As many of you know by now, the drawing for the Euro 2004 match-pairings was held last Sunday in Lisbon. Nearly every such football tournament, whether it be for the World Cup or for the European Cup, can be counted on to produce in its run-up the so-called “Group of Death”: i.e. the matching of four national teams in a preliminary group which are of such a high quality that it’s a shame that only two of them will be able to advance further into the knock-out stages of the tournament. (The international football organizations that run such tournaments – FIFA and UEFA, respectively – do their best to pre-cook such drawings with “seeding” arrangements. These are supposed to ensure that each group has a proper mix of teams that are expected to do very well and teams that are not. Of course, one aspect of the charm of such events is that at least one team which, prior to the tournament, had not really been expected to advance, actually ends up doing so, meaning that at least one team that had been expected to do so does not. This generally results in national embarrassment and gnashing-of-teeth, and always in a coaching change.)
Sure enough, the Euro 2004 tournament coming up next summer in Portugal has its own “Group of Death.” Appropriately, that is group D (for “Death”), in which the teams from Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and Latvia will play each other in a round-robin arrangement. Germany was the runner-up in 2002’s World Cup competition, only losing to Brazil; and the Dutch and the Czech teams are both highly regarded. (That’s true even though, strangely, both failed to qualify to play in that World Cup tournament in 2002. But the Dutch recently sent the Scottish team packing in a playoff with a 6-0 score. And it was the Czechs who defeated the Dutch and sent them into that playoff in the first place.) For its part, Latvia comes in last in the list of countries expected to win the European Cup compiled by those experts with their financial derrières on the line, namely the book-makers. Still, Turkey was a team that was supposed to be at this tournament, and the fact that they are not is directly attributable to the Latvian team (who no doubt caused substantial losses for the book-makers with their remarkable feat).
As it happens, I have the familiarity with the languages involved to shed some light on the domestic reactions to that “Group of Death” drawing from Germany, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands. Let’s head off to the Internet, shall we?, on the hunt for football insights which go beyond the standard line of “Yes, it’s a tough group; and we can’t afford to underestimate Latvia.” The Dutch press will be first on our list. (more…)