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How match fixing robbed Algeria in 1982, and changed the World Cup forever

A match between West Germany and Austria cost Algeria its bid at qualifying and is the reason why final group stage matches are played simultaneously today
World Cup 1982 match between West Germany and Austria that become infamous as the Disgrace of Gijon (Reuters)

Algeria’s defeat of West Germany at the 1982 World Cup put the North African team on the verge of qualifying for the tournament's next round, but an infamous match between West Germany and Austria robbed them of that chance, changing the way the World Cup would be played forever.

The game between the two started off exciting enough, with West Germany scoring a goal against Austria - but then things started to change.

Players stopped running. Tackles weren’t made. The two European teams spent most of the game passing the ball amongst each other.

It didn’t take long for fans and announcers to realise what was happening. West Germany and Austria had figured out that a narrow West German win would allow both teams to progress in the tournament at the expense of Algeria.

The 41,000 spectators jeered and hissed as they watched the players running through the motions of a live game.

One announcer told fans to turn off their televisions and refused to speak for 30 minutes. Another pundit lamented, even saying the names of players “that roll off my tongue at the moment and leave a nasty, nasty taste”.

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Players from both sides defended their performance, in a match that would go down in history as the "Disgrace of Gijon".

When pressed on his performance in the match, West Germany’s goalkeeper said: “I saved everything I had to save. Two balls came my way; one backpass and one throw-in. What should I have done? Run up front and throw myself on the ball?”

Hans Tschak, the head of Austria’s Fifa delegation, defended the players' actions as “tactical", and didn’t try to disguise his contempt for Algeria.

“If 10,000 ‘sons of the desert’ here in the stadium want to trigger a scandal because of this, it just goes to show that they have too few schools. Some sheikh comes out of an oasis, is allowed to get a sniff of World Cup air after 300 years and thinks he’s entitled to open his gob,” Tschak said.

Benali Sekkal, president of the Algerian Soccer Federation at the time, called the game “scandalous and immoral”.  Algeria’s complaint to Fifa after the match, calling for both West Germany and Austria to be suspended from the tournament, was rebutted.

In the end, neither Austria nor West Germany won the World Cup. The Germans lost the final to Italy 3-1. However, the Disgrace of Gijon continues to resonate today, with all final group stage matches in the World Cup played at the same time, to prevent teams from rigging games.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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