A USA-Guatemala tie on Tuesday will guarantee that both teams advance to the final round of World Cup qualifying. The scenario recalls the infamous West Germany-Austria game at the 1982 World Cup
that embarrassed both countries and forced a change in how soccer competitions are formatted.
The change it prompted was to schedule final group games simultaneously to prevent collusion. At the 1982 World Cup, Algeria, which had upset West Germany in the opener, beat Chile, 3-2, before the European neighbors met in Gijon.
A 1-0 or 2-0 West Germany win would send the Germans and the Austrians through to the second round at Algeria’s expense on superior goal difference. A bigger German win, a tie or an Austrian win would see the Algerians through as the first African team ever to reach the second round of a World Cup.
Horst Hrubesch put the Germans ahead in the 11th minute. Wolfgang Dremmler forced a save and the Germans attacked a bit more early in the first half. Then the game turned into mostly innocuous passing and time-wasting (made easier because FIFA had yet to implement rules limiting backpasses to goalies).
Fans jeered and started chanting “Algeria! Algeria!” A German fan burned his own country’s flag. The German TV commentator said, “What’s happening here is disgraceful and has nothing to do with soccer.”
There was talk of a “non-aggression pact” before the game. Franz Beckenbauer, in between winning World Cups for Germany as a player and coach, wrote that, “It was the worst game ever by a German national team. Was it even a game? They played for 15 minutes and then neither team was interested in changing the 1-0 result. … I know that there was no pregame arrangement between the teams. But naturally there exists in soccer an ‘unspoken’ agreement that emerges during the run of play.”
The Germans were greeted with a headline in the nation’s largest tabloid, “Shame on You!,” recalled Uli Hesse in his book, “Tor: The Story of German Football.”
Lothar Matthaeus, then 21, entered as a 61st-minute sub. “I hit a penetrating pass down the left and Paul Breitner scolded I shouldn’t be so risky,” Matthaeus said.
West Germany reached the final, losing 3-1 to Italy, but its image had been severely tarnished by the Austria game and goalkeeper Toni Schumacher’s horror foul on Patrick Battiston in the epic semifinal against France.
Jurgen Klinsmann, who made his national team debut in 1987, helped restore the Germans’ image at the 1990 World Cup they won in Italy. He’s been coaching the USA for more than a year and on Tuesday faces the biggest game of his tenure.
Even if Klinsmann’s men lose by a goal, they can still advance to the Hexagonal if Jamaica doesn’t beat Antigua & Barbuda by three goals or win by two goals with a score of 4-2 or higher.
USA-Guatemala and the Jamaica game will be played at the same time -- but the previous results have already created a scenario that would allow the Americans and Chapines to take it easy on each other and slide into the next round at the Reggae Boyz’s expense.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the U.S. coach and players want to cap their so far unimpressive World Cup semifinal round of qualifying play with an emphatic win over Guatemala on Tuesday.
“Our approach to the game is clear: We want to win,” said Klinsmann. “You only can win a game if you attack and go forward, and that’s what we’re going to do. We are not looking for a tie.”
Even if the U.S. offense fails to light up Livestrong Sporting Park, it would be unreasonable to infer intentional caution because an unproductive attack is what we’re used to seeing from Klinsmann’s team.
But what if during the second half the USA and Guatemala are still tied and word comes in from Kingston that Jamaica has scored the three goals they need? At that point, would one expect the Americans, or the Guatemalans, to take any risks that could result in seeing their World Cup hopes end?