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Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer (L) challenges Algeria's Islam Slimani during their 2014 World Cup round of 16 game at the Beira Rio stadium in Porto Alegre June 30, 2014. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger(reuters_tickers)
By Karolos Grohmann
BELO HORIZONTE Brazil (Reuters) - 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 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 centre backs as his full backs failed to reap any benefits, instead making his team slower against the Algerians, who pressed high from the start.
Benedikt Hoewedes and Jerome Boateng are central defenders for their clubs and, unsurprisingly, they did not have the pace to carve out chances from the wings.
His other much-discussed experiment, launched back in March, was playing captain Philipp Lahm in a holding midfield position.
It may have worked in warm-up games against Cameroon and Poland but it was only after Lahm switched back to his traditional right back role in the second half against Algeria that the Germans could finally play their quick, flowing game.
"It doesn’t matter at all to me how we won," said central defender Per Mertesacker, summing up a frustrating evening for the three-times champions.
"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 absence of a clear striker in the starting lineup could have also proved costly against the North Africans with neither Mario Goetze nor Mesut Ozil nor Thomas Mueller able to convert any of the several chances they carved out in normal time.
His best forward, Miroslav Klose, meanwhile, was languishing on the bench, no doubt asking himself why he was not on the pitch to add to his 15 World Cup goals.
France are not the World Cup winners of 1998 nor are they the strong 2006 finalists after coming agonisingly close to missing the tournament.
Despite an unconvincing 2-0 win over Nigeria, they should provide the toughest test for Germany in the tournament.
It would come as no surprise if, among others, Ozil, who has never reclaimed the form for Germany he showed at the 2010 World Cup, was left on the bench.
Speedy winger Andre Schuerrle, whose introduction in the second half instantly added missing pace, will be hoping his performance will have made him a strong contender for a starting spot in their last-eight encounter.
One position that Loew should have no concerns about is goalkeeper with Manuel Neuer delivering a stunning masterclass of modern goalkeeping, cleverly racing out of the box more times than anyone in recent memory and helping to launch quick counter attacks throughout the game against Algeria.
He repeatedly outsprinted and outsmarted quick Sofiane Feghouli and Islam Slimani when his backline was struggling, providing much needed confidence at the back.
The Germans' superior fitness in extra time then carried them past opponents who were running on empty, scoring twice to seal their first win over Algeria.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann)