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Kevin Pullein On Football: Scots' play-off shows what a funny old game it can be.

Byline: Kevin Pullein

The Euro 2004 play-off between Scotland and Holland illustrated perfectly the pleasures of watching football and the perils of wagering on the sport.

The same teams, give or take a player of two, met twice, four days apart, and there was a difference of seven goals in the scores.

Scotland won 1-0 in Glasgow, Holland 6-0 in Amsterdam.

It's a funny old game, as they say. And the funniest thing of all, to me, was that I didn't think Holland played all that much better when they won than when they lost.

Perhaps they were a little more clinical with their chances, perhaps Scotland were a little less cynical in allowing them chances, but that's all.

In Glasgow, Holland were, as one would have expected, technically superior to Scotland. They kept the ball, moving it over here and, if they couldn't get through, over there - probing and probing until they could find a way through.

The Scots resisted bravely - in particular, by denying the Dutch space, much of the time, to play their intricate passes in the attacking third of the field.

Yet Holland still had 20 shots, eight of them on target, two of those cleared off the line. In addition, they were denied a clear-cut penalty when Marc Overmars was tripped as he turned.

The Dutch also forced 11 corners.

It almost goes without

saying that they had the ball most of the time, and spent most of that time in the other half of the pitch - possession and territorial advantage have always been key elements of the traditional Dutch style of play.

The pre-match odds - with which I broadly agreed - said that Holland should be roughly one-goal superior to Scotland at Hampden Park.

On the evidence of that 90 minutes, they were, yet the scoreline read Scotland 1 Holland 0. The team hadn't played badly. They'd just lost, that's all.

In an individual game of football, probably the least revealing observation anyone can make is of the score. It is for this reason that when I am compiling ratings I compute from a much bigger sample of games.

The Dutch have a reputation for being the Brazilians of Europe, for playing an entertaining, free-flowing style of football.

Yet they analyse the game as deeply and scientifically as anyone, even the Italians.

The Dutch national soccer school has produced a book on match analysis to help coaches assess the strengths and weaknesses of their own teams and upcoming opponents.

It includes a long check-list to be completed during a game.

Nowhere does it mention the score.

When former Dutch international Ruud Gullit was manager of Chelsea he asked for videos of forthcoming Uefa Cup opponents from Scandinavia.

From Scandinavia came back the videos - with the goals that had been scored erased.

"You can't learn much about a team from the goals they score," Gullit said.

"If you have watched the rest of the match, you will know how they try to score goals, which is enough."

It's a shame that Scotland will not be at Euro 2004. But hopefully anyone who lost money on Holland on Saturday will have retained faith in them and won it back on Wednesday.

If only the highs and lows of football betting were always so closely compacted together.

CAPTION(S):

Holland's Andre Ooijer scores the second goal during the 6-0 Euro 2004 play-off thrashing of Scotland last week
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Nov 24, 2003
Words:569
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