Dutch DilemmaJune 15, 2008
Holland have already won their group in Euro 2008. Better than that, they have a golden opportunity to dump both Italy and France out of the tournament. All they have to do is let Romania win in their final group game in Berne on 17 June.
If Romania beat Holland in that game they are guaranteed to finish second, and both Italy and France will fail to qualify for the knock-out stages, whatever the result of the contest between them in Zurich on the same day.
It must be oh, so tempting for Dutch coach Marco van Basten. France and Italy may both have struggled in the tournament so far but they both have the potential to prove a far greater threat to Holland in the closing rounds than do Romania. So easy to get rid of them both at a stroke, to turn the battle between them into a meaningless, futile struggle.
But how could Marco get away with such a thing? To be seen to be deliberately letting Romania win would result in cries of foul play from Italy and France. Holland might get into serious hot water over it.
It is not like Portugal playing a weakened team and losing 2-0 to Switzerland tonight. Even if Switzerland had won 200-0, Portugal would still have topped their group and the Swiss would still have finished last. The game was academic, of no consequence.
For Holland to contrive a defeat against Romania would deprive France and Italy of an opportunity to progress in the tournament. So Marco would have to think of a very clever and subtle way to do it. To make it look like his team were trying really hard to win but somehow manage to lose. Giving away a penalty would be too obvious. Same thing with the goalie diving spectacularly over the ball, or strikers missing open goals. Sure to attract accusations of match fixing.
Marco can’t really trust to his players’ acting skills. He’d do better to leave out 2 or 3 of his best players (justifiable given the group is won – he is entitled to rest them and protect them from risk of injury in those circumstances), motivate the team on the day to play to the best of their best abilities, but pick a formation or choose tactics which he knows will not work well against Romania. It can’t be too outlandish, but he should be able to set up some advantages for Romania that will prove decisive over the course of the match. He’s a clever guy. He’ll think of something, and make it look like Romania just played a blinder.