Germany have only their superior fitness and world-class goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to thank for scraping past Algeria 2-1 in extra time to move into the FIFA World Cup quarter-finals after doing almost everything wrong over 90 minutes.
Coach Joachim Loew will no doubt be skipping any post-game celebrations as he rushes back to the drawing board to reshuffle his team ahead of their match against France if they are to confirm their status as genuine title contenders.
His experiment of playing with two centerbacks as his fullbacks backfired and made his team slower against Algeria, who pressed high from the start.
Schalke 04’s Benedikt Hoewedes and Bayern Munich’s Jerome Boateng are central defenders for their clubs and — unsurprisingly — did not have the pace to carve out chances from the wings.
Loew’s other much-discussed experiment was launched back in March and consists of playing captain Philipp Lahm in a holding midfield position. This gamble may have worked in warmup games against Cameroon and Poland, but it was only after Lahm switched back to his traditional rightback role in the second half against Algeria that the Mannschaft could finally play their quick, flowing game.
“It doesn’t matter at all to me how we won,” defender Per Mertesacker said, summing up the evening. “The main thing is we won and we’re in the final eight and that’s what counts. What do you want from me? Do you think that this is a circus band? We fought to the end.”
The lack of a clear striker in the starting lineup could have proved costly, with neither Mario Goetze, Mesut Ozil nor Thomas Mueller able to convert any of the chances they carved out in regulation time.
As Lowe’s best forward, Miroslav Klose, languished on the bench, the SS Lazio player was no doubt asking himself why he was not on the pitch to add to his 15 World Cup goals.
Lowe can take comfort in France not being the squad that won the World Cup in 1998, nor the strong 2006 finalists, after Les Bleus came close to going home in their last-16 tie against Nigeria. Yet despite an unconvincing win, they should be Germany’s toughest test so far.
It would come as no surprise if, among others, Ozil, who has never reclaimed the form for Germany that he showed at the 2010 World Cup, is left on the bench for the quarters clash.
One player that Loew should have no concerns about is Neuer, who delivered a stunning masterclass in modern goalkeeping, cleverly racing out of the box more times than anyone in recent memory and helping launch quick counterattacks against Algeria.
He repeatedly outsprinted and outsmarted speedy Sofiane Feghouli and Islam Slimani when his backline was struggling, providing much needed confidence at the back.
After the loss, M’Bolhi, whose man-of-the-match display repeatedly thwarted the European side in regulation time before Schuerrle and Ozil’s extra-time goals, insisted that the loss was not down to his teammates’ observance of Ramadan.
Most of the team are reported to be observing the Muslim holy month of fasting, which started on Saturday, and would have only been able to drink water late in the first half.
“No, I don’t think [it was a factor], we were ready to play for as long as we need to, nobody believed we were able to put in a performance like that,” M’Bolhi said. “It didn’t come down to physicality, everyone was fit and ready to play, we just conceded two late goals.
“This is a personal question, it’s between us and God, I don’t think I have to answer you, Ramadan is a personal thing,” he told reporters.
The ’keeper said his side were “disappointed,” but added that on the bright side, “We’re part of Algerian football history, no other team went so far before and we showed we can play on an equal footing at the highest level.”