The final group-stage matches of the 2018 World Cup in Russia begin on Monday, with all four sides in each group playing at the same time. Coincidence? Organisational limitations? Human error? No.
The scheduling is the consequence of the events that transpired exactly 36 years ago, in a match that has come to be known as the Disgrace of Gijon.
Going into Gijon
West Germany entered the 1982 World Cup finals, held in Spain, as the European champion and the team to beat. It cruised through qualifying and drew Austria, Algeria and Chile in its group.
No one was uncertain about West Germany defeating Algeria in its opening fixture. That confidence oozed into the players as well, with goalkeeper Toni Schumacher promising his side would score “four to eight goals just to warm up.” But to everyone’s surprise, the might West Germans went down 2-1 to minnow Algeria.
Algeria lost its next match against Austria 2-0. Germany rebounded and thrashed Chile 4-1. In Algeria’s final match in the group stage, it edged out a 3-2 victory over Chile, placing it second in the group behind Austria. West Germany was to play its last game against Austria the next day.
June 25, 1982
An Austrian win or a draw would have sufficed for Algeria to progress to the next stage. Even a West German win by three goals or more would have meant the same, as Austria would have then been knocked out by goal difference. Only a narrow win for Germany would send both the European nations into the final.
But Algerian hopes were crushed on that day at the El Molinon Stadium in Gijon. After an 11th minute goal by Horst Hrubesch for West Germany, nothing much happened in the following match against Austria. The teams looked content to pass the ball around and the match ended 1-0, which knocked Algeria out of the World Cup and put West Germany through to the next round.
There were rumours saying the teams had decided at half-time to settle on a 1-0 scoreline. Spectators and commentators were convinced that the teams had conspired. The controversial match turned fans against players, as the world wept for Algeria.
The Algerians demanded that FIFA investigate the result. The fact is there is no concrete evidence of any conspiracy between teams. For the same reason, FIFA couldn’t impose any sanctions on West Germany and Austria. But it decided to change the rules from the next tournament onwards. Since then, all four teams in a group play their final group games at the same time. This was adopted later by other tournaments like the UEFA European Championship.