Spain, Croatia deny collusion with Italy vigilant
Spain and Croatia have both made it clear that they won't play for a 2-2 draw on Monday. If both teams just happen to score two goals, however, neither may try very hard for a winner.
With a European Championship quarterfinal spot on the line, both teams deny they will willfully play for a scoreline that would eliminate Italy regardless of its result against Ireland in the other Group C match.
The topic of the possible collusion has been raised numerous times in the last few days, mainly by Italian media who speculate that a preconceived result would benefit both conspirators by taking away Italy's chances altogether.
''There's no point in even talking about it,'' Spain striker Fernando Torres said Sunday. ''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.''
That hasn't stopped the questions from coming, and coming, and coming. To Spain, and to Croatia, and, of course, to Italy.
''We are sportsmen. We are parents. We are normal people. But we don't even think about this kind of fixing the draw,'' Croatia coach Slaven Bilic said. ''The whole of Italy and the whole of Europe can be calm, they don't have to think about it.
''I just say to (the) Italian team and Italian people, trust in us and trust in what I said.''
Although it's unlikely that any team will purposely concede two goals at such a major tournament, Spain coach Vicente del Bosque did allow for a reluctance to press for a winner if the score just so happens to reach 2-2.
On its way to winning the 2010 World Cup, Spain beat Chile in the group stage, a result that eliminated Switzerland. Chile, coached by the attack-minded Marcelo Bielsa, suddenly sat back as neither team pushed hard for more goals.
''Chile gave up on attacking, on achieving a draw, and that surprised me a lot. Those are situations that happen in a game, it worked for them,'' said Del Bosque, whose team hasn't given away two goals in a match in 15 games - including title-winning runs at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup. ''But for something like that to happen again does no service to football.''
Although it would be tough to agree on a 2-2 draw before the match even starts, it's not all that surprising that the Italians are worried. Eight years ago, Italy beat Bulgaria in its final group match at Euro 2004 but was eliminated when Sweden and Denmark drew 2-2.
But perhaps the most notorious example of teams settling for a result came at the 1982 World Cup. West Germany scored early against Austria and the teams played out a mundane 1-0 match that eliminated Algeria, which had beaten Chile the previous day. FIFA changed its regulations after that match to ensure decisive games were played simultaneously to avoid such a situation again.
Talk of silent pacts, however, is largely confined to matches that end with big victories rather than high-scoring draws.
Argentina has long been accused of conspiring to beat Peru 6-0 at the 1978 World Cup, where a victory by at least four goals eliminated archrival Brazil.
Spain has also been questioned in the past. The Spanish qualified for Euro 1984 with a 12-1 victory over Malta. The Spanish - who eventually lost to France in the final - needed to win by 11 goals and managed the result despite holding only a 3-1 lead at halftime.
On Monday, Spain is guaranteed of a spot in the quarterfinals with any draw, while Croatia could still be eliminated with a 0-0 or 1-1 result.
But whatever happens in that match won't affect the way Italy coach Cesare Prandelli approaches his game against Ireland.
''If we start thinking about a fix,'' Prandelli said, ''we've got problems.''