LVIV/KHARKIV, June 14, 2012 - 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.
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
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
Unfortunately it was not enough . . . either to save Holland from defeat
or to save everyone from the prospect of a mathematical maelstrom.