A little more than a week into the Euro 2008 and the excitement seems never-ending. Within ten days of its kick off, and with the knockout stage yet to begin, it has been ironic that the Group of Death or Group C has turned out in such a fashion.
The Netherlands, Romania, France and Italy – the first two, as well as the latter two, met in two of the most recent three stages of tournaments 2006: FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, 2006 FIFA World Cup (with Italy and France being finalists) and UEFA Euro 2008 qualifiers. In addition, France and Romania will meet in the 2010 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers. All except Romania are previous winners of the trophy
The Dutch are booking their berth in the knockouts by thrashing the 2006 world cup finalists, and along with Romania, intend take it to the last day of their group match-ups with various permutations and combinations sensationalizing it to the optimum. Each of their matches has been exhilarating. With the new FIFA rules, where the third round matches would depend on the inclusive goal difference of the other match of the group, being implemented, it will surely become worth a watch. After two games, Romania at 2 points and Italy and France at 1 apiece, puts forward a must win game for each. Second-placed Romania will join the Dutch in the quarterfinals by winning their encounter in Berne. If Romania draw or lose then that would allow either France or Italy to go through by winning their match in Zurich – the only way Les Bleus can progress. If Romania lose and the others play out a score draw, Italy would go through in a three-way head-to-head tie on two points as they would have scored more goals in the games involving France and Romania.
If Romania fall by one goal, two goals or by a three-goal margin other than 3-0 and the other match finishes 0-0, Romania would advance as their head-to-head record with Italy would be dead level but they would have a superior overall goal difference (or in the case of the three-goal defeats, goals scored). If Romania loses by four goals or more and the other game ends 0-0, Italy would proceed with a better overall goal difference than Romania. If Romania lose 3-0 and the other match finishes 0-0, Italy and Romania would have to be split on qualifying coefficients, in which case Italy would prevail 2.364-2.250.
Strategy not statistics wins a game. With both the teams having met time and again in various prestigious competitions, and knowing the playing style of the other in and out, do not be surprised to expect the unexpected. Rivalry for Les Bleus shall be their motivating factor and national pride, for they were eliminated in the first round in the previous version. On the other hand, it would be a gamble to see if the Azzuris can repeat their efforts without Cannavaro, the man who made it all possible.
Strengths: Impermeable defence with Panucci, Gamberini and Gianluigi Buffon backing them up in style.
Weakness: Golden Ball winner Fabio Cannavaro still paying the price for his dive with a torn calf muscle.
Opportunities: Brimming on confidence and the strategizing new coach Roberto Donadoni, wearing the team motto on their sleeve, “the sky is always bluer”.
Threats: Yet to shine but Bafetimbi Gomis, speculated to be the next Zidane could wreak havoc.
Strengths: Patrick Viera in his first appearance making a lethal combination with Claude Makelele
Weakness: Thierry Henry and Sidney Govou are usually left as lone frontrunners with not much of the ball.
Opportunities: A mix of experience and youth and a maverick coach in the form of Raymond Domenech who has chosen continuity in playing style since the 2006 world cup.
Threats: Leave Luca Toni unmarked and pay the price. Del Piero can be very dangerous in the box.
The media has been a thorough supporter of this speculation as well, pelting the ignorant minds with comments such as that of the Netherlands coach, Marco Van Basten agreeing to lose the game to Romania so that it is the end of the road for big guns Italy and France.
Thus, basically, it would be a repeat of the 2006 World Cup final with the Henri Delaunay trophy at stake. And as always, a match between two teams with such a huge fan following is expected to come with a bundle of exuberance, besides, of course, some fine football. It is not just the game between the twenty-two players on field; it is the off-field rivalry as well. The desperate grunts by the spectators keep up the tempo of the game. Sitting and watching the match with about fifty odd football lovers in a common room takes the match to an all-together different heart-thumping level. You can just wish that at least half the population present is supporting the same team as you or be ready for humiliation. A must watch and yet a pity it is happening this early in the tournament.
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