The Dutch Disaster, The “Group of Death,” and Problems with International Sports Tournaments

The Netherlands lost their three games in the Euro group stage to Denmark, Germany, and Portugal, with each loss being by one goal.  However, the Netherlands was ranked No. 4 in the world and was the runner-up in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.  How did this happen?  I would like to go further in depth here, while also reinforcing my stance that international sports competitions should have more games and diversity in opponents.

For one thing, a Netherlands-esque style disaster could have happened to any team.  Let’s use Manchester City, this year’s Premier League champion, as an example.  They played 38 Premier League games this year, winning 28 and losing 5, with 5 other games being draws.

For this exercise, let’s randomly select any three of Manchester City’s Premier League games.  There are 8,436 possible combinations.  There are 10 combinations where Manchester City would have lost all three games.  That is equal to 0.12%, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent.  There are 50 combinations in which they would have only gained one point, accounting for 0.59% of all combinations, and another 50 in which they would have only gained two.  There are 280 combinations, or 3.31%, where they would have won one game and lost two, and there are another 10 in which they would have drawn all three games.  In all, there are 400 combinations, accounting for 4.74% of all combinations, in which Manchester City would have earned three points or fewer.  No team that advanced to the knockout round in this year’s Euro earned fewer than four points.  This makes a Manchester City early exit under similar circumstances possible, even if it is not all that probable.

Still not convinced?  Between March 24 and April 8, Manchester city played three Premier League games against Stoke City, Sunderland, and Arsenal.  They drew the first two and lost to Arsenal 1-0, yielding a grand total of two points.

This shows that even Manchester City could possibly not advance in a group consisting of random samplings of any three Premier League games.  However, despite being No. 4 in the world, the Netherlands still was not the highest-ranked team in their group, increasing the likelihood of their elimination.  That brings us to the other part of the problem.

As I sort of said at the beginning of the article, UEFA Euro 2012’s Group B consisted of Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, and Portugal.  In the world, they are ranked No. 3, No.4, No. 9, and No. 10 internationally.  In fact, the only other European teams that rank higher than any of those four teams are Spain, England, and Croatia.

Yes, that’s right.  Four of the seven highest-ranking European countries, according to FIFA’s math, are in the same group.  I guess that takes “Group of Death” to a whole new level.

And the simple fact that there is a “Group of Death” seems counterproductive, to me at least.  True, maybe it does heighten the entertainment value, but I don’t know that for sure.  Besides, aren’t these tournaments supposed to determine who the best teams are?  How are we supposed to do that when we have “Groups of Death” floating around?  This is especially maddening when Group A’s highest-ranked team, Russia, is three spots below Portugal, the lowest-ranked “Group of Death” team.  I know that the FIFA rankings are not the be-all end-all when comparing international teams (Croatia at No. 8 does seem kind of weird), but they are supposed to be a gauge of a team’s skill level, and how can four of the top ten teams in the world be in the same group in a confederational competition!  Even if it is Europe, this is just ridiculous.

This is where my stubborn, black-and-white mentality leads to my complaint.; why can’t international competitions take on more of a league-style system.  I know why; the club teams are too powerful.  I would love to see Clint Dempsey play a full season for Team USA, but it would be hard seeing how it would handicap my beloved Fulham, who I love because of Dempsey and Brian McBride before him.  Still, I can’t imagine a scenario where these games wouldn’t sell short of a wide-scale disaster or boycott.  Then, we’d really know what type of team The Netherlands is; top of the world or middle-of-the-pack in Europe.

P.S. I know that this is sort of old news, but I haven’t been able to access a computer.  This is why it’s been so long since I wrote my last article, but not why the last one was so short-that was because of a lack of ideas.  Thank you for reading, and please comment.

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