Dutch Bounty-Money for the Czech Football Squad?

Unprecedented! As is being reported today on Sport.cz, an on-line magazine owned by the Czech daily newspaper Právo, a group of Dutch firms operating in the Czech Republic are offering to pay the Czech national football team €4 million as a reward if they beat the German team tonight in the final qualifying round of the on-going Euro2004 football tournament in Portugal. Why would they want to do that? Well, the Dutch play the team from Latvia tonight, and must not only beat them to advance to the quarter-finals, but must also rely on the Czechs to win over the Germans to gain that result. But the Czechs themselves don’t have much motivation going into their game with the Germans; with two wins achieved, they are already assured of advancing, and in fact ordinarily could be expected to leave their key players out of the line-up tonight, to let them rest up for when the games start getting serious again.

So maybe a big lump of cash can get the Czech team (and coach Karel Brückner who has to make the personnel decisions) serious again about tonight’s game? That is apparently what a group of Dutch firms are hoping, who have grouped together under the Dutch Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic to offer this reward. And I guess such a thing would not be too out of line with European Championship traditions. After all, just yesterday evening the Italian team failed to advance in the tournament, despite winning its game over Bulgaria, after Sweden and Denmark tied their match at 2-2 – precisely the score they had to make, it turned out, to ensure that they both advanced and that Italy did not. (If either Scandinavian team had won, you see, then the losing team would have had to give up its place in the quarter-finals to the Italians.) So was it a “fix” last night? Most Italians seem to think so; I saw that game, and my judgment is that while there was no way both teams were determined to make the score 2-2 from the very beginning, once it became 2-1 in favor of Denmark the Danish goalie perhaps lost some of his powers to keep the ball out of the goal that he had demonstrated previously . (In prior games the goalie, Thomas Sørensen, had not allowed any goals, and the one he conceded before that second one that made the score 2-2 was from a penalty, which is notoriously hard to keep out.)


Except wait a second: It turns out that the Dutch firms’ “offer” was all a big joke! So reports today the Dutch Algemeen Dagblad, the very paper whose initial reporting of the supposed offer made it credible enough for Sport.cz to feature today. (Yes, they did include a small paragraph: “Chamber [of Commerce] leadership strongly denied for CTK [the Czech Press Agency] the newspaper’s speculation over the offer of a reward”). Yes, it was yet another cyber-prank: someone managed to penetrate and misuse the e-mail system of the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce in Prague, to send out a phony press-release about the supposed reward using the Chamber’s e-mail address and even its logo as well.

Oh well. The Dutch now will just have to hope that the Czech second team has the quality, and the motivation, on its own to beat the German first team, which knows that it will go home in disgrace if it loses. This just might still be possible. In the meantime, Sport.cz reminds us of more bad news, as contained in another article’s title: Undressing Will Bring a Card at the Euro Finale. In their overwhelming ecstasy immediately after scoring a goal, football players these days quite often celebrate by removing their shirt. (Even female players are not above this practice: remember the US’ Brandi Chastain, but don’t get upset Mr. FCC official – she still kept her sports bra on during the incident in question. Another favored alternate is not removing it – talking here about the shirt, not the sports bra – but folding it up and around the head so that they’re running around blind with joy.) But the world governing body for football, FIFA, has passed a rule that this will be punished with a warning from the referee, a so-called “yellow card.” The rule takes effect as of 1 July 2004 – just in time to apply in the second Euro2004 semi-final (not the first, which is to be played on Wednesday, 30 June – aspiring exhibitionists, take note of your last chance!), and of course during the final on July 4.

Update: The spurious Dutch businesses could have saved their phony money, anyway. Germany could not overcome even the Czech Republic’s “B-team” – i.e. the team of players who ordinarily warm the bench, who were in to let the “A-team” rest during this meaningless game – losing to them 2-1, and so taking the next airplane home as their coach, Rudi Völler, resigned.

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