PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – From a comically executed free kick to the slapstick folly of the defense, a laughably disorganized Germany struggled mightily against a determined Algeria.
Struggled, but managed to win.
The Germans beat a team many had underestimated 2-1 in extra time Monday to reach the World Cup quarterfinals for the ninth straight time.
But it was only after Thomas Mueller fell to the ground during a free kick, and after the Algerians forced goalkeeper Manuel Neuer off his line and out of his area several times, the Germans finally produced a stroke of brilliance early in extra time.
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Andre Schuerrle backheeled in a goal in the 92nd minute, and then Mesut Ozil added another late in the match before Algeria scored a consolation goal in the final seconds.
While it was Germany’s first victory in three matches against Algeria, the three-time champions will need more to overcome France in the quarterfinals Friday.
There was little order and discipline in Germany’s game in the cool conditions at the Estadio Beira-Rio. The team produced some chances but also gave away many more than it normally does and was lucky not to concede in a poor first half.
“We had major problems in the first half to organize the way we played,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said. “Yes, we had our problems, but at the end we were better and had a lot of chances. The important thing is to advance.”
The statistics would make Germany look fully in control: 78 percent possession, 16 shots on target for Germany against four for Algeria, a 22-7 edge on overall shots. But it was Neuer’s unorthodox clearances that kept Germany in the match.
In other words, Germany was lucky.
With central defender Mats Hummels out with the flu, new man Shkodran Mustafi played as the right back and the new-look defense was so unstable every Algerian counterattack seemingly put it under pressure.
Mustafi ended up tearing his left hamstring muscle late in the match and will miss the rest of the tournament.
But it wasn’t just him. Normally reliable Per Mertesacker slipped while trying to clear a ball, allowing Algeria a big chance, and Jerome Boateng looked slow against the speedy Algerians.
Perhaps the most bizarre moment came in the 88th minute, with Germany about to take a free kick from a good position.
Bastian Schweinsteiger ran past the ball, then Mueller slipped before running over the ball in an attempt to get behind the Algerian defense, and finally Toni Kroos tried to chip it over the wall. But his effort was low and the Algerians easily cleared what could have been a good opportunity.
The Germans have been working on set pieces, according to Loew, but that one surely needs some fine-tuning.
“You don’t have to play fantastic every match,” Loew said. “You have to win.”
France passes demanding test
BRASILIA, Brazil – After being touted as one of the World Cup’s entertainers, it was a gritty performance that got France through to the quarterfinals in a 2-0 victory over Nigeria.
France’s forward line had made headlines with eight goals in its opening two group matches, but there was little flair on display in a hard-fought contest against the African champions.
France needed a late header from midfielder Paul Pogba and got an injury-time own goal from defender Joseph Yobo to overcome a robust Nigeria.
Pogba’s goal in the 79th minute was after Nigeria’s best segment of the match and came soon after France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris had made a crucial save to deny Peter Odemwingie.
“We’re not the prettiest or the best, but we can do good things,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “The deliverance came late. There was a lot of tension because we were up against a very athletic side and there were a lot of challenges.”
Nigeria, which had an apparent goal disallowed for offside in the 19th minute after Emmanuel Emenike poked home Ahmed Musa’s cross from the left, wasted a lot of second-half possession.
Four years ago, France crashed out of the group stage, shamed a nation by going on strike and was jeered by its own fans and lambasted by politicians in the fallout from an embarrassing tournament.
It is a different situation here.
“I’m proud of my players because we’re coming back from very far. I think we’ve given a lot of pleasure back to our fans,” Deschamps said. “I think there were 5,000 here and millions back home who will feel proud.”
Pogba’s goal came after Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama had just made a superb save to tip over Karim Benzema’s header. But he flapped at the ball from the ensuing corner and Pogba pounced for his first World Cup goal.
That atoned for his placing a volley too close to Enyeama in the first half.
Yobo, who announced his international retirement after the match, turned the ball into his own net in stoppage time under pressure from France substitute Antoine Griezmann.
At the final whistle, France’s relieved players danced in front of their fans as dreams of a repeat run to the final — just like in 2006 — moved a step closer.
“We had the whole country behind us,” Pogba said. “It’s one of the proudest moments of my life.”
France started slowly and finished well.
“I’ve yet to see a team play well over the whole 90 minutes,” Deschamps said. “Nigeria dropped off a bit and that allowed us to get on top.”
After Griezmann came on, Benzema finally came alive in the 70th, opening up the defense after a clever one-two with the France substitute.
After Enyeama blocked Benzema’s initial shot, his follow-up effort was hacked clear by Victor Moses. Video technology confirmed the ball had not crossed the goal line.
France failed to show the attacking flair of previous games, with Olivier Giroud skewing a shot wide early on.
He also appeared to elbow John Obi Mikel in an off-the-ball incident, having done the same in last week’s 0-0 draw with Ecuador after coming on as a second-half substitute.
“The referee saw it and didn’t even give him a warning. Not a yellow card, nothing,” Mikel said. “The intention was there.”
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi was highly critical of American referee Mark Geiger’s handling of the match.
“The ref is a human being, but a lot of mistakes were questionable,” he said. “Giroud elbow, Pogba foot up … he decides what happens on the field. I’m not happy with the ref.”
Two chances were missed late in the half.
Fullback Mathieu Debuchy smacked a shot wide, and Emenike saw his sharp drive from the edge of the area palmed away by Lloris.
With Nigeria starting to dominate possession, Deschamps made a key change in the 62nd, taking Giroud off and bringing on Griezmann, freeing Benzema to play through the middle.
Nigeria continued to push forward and center half Laurent Kocielny cut out Musa’s dangerous cross from the right.
But toward the end, it was all France as Griezmann boosted the attack.