In principle, this European Championship would have been quickly told if it hadn’t been for this one match…
From the German point of view, however, it really is a quick story. The group draw gave them Holland, Latvia and the Czech Republic as opponents. The first game against Holland was actually a good one. But they had to concede the 1:1 a few minutes before the end. Nevertheless, a draw against a big team cannot be called a bad result.
Latvia was the big unknown in the group. And of course, in view of the not very melodious name, one assumes a “walk-over”. However, it is always remarkable to me, also in the reporting, that one is constantly oriented towards the name and the expected performance derived from it and does not make any, especially no favourable, statement about the performance shown on the pitch. I am then always tempted to make a suggestion to one of the self-appointed experts, i.e. one of the commentators who talk so beautifully and permanently nonsense but in a tone of conviction: I’ll pick any game. The teams’ jerseys will be discoloured — ask the director: I hope, feasible? –, the faces are made invisible, like in a talk show where the talk guest doesn’t want to reveal his identity, then the game is played to the omniscient reporter. He has to comment on it and make his assessments based on the obviously only recognisable footballing performance of the protagonists. I even assume that one could recognise rudiments of football intelligence. But here’s the kicker: afterwards, the commentary is “compared” with the nonsense spouted by the man actually reporting live. Then at least one head would have to roll…
Germany did not succeed in defeating the Latvians. I have to admit that my own memory of this game is rather pale. Is it because it’s harder to remember 0:0 games?
The course of the last matchday was curious: The Czechs had already turned the first game against Latvia from a 0:1 into a 2:1. You might be amazed, but the events closer to home have already faded from my memory. So I had to ask my permanent and almost favourite friend, the Internet, about this tournament. And the Czech Republic was also behind against the (official) Netherlands, this time even with 0:2. Nevertheless, the game was turned around with a terrific performance and in an inspiring game (the memory turns on again) to 3:2. Thus, the Czech Republic was already secured group winner before the last group game, so that they also, like Portugal four years before, started against Germany with a B-team. I realise that the term “B eleven” is already discriminatory, since they are all national players and therefore top players per se, plus that as a coach you are certainly delighted that you can satisfy the constantly hoofing players for such an event. Perhaps they are not even worse than those usually nominated, it’s just that you like to use a term like “well-rehearsed” and rightly point to the fact that only eleven players can ever start. A piece of wisdom that could have been popularised since 1954 by a certain … er, what was his name …. could have been popularised, if it wasn’t. In those days you weren’t even allowed to substitute….
So the Czechs entered with eleven hungry players. And annoying Germany would be a popular sport in all countries if there were any serious chance of success. The Netherlands could not do it on their own. Very unpleasant feelings always creep over me then, I no longer enjoy watching football under such circumstances. Just the thought that one of the teams playing doesn’t care how the game ends gives me the famous “bad taste”. I still watch, of course, hoping above all for honesty. In this case, my doubts were admittedly slight as far as the motivation of the Czech kickers was concerned. If there was any doubt, it would be about their ability. The betting market also goes a little crazy in such circumstances. The price “lurches” on Germany until it finally goes to its knees. Simple reasoning: The people who are gambling at all are gambling on the German victory. The rest are sceptical and don’t touch the game, just like me. Simple consequence: price collapse on the market, especially after the Czech formation became known. That’s where the sharks lurk and pounce on it according to the motto “I know what….”.
In this case, however, the sharks bit on granite in the form of Czech resistance and had to lament some tooth loss. Although Germany took the lead (as expected), the Czech Republic also turned this game around to win 2-1. Since the men from the flat neighbouring country simultaneously sent the flagging Latvians home to their Baltic homeland 3-0, the victory of justice was complete: the Czech Republic and Holland were through. The Germans were allowed to take what the media saw as an undeserved holiday. Did they even party and drink the night away? A scandal – on the canal.
For me, it was just a small satisfaction that this kind of luck doesn’t always exist. It was also curious that, despite everything, everything went well for Germany again. As in 2000, they had an already qualified opponent in the last group match and only had to reap the rewards of the luck of the group constellation. For me, the fact that it didn’t happen in either case has to do with the fact that every other nation doesn’t begrudge the Germans their permanent luck. At the same time, there is this really unpleasant “having to win all the time” pressure on the German players, which you perhaps can’t bear any more at some point and intuitively resist. Inwardly you say to yourself: “You always think that everything is so easy. The opponents can do something too, not even less than we can. And you don’t beat them in passing.” For these two decisive games, however, I also give the team credit for the fact that it can be unpleasant to play against teams that are already safely qualified, as the pressure of having to win becomes even greater externally, but the opponents, for their part, can “play freely”, assuming they are sufficiently motivated. This can occasionally be an advantage. The precept “if we win: fine. If we lose: normal” lightens the legs, while opponents’ legs become heavier?
But now to the one truly remarkable game. What surprises me about it is that there wasn’t more fuss about it. The fact that at the same time the Italians were once again (negatively) affected should only be mentioned in order to emphasise the proportionality of luck/fortune for the two nations Germany/Italy. For the Italians have already had to bear such consequences more than once. I will now try to gently introduce the reader to the problem.
There have already been several examples of constellations in the group matches where teams were able to achieve their goals with certain results. Sometimes they did it only for themselves, sometimes to the detriment of others. Sometimes one team was disinterested, sometimes both needed a certain result. Let’s just mention the Germany-Austria match, World Cup 1982, where the 1:0 meant Algeria was out, but Germany and Austria both went on. Then there was the 1978 Argentina-Peru match, when Argentina needed a victory with at least four goals and its rival Brazil had to stand idly by, as their games were already over, and watch Peru “get pocketed” six times.
Since the term “manipulation” makes a very fraudulent impression and the thought of it would be best suppressed for the sake of a successful event and the marketing of football as a commodity in general, such events are swept under the carpet. The paying spectator should not concern himself with such mind games but continue to believe in honest sport. After all, it is the World or European Championships. The players are on the big stage, where every footballer dreams of being. Surely they won’t…? Yes, they will. They already have and they will again. It’s just a question of how skilful they are and how big a ripple it makes. The above-mentioned non-aggression pact of Spain 82 made big waves. Because everyone could see that no goal would ever be scored again. But people still laughed about it afterwards. Yes, it was embarrassing. But who cares about Algeria? Germany was later in the final. As usual. “No matter how”? No matter how.
Theoretically speaking: In the case of a draw, which is enough for both teams, one would perhaps still “turn a blind eye” in proportion, in the sense of the benevolent thought of clean sport. But since someone had to accept defeat in the Germany-Austria match, it left a bad taste in the mouth. For me, it was the UEFA officials who were responsible – see the relevant chapter – because they did not insist on parallel play in the interests of better commercialisation.
In the Denmark-Sweden match at Euro 2004, it was enough for both sides if they played a draw. Only it wasn’t just any draw that would have been enough for them. It was still in the preliminary round. The group constellation is explained quite simply: Denmark and Sweden had each won against Bulgaria and drawn against Italy in their first two games. The amount of the victories is irrelevant. Italy also had the chance to win against Bulgaria in the last group match, which was played in parallel, and thus, with the three-point rule that has been in force for a long time, had the chance to reach 5 points, but Denmark AND Sweden would also reach this mark with a draw. Who of the three would advance in the event of a tie was decided by the famous “desk jockeys” using a curious method that is still valid today:
“In the event of a tie, the result of the direct duel against each other will decide; if more than two teams are tied on points, a table will be drawn up from the direct duels. There, the goal difference is the first deciding factor, and if this is also equal, the number of goals scored. If this is also the same, the UEFA coefficient…”.
I don’t even want to have to think about the last part of the wording, that’s how much it “screams to heaven”. Even if the other part also seems unfair to me, at least it can still be called “a sporting solution” up to that point. The effects of this form of sportsmanship, however, became apparent in this match: Italy had played 0:0 against Denmark and 1:1 against Sweden, so their goal difference was fixed at 1:1 for the standings between them. If Sweden played 2:2 against Denmark, then Denmark would have 2:2 goals and Sweden even 3:3. Italy would therefore have been eliminated according to the above rule formulation. The teams would be equal on points, goal difference would be equal, the number of goals scored would “help” Denmark and Sweden to progress.
