Shame of Gijon – The day the World Cup lost its innocence


Hamburg : Arguably one of the most shameful football matches-ever was played in the El Molinon stadium in the Spanish city of Gijon 25 years ago.

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On 25 June, 1982, Austria and Germany met in a World Cup Group 2 game. The constellation ahead of the game was clear: Austria and Algeria were topping the group with four points, Germany was third with two points and Chile had none.

But while the Germans and Austrians still had their game against each other, Chile and Algeria had completed their three games a day earlier.

The North Africans, who had stunned Germany in their opening match June 16, had a nil-goal goal difference, Austria plus three and Germany plus two.

Going into the final game, Austria therefore knew they would advance to the next round with anything but a defeat of three goals or higher while Germany would go through with a victory.

When Germany striker Horst Hrubesch opened the scoring in the 11th minute, both teams had a result that suited them if things stayed as they stood. If the game ended 1-0 for Germany, both teams would advance and the courageous Algerians, who had impressed the world with their enthusiastic play, would be knocked out.

But with 79 minutes of the match remaining, both Germany and Austria knew that the result was anything but a forgone conclusion if they continued playing.

It is thus not surprising that both sides practically stopped playing from the 11th minute. Yes, they did not leave the field – except for a not-needed refreshment break at half-time – but for all intents and purposes, they could have.

Neither side mounted any attack and most of the ball possession was in the middle of the pitch, where players would push the ball towards each other without any challenge from their opponents.

To this day, players from both sides insist that the match was not rigged, but spectators clearly saw it differently: Waving money to show that they believed a bribe had been paid and whistling and jeering to show their disgust.

Even the German television commentators refused to commentate on the so-called action and simply left viewers to watch the shameful match unfold.

Germany defender Karlheinz Foerster says he can understand why fans reacted in such a way. "I have sympathy for the reaction of the Algerian fans because it must have looked as if it was a fixed thing. But it was not.

"Midway through the second half you could no longer watch the game. It was like a non-aggression pact between the two teams," he said.

Austrian striker Walter Schachner, who was one of the few players on the field who seemed to try throughout the 90 minutes, said that players from both sides had spoken to each other at halftime.

"They agreed that the result should remain as it was at the time. I was not made aware of that and kept on running – I was really angry afterwards."

Algerian player Lakhdar Belloumi, who scored the winning goal against Germany in the earlier game, is still bitter about the match and said a while ago that they remained convinced that it had been a set-up.

"The Germans and Austrians played an arrangement to eliminate us by goal difference. It was what we called the match of shame," he said.

If anything positive emerged from the game, it was that football officials had learnt their lesson and since the 1984 European championships, the deciding group matches of all major competitions are held at the same time.

That, of course, came too late for the Desert Warriors, who were denied a historic place in the next round of the World Cup by the Germans and Austrians who conspired to produce the Shame of Gijon.