Most controversial World Cup game? The 'Disgrace of Gijon' remembered

  • Kobe Tong
World Cup trophy replicas.

The ‘Disgrace of Gijón’ took place on this day 40 years ago in what remains one of the most controversial matches to have graced the FIFA World Cup.

For those unaware, West Germany’s 1-0 win over Austria in the final match of Group 2 at the 1982 tournament in Spain proved to be so extraordinary that it changed the structure of the World Cup forever.

Now, the concluding games in each group are played simultaneously in order to avoid the shocking scenes that took place at El Molinón, which we will now unpack for you today, from ever happening again.

Controversy at the 1982 World Cup

So, what’s the big deal? Well, the so-called Nichtangriffspakt von Gijón – translation: the non-aggression pact of Gijon – centred around West Germany and Austria playing out a result that both suited them.

And it all came at the expense of the tournament’s darlings, Algeria, who had produced a stunning 2-1 win over the Germans in the opening game of the group in what remains a historic World Cup shock.

The north African nation then lost their next match to Austria, while West Germany got back on track by thrashing Chile.

Nevertheless, it looked as though Algeria would become the first African side to ever reach the second round of the World Cup when they raced into a 3-0 half-time lead over Chile in their third and final match.

That was, however, until they conceded twice after the break. Algeria might still have won 3-2, but the shift in goal difference now meant that they needed Austria to avoid defeat or West Germany to win by three or more goals to go through when the two nations met in the concluding game.

But when Horst Hrubesch fired West Germany into an 11th-minute lead over Austria in said match, the landscape suddenly looked a lot less confusing for the two European nations.

That’s because the European champions winning 1-0 would indeed secure the safe passage of both teams into the next phase of the competition at the expense of Algeria.

Soccer Football – 2022 World Cup – African Qualifiers Draw – Nile Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Cairo, Egypt – January 21, 2020 General view of the FIFA World Cup Trophy REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Had Austria equalised or West Germany scored another two goals, then the African side would have gone through at the expense of one of the two Germany-speaking nations. Got it?

The ‘Disgrace of Gijón’

Now, this is where the controversy comes in because the match, well, slowly started to fizzle out with the Guardian recounting how the first audible unrest from the crowd occurred on 52 minutes when Karl-Heinz Rummenigge lumped a pass back to the halfway line.

There were still flash points, sure, but the Opta statistics make for extraordinary reading with the second-half producing just three shots – none of which were on target – and West Germany making just eight tackles.

Both sides had a pass completion rate exceeding 90% with the West Germans nailing 98% of their passes in their own half, while Austria completed 99% of their passes before the halfway line.

However, it was the final 10 minutes that were truly atrocious with the real side-to-side football setting in, prompting some of the most baffling World Cup match footage that you could possibly imagine watching – check it out:

Reaction to the controversy

The match became so horrendously dull that Austrian TV commentator Robert Seeger even told viewers to switch off their television sets, before saying absolutely nothing for the closing minutes.

German broadcaster Eberhard Stanjek chimed in with: “What’s happening here is disgraceful and has nothing to do with football. You can say what you want, but not every end justifies every means.”Most controversial World Cup game? The ‘Disgrace of Gijon’ remembered

And ITV’s Hugh Johns fumed: “A few seconds on Bob Valentine’s watch between us and going-home time. And what a relief that’s going to be. Breitner for Briegel for Stielike, names that run off my tongue at the moment and leave a nasty, nasty taste. Stielike … quality players who should all be in the book of referee Bob Valentine for bringing the game into disrepute. This is one of the most disgraceful international matches I’ve ever seen.”

The FIFA World Cup trophy.
Soccer Football – 2018 FIFA World Cup Draw – State Kremlin Palace, Moscow, Russia – December 1, 2017 General view of the FIFA World Cup trophy during the draw REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

In the end, the game did indeed finish 1-0 with both West Germany and Austria progressing, leaving the Algerian FA to immediately protest and declare the farce as a “sinister plot”.

The West Germans were even panned in their own newspapers with one headline declaring: “SHAME ON YOU!”

And in one of the more astonishing stories from the whole fiasco, the Guardian even adds how West Germany’s players bombarded a group of their own fans who were angry with the game with water bombs.

However, the two European sides got away with their actions because Algeria’s appeal was ultimately rejected after a three-and-a-half-hour meeting where FIFA decreed the result “could not be altered by any outside body”.

And it was from that point onwards that the simultaneous third group games that we now know were introduced with Algeria, despite their elimination, still duly leaving a stamp on football history.

Forty years on and the ‘Disgrace of Gijón’ never fails to blow one’s mind.

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