LVIV/KHARKIV: The coaches of all four teams in Group B of Euro 2012 will be having nightmares ahead of the last round of matches next Sunday. Not out of concern over injuries, or poor form, or morale but over mathematics writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
Most – but, to be fair, not all – of world football uses the formula of goal difference to decide primacy when two or more teams finish level on points. It’s simple, rewards good attacking and good defending, is easily understood and easily ‘visible’ during the progress of a match.
However European federation UEFA prefers to use the head-to-head formulation as its priority decider. This was incorporated into the Champions League – “to maintain the cup-tie legacy” as Lennart Johansson once put it – and features in Euro 2012, too.
It will be the subject of baffled disussion among fans, officials and players over the next week as the four groups at a dramatic-enough Euro 2012 head towards their climax.
Two superb matches in Group B – Portugal’s 3-2 win over Denmark and Germany’s 2-1 dismissal of Holland – produced wonderful uncertainty.
Joachim Low’s Germans, despite having won both their games, are not certain of reaching the quarter-finals; Bert Van Marwijk’s Holland, despite having lost both their games, are not necessarily condemned to elimination.
If, on Sunday, Denmark beat Germany and Portugal beat Holland, then Danes, Germans and Portuguese will end on six points; a mini-league counting only their mutual results will then be computed, with the top two going through.
Alternately if, on Sunday, Germany beat Denmark and Holland beat Portugal then Danes, Dutch and Portuguese will all end on three points. Germany will be sure of a place in the quarters and a mini-league counting only mutual results between the other three will decide who accompanies them.
The first step towards such fun and games was secured by Portugal’s 3-2 win over Denmark in Lviv. Paulo Bento’s men went 2-0 ahead through goals in the first 25 minutes from Pepe and Helder Postiga; Nicklas Bendtner pulled Denmark level with goals either side of half-time.
Then, after Cristiano Ronaldo had twice missed badly, substitute Varela came to Portugal’s rescue with an 86th-minute winner. The strike was spectacular and unconventional. Varela swiped and missed the ball with his left foot only to bludgeon it home with his right.
Next up, across in Kharkov, were old rivals Holland and Germany. A game which oozed class could have been Holland’s had they converted their early command into goals. Instead slack central defending provided the gaps which Bastian Schweinsteiger pierced with assists for two superb strikes by Bayern Munich team-mate Mario Gomez.
Van Marwijk had again, as against the Danes, started with only Robin Van Persie up front and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar on the subs’ bench. Again, as against the Danes, he called on the Schalke man into action for the second half to create the space which Van Persie exploited magnificently to pull one goal back.
Unfortunately it was not enough . . . either to save Holland from defeat or to save everyone from the prospect of a mathematical maelstrom.
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