Fearing squeeze play

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

BASEL, SWITZERLAND -- On the eve of Italy playing France in what could the last game for both teams in Euro 2008, the word being eaten up here is "biscotto."

Most times a biscotto is good. Biscotto is a cookie or biscuit. Canadians know biscotti as those double-cooked, long, hard cookies that are great with coffee.

It seems fitting that Italians can equate this outrageously stressful time with food.

The way the word is being used around Euro, though, isn't very palatable for anyone. It's something the French and Italians would find hard to swallow.

If the journalists are to be believed, there is fear a biscotto is being served up by the Netherlands and Romania.

The Netherlands have won Group C, which includes Romania, Italy and France. Romania has two points to one for Italy and France.

A France-Italy winner can advance if Romania does no better than tie the Dutch.

The Netherlands is looking after itself and will rest many of its starters. The Romanians would no doubt be happy if the Dutch helped them squeeze the other two out.

Which is where "biscotto" comes in.

It's an ice cream sandwich. The ice cream (France and Italy) can be squeezed out without the two biscotti (Netherlands and Romania) touching.

It's sickening to believe any team would conspire to concoct a result. Then again, we weren't born yesterday. It happens.

A famous "biscotto" came in the 1982 World Cup when at the end of group play, the only result that would allow Germany and Austria to both advance was a 1-0 German win.

Surprise, surprise. Germany scored in the ninth minute and the teams played the game at midfield from that point on. Algeria was eliminated.

The game prompted a change of rules. All the final group games now are at the same time so if someone wants to tank a game, it would have to be done on the fly.

Not that it matters this time around. Goal differential is secondary in breaking ties to who defeated whom in group play.

Why would the Netherlands care who made it to the next stage?

Soccer conspiracists -- and there are plenty, especially among the foreign press -- believe the Dutch would rather see Italy and France out so there's no chance of meeting them later.

Italian coach Roberto Donadoni and Dutch coach Marco Van Basten are friends. Donadoni believes in the Dutch, calling Van Basten "honest, competent and upstanding."

"I am not even thinking of that happening," Donadoni was quoted as saying. "It's always the same old chat and it doesn't serve any purpose.

"And even if it is the reserve team which plays, that is not to say the Dutch won't win. On the contrary, the reserves would love to show that they deserve a place in the first team."

French coach Raymond Domenech is not so generous. He can feel the squeezing begin.

"Our game against Italy will not be decisive," he said "It's the other match that matters.

"My opinion is Holland will make wholesale changes for the game and it is already written that Romania will qualify with them from the group."

The Netherlands have the right to rest all the players they want. They earned it by winning.

The Italians and French will have to accept whatever comes of it. They made the mess by losing to the Dutch and tying the Romanians.

You have to be a pretty good conductor to orchestrate results with no one noticing. The Dutch will play as well as they can.

It's comforting they will play for victory, but a team that's already qualified doesn't have the same incentive or drive of a team that needs to win. Besides, who wouldn't want to make their trip smoother by removing the bigger rocks along the road?

Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is doing his best to encourage the Dutch.

"I think Holland would want to meet Italy or France in the semifinals, after the way they manhandled us in the first games," Buffon said yesterday. "I want to face Holland again, too -- to even the score."

Italy should worry first about beating France. Besides, if a biscotto is being served up, there's nothing you can do to prevent it anyway.


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