakewalk. Before the game, one of the players boasted that they could trounce Algeria while smoking cigars. Another one reportedly said: “We will dedicate our seventh goal to our wives, and the eighth to our dogs.”
Had West Germany done their homework, they would have known what a formidable team they were up against. Algeria had reached the semi-finals of the 1982 Africa Cup of Nations in Libya only three months earlier, before losing to eventual winners Ghana. During their final round of qualifying matches they beat the much stronger team Nigeria twice.
The Algeria team.
The match of 16 June 1982 proved to be a revelation. The first half finished goal-less, with the Germans defending far more than they had expected. But it was the second half, where Algeria really shined. The brilliant Rabah Madjer gave Algeria a well-deserving lead on the 54th minute. Thirteen minutes later, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge scored the equalizer, and for a moment, everyone thought that Germany had the game in control. Soon, opportunity would present itself again for the Germans and to eventual victory. But the very next minute, Belloumi restored the lead with an astonishing goal worthy enough to win any match. Algeria almost scored a third, before the final whistle brought the outstanding match to an end. No African team had ever defeated a European team at the World Cup before. The entire football world was stunned. Later, West Germany manager Jupp Derwall confessed that he had been provided with a video of Algeria in action but did not show it to the players because he thought they would laugh at him.
As the group progressed, West Germany was able to salvage their shattered pride by thrashing Chile 4-1, and then they watched Algeria falter against Austria. But Algeria managed to squeeze a 3-2 victory against Chile, earning a spot behind Austria who led the group’s table with two wins. Austria and West Germany still had one more match each—against each other, and that match was going to decide which two teams progressed to the second round. As things stood, if Austria beat West Germany, then the Germans would be going home, and if West Germany beat Austria, then Algeria would be knocked out and both teams would qualify for the knockout stages. But there was another factor in the equation. If West Germany beat Austria by more than three goals, then Austria would be eliminated and Algeria would progress via goal difference.
Group standing before the West Germany-Austria match.
The match between West Germany and Austria started at the El Molinón stadium in Gijón, on 25 June 1982. West Germany began attacking furiously and within ten minutes took the lead. After that the game came to a virtual halt. Neither team was eager to score, instead for the next 80 minutes the players listlessly passed the ball around. It was as if the two teams had decided to deny the African team a place in the second round. Inside the stadium, the crowd booed “Fuera, fuera” (Out, out), “Argelia, Argelia” (Algeria, Algeria), and “Que se besen, que se besen” (Let them kiss, let them kiss). Even the German supporters were disappointed, with one fan reportedly burning his country’s flag. Eberhard Stanjek, a commentator for a German channel, lamented: “What is happening here is disgraceful and has nothing to do with football. You can say what you like, but not every end justifies the means.” Austrian commentator Robert Seeger bemoaned the spectacle, and asked viewers to turn off their television sets.
After the match, the West German team went back to their hotel where they were met by furious spectators who threw eggs and other projectiles at them. But the West Germans were unapologetic; they returned fire with water bombs.
The next day, newspapers around the world spewed outrage. El Comercio, the local newspaper, printed the match report in its crime section. In West Germany, one headline shouted “SHAME ON YOU!” A former German player called all 22 players “gangsters”.
Algerian fans show money during the match between West Germany and Austria to indicate the match was fixed.
Algeria filed a complaint to FIFA, but the authority board found no evidence of tampering or illegality. Both teams denied any collusion, of course. Hermann Neuberger, president of the West Germany Football Federation, who was also the vice president of FIFA, defended the Germans saying that they had “the right to play slowly and defensively, with security.” Manager Jupp Derwall also came in support of his team: “We had the perfect right to be careful in this game in order to get into the second round of the World Cup.”
Although Algeria’s official protest did nothing to secure their berth in the next round, it did trigger an important change in the structure of the tournament. Henceforth, in all FIFA tournaments the final two games in each group were played simultaneously to prevent such manipulation.
But was the “Disgrace of Gijon” really as disgraceful as the media of the time made it out to be?
Writing for The Guardian, Rob Smyth had another look at the video of the match. He observed:
The video of the game is thus a surprise. You expect side-to-side stuff, players standing around picking spots and scratching backsides, not giving 10% never mind 110; the greatest sham on turf. That only really happens in the final quarter of an hour, when the game properly livens down, and even then it is no more brazen than subsequent examples of two teams settling for a specific score.
The 10 minutes after Hrubesch’s goal would even be described as exhilarating in some cultures, with Wolfgang Dremmler forcing a fine save from Friedich Koncilia (the second and final shot on target in the match) and Paul Breitner missing two good chances. The game slows down towards half-time, principally because the hitherto dominant Germany start to play on the counterattack, There is still enough intensity…
At the start of second half there is still plenty of purposeful if unaccomplished attacking, interspersed by some periods of unpressurised passing. Both teams only become defensively active when the other crosses the halfway line….
As late as the 77th minute, when the game was losing what edge it had, Bernd Krauss broke into the box and forced a desperate clearance from Hans-Peter Briegel. A goal then would have put West Germany out….
The last 10 minutes are terrible…. The outcome gave a whole new meaning to winning ugly. Yet while there are periods of the game that could have been soundtracked by Brian Eno, there isn’t the constant state of inertia we expected.
Austria and West Germany both progressed to the second group stages, but only West Germany qualified for the semi-finals. They beat France on penalties to proceed to the final, eventually losing to the winners Italy.
# Jacob Abraham, Disgrace of Gijon: The match that changed the World Cup forever, https://www.theweek.in/news/sports/2018/06/26/disgrace-of-gijon-the-match-that-changed-the-world-cup-forever.html
# Paul Doyle, The day in 1982 when the world wept for Algeria, https://www.theguardian.com/football/2010/jun/13/1982-world-cup-algeria
# Rob Smyth, World Cup stunning moments: West Germany 1-0 Austria in 1982, https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2014/feb/25/world-cup-25-stunning-moments-no3-germany-austria-1982-rob-smyth
# Ali Khaled, 1982 World Cup: How Algeria stunned West Germany, fell to an epic swindle, https://www.arabnews.com/node/1689261/sport