Thirty-two years on and 11,000 miles away, the shadows cast in Gijon are still visible. Jürgen Klinsmann and Joachim Löw, friends since they met on a coaching course, face each other here in Recife this afternoon, knowing that a draw will see both Germany and the United States through.
At first glance, the equation seems as neat as it was for the final group game of the 1982 tournament when a 1-0 win would ensure West Germany and Austria qualified for the second phase. That is precisely what happened. Horst Hrubesch put the Germans ahead and they began passing among themselves with the aim of eliminating Algeria.
The France manager, Michel Hildago, who had gone to the Molinon stadium to take notes on Austria, whom he was due to face in the next round, wrote nothing. He suggested that both teams be given the Nobel Peace Prize.
That, however, was a very different German side; tough, cynical and highly successful – between 1974 and 1990 it ground its remorseless way to four World Cup finals. It was an outlook Klinsmann altered as Germany manager. In 2006 he unveiled a beautiful, somewhat fragile, brand of attacking football, driven by young footballers, intelligent in every sense of the word.
They were not quite as successful as the old machine but they are infinitely more likeable. Even the Portugal manager, Paulo Bento, who has everything to lose from a draw in Recife, admitted that he could not imagine any gentlemen’s agreement in the Arena Pernambuco.
Klinsmann’s response to suggestions that it would suit everyone if they played out a draw was to say tartly: “The USA have been known to give everything in every game, otherwise Mexico would not be here.”
He was referring to the final Concacaf qualifying round when the United States, who had already booked their passage to Brazil, scored twice in stoppage time to overcome Panama. In doing so, they allowed their historic rivals, Mexico, the chance to go through via a play-off.
Klinsmann has said he will sing both national anthems in Recife this afternoon and the words of what used to be called “Deutschland Über Alles” will also have a meaning for five of his squad.
The five – Jermaine Jones, Timmy Chandler, John Brooks, Fabian Johnson and Julian Green– have never properly lived in the country they represent. All but Chandler are the sons of American servicemen who married Germans. Jones and Johnson represented Germany at Under-21 level, with the latter playing in the same side as Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil that won the 2009 tournament.
Johnson, the Hoffenheim full-back, is probably the only one of Klinsmann’s five who would interest Löw. He and Jones drove the United States forward during an epic game in Manaus that, but for Silvestre Varela’s last-minute equaliser, would have sent the Americans through and Portugal home. Varela, however, ensured that the shadows of Gijon would linger a little longer.
“Of course, Germany is a special game,” said Jones, who spent most of his career with Schalke. “I grew up in Germany, my mom is German. But it’s not the point to beat a friend, it’s the point to get into the next round. That is the important stuff – to show people we can beat them.”
For Klinsmann there is something to prove. He may have radically remodelled Germany’s football image but his season at Bayern Munich was a catastrophe, which finished with a 1-0 defeat by a Schalke side that featured Jones in central midfield and chants of “Klinsmann out” from the stands at the Allianz Arena.
The Bayern hierarchy dismissed him with a few scathing comments about tactical naïvety. When he flew back to Los Angeles that, many thought, would be the last they saw of him.
Now his former players Thomas Müller and Philipp Lahm will come face to face with Klinsmann once more and there will be a certain nervousness in the German dressing room. Germeny were probably flattered by the stunning 4-0 win over Portugal in Salvador and Ghana exploited some familiar defensive frailties in Fortaleza on Saturday.
Michael Ballack, the former midfielder who now works as the German Roy Keane, delivering brutal home truths from a television studio, said that at 30 Lahm no longer had the pace to operate as an attacking full-back and suggested Löw employ him as a holding midfielder in the way the Bayern coach, Pep Guardiola, does.
In his way, Müller was equally scathing, saying: “We cannot produce any more stupid mistakes when it comes to giving the ball away. The only thing that matters now is that we top our group.”
Germany have never failed to qualify from their group and they will almost certainly do so again. Unlike in 1982, they will occasionally venture past their own halfway line.
Who goes through?
Any side can still qualify. A draw between Germany and the US this afternoon would qualify both sides. With a poor goal difference, Ghana need Germany to beat the US while beating Portugal themselves. Portugal are in a similar predicament to today’s opponents, but a poor goal difference may well count against them.