By Rob Dore
The irony of Italy fearing a fix in tonight’s Group C game between Spain and Croatia hasn’t been lost on anyone who has read the story. A country whose domestic league seems to reel from one match-fixing scandal to another may fear the fix more than most because they understand how it works.
A score draw between Spain and Croatia tonight, of 2-2 or higher, would guarantee progression for both teams. That dumps Italy out of the tournament, regardless of their result against Ireland.
The way the group has panned out, Spain and Croatia sit on four points, Italy on two. Presuming that the top two teams draw and Italy win, all three teams will then have five points at the end of tonight’s games.
In this scenario, all results against Ireland will be discounted and the deciding factor will be the results and goals scored in the games between the three teams on five points.
With Italy having drawn 1-1 in their games with Spain and Croatia, a 2-2 draw between Spain and Croatia would ensure both teams would have a better goals scored record than Italy, which would prove the deciding factor.
There’s no evidence or even a logical suggestion that there will be a fix. Both camps have vehemently denied the possibility. And yet there will be more than a few takers of the 15/2 on offer with Paddy Power for a 2-2 draw between Spain and Croatia.
“There’s no point in even talking about it. It’s all speculation. Speaking about it puts the very reason for why we are here in doubt. That’s not what football is about,” dismissed Fernando Torres.
“We are people of sport, rich in religious values. We do not do these things,” added Croatian coach Slaven Bilic.
Something similar could be said of the Italian people.
It wouldn’t be the first time.
The fear of a fix may be irrational but it’s not completely unfounded. It’s not as if this kind of collusion has never occurred at a major tournament and it’s not as if Italy hasn’t been burned by such an unethical agreement before. Allegedly.
In the 2004 European Championships the Azzuri faced a similar scenario in their group. On that occasion Sweden and Denmark knew that a 2-2 draw in their final group game would be sufficient to guarantee both sides would qualify ahead of Italy. The game got to 2-2 and suddenly but not surprisingly the urgency disappeared from the game. Sweden and Denmark got the result they wanted and Italy was given a reason to fear a fix tonight.
There’s no evidence that there was any kind of pre-agreement between the neighbouring nations on that occasion but when everyone’s happy with the status quo, why risk losing it? A point in the hand and all that.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves there’s also the small matter of Italy beating Ireland. Considering how poor Ireland were in their first two games, Italy will look nailed on at 4/11 to most punters. However Ireland are capable of better than they’ve shown. Not a lot better but enough to make things difficult for an Italian squad which isn’t on a par with previous generations.
Trapattoni’s knowledge of Italian football and the players having nothing left to lose could give Ireland an edge. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they’ll manage at least a point at 4/1 or even all three at 9/1. It’d certainly be ironic for Italy to draw 2-2 with Ireland at 19/1.
“A 2-2 could happen. Just as a 1-0 or a 0-1 could happen, but there is no pact, no fix, nothing like that. That’s just stupid,” was the sensible point made by Spain’s Raul Albiol.
The fix is not in, only the fear of being knocked out has led to it being mention in the Italian press. Neither Spain or Croatia would take such a stupid risk. But that doesn’t mean we won’t get the 2-2 draw all the same. 15/2 says we will.