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Crunch time

Italy’s preparations for their final European Championship Group C clash against Ireland are in danger of being overshadowed by the  fear that their Group C rivals, Spain and Croatia, might fix the result of their game to ensure both advance at the expense of the Italians.

Should Spain and Croatia draw 2-2 in Gdansk then they will both qualify for the quarter-finals at Italy’s expense, regardless of their result against Ireland. Which, if nothing else, does highlight a flaw in the method that UEFA employs to separate those teams that finish level on points.

It was a similar scenario at Euro 2004 when Italy were eliminated by a 2-2 draw in the final game between neighbours Sweden and Denmark. Nothing was proven, but there were suspicions that the players agreed to go easy on each other, not least when the two goalkeepers chose to abandon their stations and play an impromptu game of scrabble in the centre circle.

This type of arrangement has become known as a “biscotto” in Italian as it is the term used for an arrangement between two parties at the expense of a third. Its origin comes either from horses being doped by biscuits or the principle of dividing up a cake equally, according to Italian sources.

Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque has attempted to assuage Italian fears by promising  to play to win the game, but if the score is 2-2, there will obviously be no incentive for either side to push for a third.

Given their reputation and their recent pre-eminence it seems unlikely that Spain will indulge in anything untoward, but if I were one of the Italian players I’d be tempted to speak to Gianluigi Buffon’s bookmaker and lump on a 2-2 draw in the  other game. It might sugar an otherwise bitter pill.

Predicting the future

Spain’s Cesc Fabregas is currently leading the European champions Euro 2012 prediction game.

Fabregas leads from David Silva in Spain’s pre-tournament predictions for Euro 2012, with striker Alvaro Negredo  in third place.

The competition is usually organized by Carles Puyol, but in his absence,  the baton has been passed on to Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets in Poland and Ukraine.

The players have handed in their predictions for Monday’s match against Croatia and bizarrely, all 23 players have plumped for 2-2 draw.

Just because you’re paranoid Italy, doesn’t mean that they’re not out to get you.

UEFA act on racism

Croatia have become the first country at Euro 2012 to be charged with racism, following allegations that their supporters verbally abused Italy’s Mario Balotelli during the sides’ meeting Poznan last week.

“UEFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against the Croatian Football Federation (HNS) for the setting-off and throwing of fireworks, and the improper conduct of supporters (racist chants, racist symbols) at the UEFA Euro 2012 Group C match against Italy in Poznan on Thursday,” UEFA said in a statement on Saturday.

The Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network, which has two “international monitors” at each Euro 2012 game, tweeted on Friday that’s its observers reported “between 300 and 500 Croatian fans were involved in racially abusing Italy striker Mario Balotelli.”

So, if true, that’s a significant minority of the Croat fans in the stadium implicated there.

Goal of the day

England’s winner against Sweden was a fantastic piece of improvisation from Danny Welbeck after good work by Theo Walcott.

Quote of the day

“The operation went well but the patient died. That is how I feel.”

Sweden coach Erik Hamren neatly sums up the bittersweet feeling of watching his side play well, but ultimately fall short.

Keep Russians and Poles apart

Police are on high alert to avoid a repeat of  the  violence in Poland ahead of tonight’s decisive European Championship matches.

With 20,000 Russian fans expected in the Polish capital for tonight’s final Group A game against Greece, authorities fear the potential for more trouble after disturbances between Poles and Russians on Tuesday led to a few dozen injuries and more than 200 arrests. tensions is high as Poland kick off simultaneously against the Czech Republic in a game they must win if they are to go through to the knockout stages.

UEFA president Michel Platini has appealed to fans to behave with “respect and dignity” following the trouble which has marred Euro 2012.

“Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine has so far been a celebration of the game of football, both on and off the pitch,” the Frenchman said in a statement.

“It has been a festival of goals, entertainment, excitement and pride for both fans and players alike.”

Unfortunately, it has also been a festival of violence, mayhem and and occasionally sinister and unpleasant manifestations of nationalist fervour.

“Sixteen nations coming together over three weeks to compete for the crown of best team in Europe, Platini added. “Of course, there is rivalry and passion, and all teams want to win – but we must remember that the results on the pitch are what really matter.

“I appeal therefore to all fans that are going to Warsaw or Wroclaw tonight as we prepare for the deciding matches in Group A to conduct themselves with dignity and respect, and to behave themselves this evening at the stadiums and in the cities.

The police will be out in force across the country tonight, fearful of a repeat of Tuesday’s violence and determined to avoid a repeat.

“Smiling fans are welcome in Warsaw. But if we see others around like last time then we will detain them immediately,” said Warsaw police spokesman Polish fan Maciej Kowalski.

Just smile people, smile.

Not so keen on Keane

Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni has hit back at Roy Keane after the former Ireland skipper claimed the players at Euro 2012 were only they’re “only here for the sing-song”.

Trapattoni, who’s managerial CV stands comparison with any coach of any era, bristled on hearing Keane’s remarks and responded to his armchair critic  in withering fashion.

“Roy Keane has been a very great player,” Trapattoni said. “But what did he do after he stopped playing? Roy, are you a big manager? He should concentrate on getting results as a coach.”

Banned band bang the drum

England fans have waited a long time to beat Sweden in a competitive game, so you can imagine how enjoyable it must have felt for them to witness last night’s victory.

For the England band too  it was a moment of vindication. After being banned from England’s opener against France, they were given permission to attend Friday night’s game in Kiev and were on hand to  provide accompaniment to what turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining England performance.

Here’s the band strikes up moments after Welbeck’s winning goal.

Lightning strikes

The European Championships witnessed a first yesterday. No, not Andy Carroll’s impersonation of a professional footballer, but the first time a match had ever been stopped by bad weather.

Here’s the scene over the Donbass Arena at the height of the storm.

Stat attack

France’s victory over Ukraine was, somewhat remarkably, their first at a major tournament since 2006. Even more amazingly, it was the first time they had won a match at the European Championships without either Michel Platini or Zinedine Zidane in their side. Incredible!