Focus on 'cooked game' hurts soccer

Italy's goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon attends a training session for the Euro 2012 at the city...

Italy's goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon attends a training session for the Euro 2012 at the city stadium in Poznan, June 17, 2012. (REUTERS)

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 5:58 PM ET

WARSAW - The Italians are afraid the fix is in.

Spain and Croatia promise everything will be on the up and up.

Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, sick of all the speculation, goes on Facebook to vent his frustration.

Welcome to Group C's final set of games, which promises to provide a little soap opera and a lot of the same kind of drama that followed Group A and B to the last whistle.

On Monday, Italy plays Ireland and Croatia plays Spain to wrap up the group. Spain and Croatia are tied at the top of the standings with four points each, Italy has two and Ireland is, well, none and done.

If Italy beats Ireland as expected and either Croatia or Spain win, Italy is through to the quarterfinals, as is the winner of the Croatia-Spain game. But if Italy wins and Croatia and Spain tie 0-0 or 1-1, it goes to the dreaded UEFA tiebreaker.

But if Spain and Croatia tie 2-2 or higher, both those teams are through to the next round.

Got all that?

There is no need to bury one's head in the sand. Arranging how a game will end is not unknown in soccer circles. It is what's led to the speculation that Spain and Croatia have cooked something up so both will move on.

Most of the focus has been on just that possibility.

The fix has been called a biscotto (a cooked biscuit), a stitch-up and a gentleman's accommodation, among other things. The talk has been not only an embarrassment to the sport, but also to the teams playing in the final Group C games.

It was all a little too much for Buffon, who went on Facebook to vent his anger and frustration.

"For two days people have exclusively been talking about a biscotto," Buffon wrote. "A biscotto here, a biscotto there, a biscotto up, a biscotto down ... it's almost as if we have already beaten Ireland."

Buffon went on to talk about the absurdity of discussions about arranging the result of a game. He was critical of how the focus was not on soccer but what goes on behind the game. He mentioned the press's obsession with finding out if Italy has two gay players on its roster, as if "that was the only thing the entire nation was interested in."

The speculation about the game being cooked has taken on the same obsession.

Buffon said it was time to focus on the game.

"Let us focus on ourselves and try to win the match," Buffon said. "The rest is hot air, bar talk, the conjecture of mediocrity and thinking like losers."

It's difficult for a game's result to be arranged, especially since this one has been so talked about. It does a disservice to what should be a great game between Spain and Croatia, with the Group C title on the line. It also does a disservice to two strong teams, including the European and world champions.

But as offensive as that type of talk is, it has happened before in soccer. That's why the final games in the group are played at the same time, so it's more difficult to "arrange" a game.

The Croatian players don't want to hear about possible accommodations between teams.

"It's idiotic to be talking about making pacts," said Croatian star Luka Modric. "Stop talking about it. This type of talk doesn't help soccer. Italy can be happy. We will play to win."

Croatia striker Nikica Jelavic says the game will provide an opportunity Croatia doesn't want to miss.

"We aren't doing any calculations," he said. "This is our opportunity to eliminate Spain and we will try to do it."

If you were betting, you would say Spain and Croatia will try to eliminate each other. But there is another wild card in all this. Italy has to win, otherwise all this discussion becomes pointless.

Remember, Ireland hasn't gone home yet.

"If people think Giovanni Trapattoni (Ireland coach and former coach of the Italian team) is going to do us any favours ... he won't," Buffon said.


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