A fool is he who thinks ill of this. The game ended 2:2. That a few Italians got upset, so what? The fact that Morten Olsen, the Danish coach, said afterwards: “Of course there was a deal” added fuel to the fire, but the game was soon over. Why shouldn’t a game like that end 2:2?
Apart from that, a 2:2 game is something different from a 0:0. Anyone who feared cheating could speculate again after every goal scored, whether it might be an honest game after all? There was a lot of action on the pitch, that’s for sure. And every now and then someone was ahead or behind, it was an “exciting game”. The final whistle was even approaching and it was 2-1 for Denmark. A curiosity on the sidelines, which had been bothering me all the time: Italy was not leading against Bulgaria.
Now I’m going to speculate wildly and play a bit of Hitchcock, just director for the “final showdown”. It goes like this:
Denmark leads 2:1 against Sweden. Of course, both teams are afraid that their collusion will “blow up”, in principle they would love to avoid this result, the 2:2, if at all possible. And suddenly it is possible! Italy is trailing 0:1 at the break, is struggling and only equalises midway through the second half. The Swedes and Danes don’t give away their good and still possible 2:2, but wait to see if Italy even takes the lead. The Italians could possibly even fall behind and all the Danes and Swedes breathe a sigh of relief? The final whistle is approaching and the Italy game is still 1-1. The Scandinavians are starting to feel queasy. The Danish goalkeeper just grabs the ball on his own — and the 2:2 is perfect, the whole thing happening in the 90th minute!
From the Italians’ point of view, of course, the situation is completely different. They suspect the plans, or at least have to fear them, without Italians “opening a special barrel” because of it. They, the inventors of the slide rule model. But they also suspect that the two opponents would prefer to avoid the discovery, the bursting of the bomb. So even if they are capable, they are not at all interested in destroying their opponents along the lines of “1:0, 2:0, 3:0”. They want to wait as long as possible to take the lead. Are the Bulgarians possibly in on it or are they just puppets, staffage? But who wants to rule out what? A possible, even very “cheap”, financially speaking, arrangement could have looked like this: “Listen, you Bulgarians, you’re out, one way or the other. The chance of getting something against us with the greatest possible effort is not particularly high, especially since there could certainly be motivation problems here or there. Would you mind, for a small fee, if we scored the winning goal in injury time?”
And so it happens. Italy lurks for injury time, hoping that Danes and Swedes are naive enough to believe that the Italians would not score the winning goal in the last seconds after all and suddenly, almost “by mistake”, forget that the 2:2 would be needed to prevent all eventualities?
Although the Italians’ plan (which I had laid out for you?) “worked”, an over-zealous “fly-half” in the Danish goal put a spanner in the milkmaid’s works. You can’t piss in the shotgun of an old trapper, can you?
Is it all just fantasy?
Interesting, by the way, my perspective at the time, which took into account the movements on the betting market. The odds on a 2:2 draw in such a game would have been 13.0 under normal circumstances. But this rate crashed and collapsed completely. Still, there were brainiacs like me who were willing to pay a rate. In the end, I probably paid a 3.40, but, for my comfort and protection: it was only a small amount. The odds on the draw itself were also nowhere near comparable to “normal” draw odds. Because the very high estimated chance of the 2:2 naturally “spoiled” the rate, it was below 2.0 according to my memory, normal would be a 3.0.
The question is simply at what point one should speak of manipulation. The rules are what they are. It’s a bit like the laws. And there, too, a few savvy people (I don’t mean lawyers) are occasionally on the lookout for loopholes. Here, once again, a loophole in the rules was found in a special way. It was exploited by two teams. Reproaches? Not from me! You simply have to take such considerations into account when defining the rules. Everything is regulated in such a bureaucratic way that you are basically forced to look for and exploit the flaws in the system. Fair play – a nice thought. The fewer rules that would be established, the “fairer” the “play” in my opinion. With the existing rules, one basic idea is positive. The basic idea that each team has secured its three games. That only works through group games. And group games, i.e. “everyone against everyone”, will always bring with them the possibility that things will not be entirely clean.