Tuesday 17 June ~
The BBC's Jonathan Pearce made a bizarre comment during Austria v Germany last night when he suggested that there was no sign of the "spirit of 82", that is the arrangement the two teams came to at the 1982 World Cup when they contrived a 1-0 win for (West) Germany that eliminated rivals Algeria. It was an odd thing to say last night – a flash of bombast from a commentator who usually manages to avoid such things these days – because there was no result that would have suited both teams. Which is not the case tonight, when Italy or France could be eliminated even with a positive outcome from their match if Romania beat Holland in the other game. It has been suggested that the Dutch would prefer to let the Romanians win as that would mean they couldn't face either France or Italy again later in the competition.
The head of the Italian FA has said that there will have to be "a deeper look" at Holland v Romania if the latter win, by which he presumably means scrutinising the key moments of the game to establish if the Dutch were trying hard enough to stop their opponents from scoring or to score themselves. Other signs to watch for will include betting patterns, a sudden increase in standing order payments made to the Dutch FA's high interest account and the two countries' voting record at the next Eurovision Song Contest.
Italian worries are understandable to some extent given that they suffered the last time such suspicion occurred, at Euro 2004 when a 2-2 draw between Denmark and Sweden sent them both through at the expense of Italy. Both sets of fans waved "2-2" placards during that match and the teams congratulated one another at the end. But there is no reason to think that an arrangement was cooked up, just as it has never been conclusively established that there was skullduggery at the 1982 World Cup when Italy qualified from the group stage via a 1-1 draw with Cameroon that featured two quite odd goals that happened within a minute of one another. (Cameroon needed a win to qualify, so conspiracy theorists argue that a financial arrangement must have been made.)
There is simply no way of ensuring that all matches will be devoid of suspicion. Very often only one team has something to play for, or a specific result will suit both sides. In the latter case there doesn't need to have been a plan cooked up – if both teams only need a draw they are not going to put themselves out to try to win. The Romanians themselves complained about England's goalless home draw with Northern Ireland in the final qualifying match for the 1986 World Cup. This enabled the Irish to qualify ahead of Romania who required an England victory. The home side's best chance that night was fluffed by Kerry Dixon, who wasn't the sharpest of finishers at international level. So if Italy go ahead tonight and Raymond Domenech responds by bringing on Nicolas Anelka, some might see this as proof that he has been working as a double agent all along.