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World Cup

The 'non-aggression pact of Gijon' remains the longest 80 minutes in football history

Germany goes into its final group stage game in a curious position: A tie with the US would see both teams advance. While nobody is suggesting any funny business this time, it has evoked memories of a dark football tale.

With Germany and the United States set to face each other in the final group stage game on Thursday, German and other soccer fans old enough to remember the 1982 World Cup in Spain can't help but be reminded of one of the darkest chapters in the tournament's history.

This came when West Germany faced Austria in the final Group 2 game of the first round, on June 16. The other two teams in the group, Algeria and Chile, had played on the previous day, and the way the standings shaped up, although Algeria were second to Austria on four points, the north Africans weren't assured of going through.

West Germany needed a win to advance, Austria didn't. However, Austria needed to ensure that if it didn't win or tie - it lost by no more than two goals. Algeria's fate hung in the balance and it was out of their hands.

The game, played in the Spanish city of Gijon started off well enough, and after 10 minutes, Hamburg striker Horst Hrubesch found the back of the net to put the West Germans up 1-0. Then something strange happened - the two teams, as if by a non-gentlemen's agreement, stopped trying to score.

For the next 80 minutes, soccer fans both in the stadium and watching around the world on TV, were subjected to a game that hardly did the word justice. The two teams pushed the ball back and forth around the midfield, sometimes mysteriously hitting it into touch when someone got too close to the area. Much of their time was spent passing the ball back to the two goalkeepers, at a time when they were still allowed to handle the ball on a back pass.

A result that suited both sides

The 1-0 final score meant that both West Germany and Austria advanced, while Algeria, which had beaten West Germany 2-1 in the first group-stage game, were eliminated. Not surprisingly, the Algerians, and even the West German and Austrian commentators doing the game live on TV, cried foul, and the game went down in history in the German-speaking world as the "Nichtangriffspakt von Gijon" (non-aggression pact of Gijon).

The supporters quickly smelled a rat, with their whistles of disapproval cascading around the stadium. Some Algerian fans in particular waved banknotes in protest.

"The uproar was huge back then, the game really wasn't worth watching," the West German keeper in that game, Toni Schumacher told the Express daily paper.

To this day, nobody involved has admitted that there was an actual agreement between the two sides, or if there needed to be. Both teams must have been aware of the situation that they were in.

As recently as 2006, Paul Breitner, one of West Germany's stars of the era, told ZDF public television that he had perceived nothing untoward during the match. At some point in any game when you have the lead, you start trying to "hold the result," he said.

One of Austria's stars, Walter Schachner also said years later that while there must have been some kind of agreement, he wasn't aware of it. This seems plausible, as he was the only player to take a shot at goal in the second half.

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