Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Sun 22 June 2008

A marathon, not a sprint

Here's a quiz question for you: what do the following teams have in common? Denmark in the 1986 World Cup, Brazil in the 1990 World Cup, Spain in the 2006 World Cup and the Netherlands in Euro 2008.

The answer: they've all started their tournaments at a roaring pace, only to be knocked out in the second round. To be more specific, each of the aforementioned have won all three of their First Round games, only to be knocked out in the Second Round. If Spain aren't careful, they might join the list tonight unless they find a way to beat Italy.

So just how does a team like the Dutch in Euro 2008 collapse so monumentally just as they've convinced everyone about their credentials as champions elect? In the case of the Dutch, two main factors spring to mind.

Firstly, there's the old 'fatigue' argument to be considered. Wesley Sneijder was quick to point out after the 3-1 defeat to the Russians that when extra time came around, the Dutch appeared to have little energy left for the fight to come, whereas Guus Hiddink's side looked fresh and more than capable of carrying on to the bitter end.

There may be something in this: while the Dutch players came into Euro 2008 having finished a tiring domestic campaign with their clubs, the Russians have so far completed just thirteen weeks of their own domestic league. All those of you wishing to raise this point to the F.A., please do so care of Fabio Capello, Lancaster Gate.

Then there's the argument that any team catching the eye early on in a competition will obviously set the minds racing of the other managers involved. Don't think for a moment that Guus Hiddink wasn't sitting in his luxurious Austrian hotel suite over the last two weeks wondering how he'd beat such an exciting Dutch team if the time ever came.

No, far better to start a tournament discretely and with a considerable amount of stealth if you want your team to capture the trophy. That's what the Dutch did in Euro 88 by losing their first group game against the Soviet team they'd go on to beat in the Final. The Danish side in Euro 92 were even better at making people think they were poor - they drew 0-0 with England and lost 1-0 to hosts Sweden in the First Round before they went on to win the tournament outright. Greece also looked far from convincing in the first few games of Euro 2004… mind you, they failed to look convincing all the way through to the Final, but that's another story.

Yes, there's something to be said for not showing your best hand at the start of a competition as the Dutch did this year. You might win lots of friends for the way you play football in its purest form, but they'll soon be your enemies if you don't give them every opportunity to see it.

If you're visiting SPAOTP, Mr. Aragones, don't say we didn't warn you.

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