(I understand that this post isn’t really about Germany but I wanted to include my views on this subject. I hope you enjoy what follows.)
This year we had the rare scenario where one team in each group were able to rest their entire first team, knowing that the result would have no bearing whatsoever on the final group standings. So far, we have seen three of these four teams, Portugal, Croatia and the Netherlands, lose their following match and crash out of the tournament. Conversely, their respective opponents, Germany, Turkey and Russia, all used their first team within three or four days of their final group match, and yet came out victorious. Does this imply that it is better to stick with a team that is playing well, rather than to give your second-string a run out, even in a meaningless game?
In the run up to Scotlandâ€™s final European qualifying match against Italy, during last seasonâ€™s Scottish Premier League campaign both Rangers and Celtic requested that their fixture prior to this game be cancelled to give Scotland the best chance of qualifying, they didnâ€™t. A few weeks later Rangers agreed with Gretna, now no longer in existence, to postpone their SPL encounter to allow Rangers more preparation time, in the run up their vital Champions League group stage match against Lyon. They lost 3-0.
On this evidence, it would appear that resting players doesnâ€™t have the desired effect. In the tie between Croatia and Turkey on Friday, by the time extra time came Croatia looked far more tired than their opponents despite having three extra days rest. Now this could possibly be down to the fact that Croatia attacked for the majority of the ninety minutes, whereas the Turks sat back barley venturing forward, but I would put it down to the fact that Slaven Bilic opted to rest his entire first team in the previous match against Poland. When a team is in form they cannot wait to get back out onto the pitch and play their next match but Bilic, Scolari and van Basten have all seen their supposedly fresh teams go down to opposition whose matches are coming thick and fast.
The Dutch were poor last night. After setting the tournament on fire in their first two matches they failed to show any killer instinct last night and were soundly beaten by a Russian side who have come to form at the right time. Russia were hammered in their opening game against Spain, and they didnâ€™t look overly impressive against a poor Greek side. However, aided by the return of Andrei Arshavin from suspension, they performed impressively against Sweden to reach the quarter final before outshining the best team of the tournament so far, the Dutch. Their coach Gus Hiddink said in his post match interview that he was surprised by the response of his team after only having two days to prepare for it. Maybe this is ideal for footballers. Is it possible that when players are on-form the best thing that can happen to them is that another match is just around the corner, rather than them having to, not only wait, but also watch as the rest of the squad is given a run out?
The last of the four sides to rest their first team, Spain, are in action against the Italians tonight. Since I put money on Spain and Russia at the start of the tournament Iâ€™ll be shouting for Spain, but if the last three matches are anything to go by then Italy will surely fancy their chances.