Azzurri & Les Bleus: Destinies Intertwined with Oranje… and Biscuits

For all those of you who understand a bit of Italian (at least enough to scan through headlines of sports websites), the big boot’s topic of conversation these past few days gravitated around a Dutch-Romanian “biscotto”. Huh? Biscotto? Doesn’t that mean “biscuit”? Indeed it does, but in the language of Dante Alighieri it also has a secondary meaning.

The Fantagrumo blog has an excellent explanation, which I’ve translated below:

“Biscotto” is an Italian colloquialism often employed in soccer (or other sports), used to describe a result secretly agreed upon in advance by two athletes or teams. It is practically synonymous with the French word “combine”, which can be translated in English as “trick”, “scheme” or “fiddle”. A “combine” is a close pact made to fix the result of a match before it actually takes place, usually in exchange for money (essentially, we are talking about corruption). “Biscotto” is more specific in the sense there need not be an exchange of money, because the secretly-agreed-upon result is of mutual benefit to the agreeing parties.

Actions taken in result of a “combine” or “biscotto” may vary: from losing a game deliberately, allowing an opponent to tie the game, or intentionally failing to man-mark an opposing striker. The direct result of the secret agreement naturally damages a third party, which is usually a direct opponent of those involved in the scheme.

The word “biscotto” derives from the latin root bis-coctum, which litterally means “cooked twice”: effectively, two teams are gaining an advantage while damaging a third (or a fourth). One could even be using the expression “killing two birds with one stone”.

The Azzurri’s history in the Euro championships already bears witness to a “biscotto”. During Euro 2004, Italy had tied its first two matches against Denmark and Sweden, and was left with the obligation to beat Bulgaria on matchday 3, all the while hoping that Denmark vs. Sweden would not end in a tie (a result which would have sent both Scandinavian teams to the quarter-finals). What do you know? The match ended 2-2.

In the case of Netherlands vs. Romania, the term “biscotto” is being used because both teams would benefit from a Romanian victory: Romania would qualify to the quarter-finals as 2nd-ranked, Netherlands would simultaneously get rid of two title favorites Italy and France (which, in case you didn’t notice, could potentially play Holland again in the Semi-Finals).

That’s for the Italian etymology lesson. With that said, everyone in Italy (and in France I guess) can only hope that Netherlands will be good sports and play their last match to win (despite the fact they will undoubtedly field many reserve players).

Gazzetta tells us more about it:

MOEDLING (Austria), 14 June 2008 – And now it’s France-Italy. Rather, it’s Netherlands-Romania. Just like four years ago in Portugal, the scary shadow of a “biscotto” (an unspoken agreement) hangs over the fate of the Azzurri. And over that of their French neighbours. Michel Platini, UEFA President, will be sitting next to FIGC President Giancarlo Abete in the stands at Letzigrund Stadium in Zurich. It’s a common fate.

MARCO AND FATE – Hitting the nail right on the head… What will Holland do? What will be their starting line-up? Will they give Romania the green light? Those are all valid questions. William Gaillard, UEFA spokesman, stated that “no one can impose a specific line-up on a coach.” Especially when the team has already qualified for the next round. It’s a gargantuan dilemma in other words, but Roberto Donadoni doesn’t have doubts.

I know Marco Van Basten quite well” says the Italian coach. “He is an honest, fair and competent man and these qualities are already a guarantee.” The Don trusts his friend, whom he hasn’t seen in six months except for the sad circumstances on Monday in Bern. The Azzurro coach considers the Oranje’s so-called ‘second team’ to be very interested in proving their value, both to their coach and to the first team. And he gives an example: “In the group round of Euro 2000, we had already qualified but we beat Sweden 2-0 with many ‘reserves’” (indeed, Dino Zoff made eight changes for that game).

DIFFERENCE OF OPINIONS – The opinions run high in the Dutch camp. Giving away the match? “We always play to win“, reassures Dutch keeper Edwin van der Sar. This opinion is shared by Arjen Robben, one of the Oranje’s stars against France: “It will be a game where we can have fun, but we are playing to win; I always play to win.” Ruud van Nistelrooy has a different opinion and honestly admits: “These matches are tackled differently when you don’t have to worry about qualifying.”

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  • One Response to “Azzurri & Les Bleus: Destinies Intertwined with Oranje… and Biscuits”

    1. Johan says:

      I think it’s a quite arrogant stand from Italian and France press that the Netherlands (from here referred to as ‘we’) would rather see Romania back in the quarters than France or Italy. We and both France and Italy have shown in the recent past that Romania is not a side to underestimate. After all, they finished above Netherlands in qualification and both France and Italy didn’t manage to win against them. After all, I think Spain is the side to beat might Netherlands reach the semi’s themselves…