Today’s 4-1 evisceration of France catapulted the Netherlands into Euro 2008’s quarterfinals, and while Group C’s quartet of Holland, France, Italy and Romania have commonly been referred to as the tournament’s “group of death”, the Guardian’s Rob Smyth would like you to consider the real deal.
1. Group E, World Cup 1986 (DENMARK 6pts, WEST GERMANY 3, URUGUAY 2, Scotland 1)
The original and – in terms of doing what it says on the tin – still the best. When the draw was made, the Uruguay coach Omar Borras coined the phrase “El grupo de la muerte”, and his team took him a little literally: it was almost like they were being paid by the corpse as they kicked the bejesus out of Scotland to such an extent that the SFA secretary Ernie Walker called them the “scum of world football”. The make-up of the group looks fairly modest by today’s standards, but it’s important to remember how strong Uruguay were: they won the Copa America either side of this tournament and, when the BBC pundits predicted their winners before the tournament, more went for Uruguay than any other side. Quite why they decided to kick everything that moved and much that didn’t is a bit of a mystery.
The dark horses Denmark galloped away with the group, winning all three games, and West Germany were through after a draw against Uruguay and a win over Scotland. With four out of six third-placed sides going through, Scotland still had a chance despite losing their first two games. They had to beat Uruguay, who in turn only needed a draw and, perversely, benefitted from having Jose Batista sent off in the first minute for taking a merciless shortcut through the back of Gordon Strachan. Uruguay quickly sussed that the referee Joel Quiniou didn’t have the stones to issue a second red card, which gave them licence to physically intimidate him and to stanch the flow of the game with a mixture of the insidious and the invidious. Scotland were neutralised to the point that they could barely create momentum, never mind a chance. After such an unclean experience, their ‘death’ came almost as a relief.