By TomTom – Your SatNav around Football
TEN paragraphs were needed to explain it on the BBC website, 87 minutes were taken debating it by one tweeter after Spain scored last night, and ITV have seemingly just ignored it altogether.
So sit down and make yourself comfortable, this could take a while.
The latest system chosen by UEFA to decide which team goes through when two sides are on equal points is at best complex and at worst utterly chaotic.
If, like most, you are not familiar with it here are the general permutations.
If two teams are on equal points the superior side is decided on the head to head result between the teams. If that was a draw it goes to overall goal difference in the group. Not too many problems there.
But when three or more teams finish on equal points it gets more difficult.
The head to head results between the equal teams are considered and the points totted up. If the points between the equal teams are still the same, which they usually would be, the goal difference between those teams is used. If this is equal too, the goals scored between the equal teams come into play making high scoring draws extremely advantageous.
You still there?
Only when the head to head results, head to head goal difference and head to head goals scored have all been considered can we gasp for air and turn to our old, straightforward friend – goal difference. Overall goal difference that is.
A case for the defence: by prioritising head to head performance the system eradicates the significance of matches against irrelevant teams.
For example, in Group C had Spain, Italy and Croatia all finished on five points only the matches between those three teams would have been considered rather than prioritising who put more goals past Republic of Ireland.
That’s all well and good but the counter-argument points to Group A where Greece, who were poor for two games and nicked an undeserved victory against Russia, went through ahead of the Russians who thrashed the group winners 4-1 and were the only team in the group to finish with a positive goal difference.
Perhaps that’s football and perhaps the Russians shouldn’t have drawn to Poland.
But beyond the intrinsic injustices that any points system will inevitably entail the greatest failure of this system is that it detracts from the football itself.
If Croatia had equalised last night to put Spain, Croatia and Italy all on five points we wouldn’t have been basking in the late drama but wondering what the score was between Italy and Spain in that match a while ago – and was it 1-1 or 2-2? Oh it’s full-time, let’s see what the commentators say.
That’s not what tournament football is about.
Tournament football is at its best when a goal 300 miles away travels through the earpiece of a supporter in the crowd, reverberates in a collective groan, is heard by the manager, who then throws on an extra couple of forwards to grab a late goal.
How are the fans meant to get excited by the shifting ‘As it stands’ tables if they haven’t a clue why it stands or where it will stand if another goal goes in?
As for the players out on the pitch, god knows what they must be thinking. If Croatia had equalised last night would they have known that was enough to see them through?
Or would we have seen Luka Modric in the centre circle frantically counting up the head to head goal difference and head to head goals scored between Italy, Spain and Croatia? ‘That’s it lads, I’m fairly sure we need to defend what we’ve got, although, if we can, let’s nick a goal because I’m not 100% OK?’
In an effort to find the fairest, most accurate formula UEFA have forgotten football is not a science.
If football’s bosses refuse to consult a video referee because they prioritise fluidity and drama over accuracy and fairness then surely they should have applied the same principles here.
When Aguero scored the goal that won Manchester City the title on goal difference nobody turned round and said you know what, we should do this on head to head results next year.
When Drogba scored the penalty that won Chelsea a most unlikely European Cup nobody turned round and said actually, next year we should scrap the penalty shootout and do it on shots on target.
Because football fans aren’t interested in fair’s fair, they want drama, theatre and good, old-fashioned entertainment.
They shake hands on the deal that guarantees excitement even if it means their team gets robbed once in a while.
To UEFA this new scoring system is the fairest, truest, most accurate system ever used. For everyone else it’s a load of old cobblers.
So tonight Ukraine beat England but France lose. Anyone?
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“Having studied English at university and always been a keen footballer and fan, combining the two has always appealed to me.” - Tom Lytton-Dickie. -"I'm a recently qualified journalist and I've worked in newspapers and broadcasting. I'm a dedicated follower of all sports primarily football, tennis and cricket." Tom Allnutt
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