Sunday, 15 June 2008
Day nine of GroundReport’s exclusive on-the-ground coverage of Euro2008.
So here’s the deal – four nations have already qualified for berths in the quarterfinals, and two have already been eliminated. Each of the sixteen nations has played two matches, and for most, their final one, will be do-or-die. While all four groups have determined their winners, the remaining runner-up spots are all up for grab. This brief piece details the scenarios each nation faces and what must happen for each one to advance into the knock-out stage of the tournament.
For those non-football fans, just keep the following in mind – of the sixteen teams in the tournament, only eight will have the opportunity to continue playing after Wednesday. The sixteen are originally divided into four groups of four, and in those groups, each team plays the other three in its group exactly once, and the two teams with the best records will qualify for competition in the final eight. This is called the "group stage" of the tournament, and competition is "round robin" – every nation is guaranteed at least three matches.
"Best records" is ambiguous. To be exact, the winners and runners-up of a group are determined on a "point" system – a victory wins you three points; a draw, one point; and a loss, no points. The two nations that accumulate the greatest number of points in each of the four groups after three matches advance to the "knockout" stage of the tournament, and the other two return home.
With that said, here goes the current breakdown:
Portugal (two wins, no draws, no losses) have six points; the Czech Republic (one win, no draws, one loss) have three points; Turkey (one win, no draws, one loss) have three points; and co-hosts Switzerland (no wins, no draws, two losses) have no points.
On Sunday (today), Portugal play Switzerland, and the Czech Republic play Turkey.
Portugal are automatically winners of the group. Even if they lose to Switzerland and either the Czechs or Turks win to draw level at six points apiece, UEFA rules (contrary to those of FIFA) say that the winner of the head-to-head match between two teams will get the nod, and, as Portugal beat both Czech Republic and Turkey in previous group stage matches, Portugal will claim top-seed of Group A.
Switzerland will not be able to accumulate enough points to finish first or second in the group – even a victory Sunday against Portugal would give them only three points. Even if the Czechs and Turks draw against each other, they will both finish with four points and ahead of the Swiss, hence the reason why we can say that the Swiss can pack their bags early.
For the Czech Republic and Turkey, Sunday will be their do-or-die match. Whoever wins will advance as the runners up of the group, and whoever loses will return home. Quite interestingly, if they draw, a penalty shootout will determine the game, as both sides are currently dead level on points, goal difference, and goals scored.
Croatia (2-0-0) have six points; Germany (1-0-1) have three points; co-hosts Austria (0-1-1) have one point; and Poland (0-1-1) have one point.
On Monday, Croatia play Poland, and Germany play Austria.
Croatia, like Portugal in Group A, are automatically winners of the group. Even if they lose to Poland and Germany win to draw level at six points apiece, Croatia will get the nod as top-seed of Group B because they already defeated Germany in their previous group stage match.
And thus, Germany’s destiny will be in their own hands – a win OR a draw against Austria will see them through as runners-up.
For the Poles, winning against the Croatians is the first must. Winning will give them four points, but they must also see Germany lose (take no points) in order for them to go through. If Germany draws against Austria to put both the Germans and Poles at four points apiece, Germany will advance at Poland’s expense, as Germany beat Poland in their first group stage match. A German loss, however, would mean an Austrian win, which would also put the co-hosts at four points and level with Poland. Because Poland drew with Austria in their previous group stage match, UEFA’s head-to-head rule for sides level on points would not apply. Instead, the goal differences rule would be used to determine who advances. At current, Poland have a goal differential of (-2), meaning they let in two more goals than they scored in group play so far. Austria have a (-1) goal differential, which means that, if they win against Germany by one goal, they will have a (0) goal differential, and if they win by two goals, they will have a (+1) goal differential, etc. Poland would have to make up for that differential – if Austria win against Germany by one goal, then Poland must at least win against Croatia by two goals, and if Austria win against Germany by two goals, then Poland must win against Croatia by three goals, two put them at (+1) goal differential. All goes to say, Poland’s chances of advancing are slim to none.
And, of course, we can now conclude that Austria’s destiny will also be in their own hands – a win against Germany will see them through, while a loss or a draw will see Germany advance at their expense.
Holland (2-0-0) have six points; Romania (0-2-0) have two points; France (0-1-1) have one point); and Italy (0-1-1) have one point.
On Tuesday, Holland play Romania, and France play Italy.
Holland, like Portugal in Group A and Croatia in Group B, are automatically winners of the group. None of the Oranje’s three opponents will come close to collecting six points, so the Netherlands have first place and top-seed of the Group of Death all to themselves.
Romania surprisingly are the team with the greatest likelihood of advancing as runners-up of the group. Their destiny too is in their own hands, in that a win against the Dutch will see them through no matter what the results of the other match are. Holland will look to rest their starters and lay back on their attack, so the Romanians will have all the prerogative to achieve victory.
With that said, Italy and France are not out of it. The loser will be eliminated, but the winner will stand a chance of advancing to the knockout stage with a little bit of help from the Dutch – a Romanian loss or draw will see the victor through. If both teams draw, however, AND Romania lose, all three teams will be level with two points apiece. Again, UEFA’s head-to-head rule will not apply, as all three teams drew with each other in group play. In this case, Romania will go through on goal differentials so long as they avoid a defeat by more three goals or more, and France and Italy will return home.
Spain (2-0-0) have six points; Sweden (1-0-1) have three points; Russia (1-0-1) have three points; and Greece (0-0-2) have no points.
On Wednesday, Spain play Greece, and Sweden play Russia.
Spain, like Portugal, Croatia, and Holland, are automatically winners of the group. A loss against the Greeks and a Swedish win against the Russians may see them level on points with the Swedes, but Spain will claim top-seed again with UEFA’s head-to-head rule, as they beat Sweden yesterday.
On the contrary, Greece, former Euro2004 champions, will look to join the Swiss on the early flight home, as they will no longer be able to accumulate enough points to advance into the knockout stage.
For the Swedes and Russians, they will battle for the final spot in the quarterfinals of the tournament. A win will see the winner through and the loser on their way home. A draw will favor Sweden based on goal differentials.
That’s all, folks! Quite simple, though a bit convoluted to put on paper. It’s been a thrilling tournament so far – high scoring, end-to-end drama without the controversies or foul-play we’ve seen in high-level football competitions in the past. Only one red card and three penalty kicks have been issued in the past sixteen matches, and the officiating has been superb for the most part. Players have been much more fair and honest than they have in the past, and as a result, the fixtures have been more than entertaining to follow. Let’s hope it stays this way, especially through the nitty-gritty of the knock-out stage.