Data Control and IBM, Science is Mankind's Brother

Trying to decipher the permutations for todays' France - Italy match is enough to make your head explode.

Supercomputers all around the globe will melt down in scenes reminiscent of all those times the bridge on the Enterprise rained sparks on Uhuru and Spock as every circuit on the ship fried into a solid mass which was somehow completely repaired in about three minutes.

The situation is best symbolized by the fact that the game could come down to possibly the weirdest scene in the history of World soccer: a PK shootout AFTER both teams have been eliminated from the tournament.

At the top, Holland has won the Group and the Dutch are - well, they're the Dutch and to them it's all part of the flow:

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(Thanks to the excellent WORLD CUP BLOG for the link. And if you don't know who all those guys are, may I suggest that you head over to THE NETHERLANDS FORUM where, I'm certain, any number of guys would be only too happy to name each and every one)

As for everybody else - Romania, France and Italy - it's either simple or incredibly complex.

The simple:

1) If Romania wins they take second place and advance to the knockout rounds.

2) If Romania loses the winner of Italy - France goes through.

After that - well LET'S LET THE BBC TRY AND EXPLAIN IT;

1) If France and Italy draw, a point against the Netherlands would be enough to send Romania through. France must win to have any chance of qualifying.

2) If France and Italy share a score draw (1-1, 2-2, 3-3 etc), Italy will go through if Romania lose (by any score). In this scenario, Italy, Romania and France will be level on two points each but Italy would have scored more goals in games between the 3 teams.

3) Romania will finish bottom of the group if they lose and France and Italy draw 2-2, 3-3 or 4-4. France will finish bottom if they draw 1-1 unless Romania lose 3-0 or by a four-goal margin.

4) If France and Italy Italy draw 0-0, Romania can lose by one goal, two goals or by a three-goal margin other than 3-0 but still qualify.

In this scenario, Italy and Romania would have identical head-to-head records, but Romania would have better goal difference in ALL group matches or, in the case of the three-goal defeats, goals scored. France would finish bottom, having scored fewer goals head-to-head v Italy and Romania.

5) If Romania lose 3-0 to the Dutch, Italy would qualify with a 0-0 draw against France because of their superior coefficient points. France would finish bottom as they would have scored fewer goals head-to-head v Italy and Romania.

6) If Romania lose by four goals or more and the other game ends 0-0, Italy would proceed with a better overall goal difference than Romania. France would finish bottom as they would have scored fewer goals head-to-head v Italy and Romania.

7) If France and Italy draw AND Romania avoid defeat, then Romania go through. France and Italy will have identical records and a unprecedented penalty shoot-out will decide who finishes third and fourth.

Got that? Then would you mind explaining it to me?

The big question, of course, is how does Holland play this? Will they run their bench out there like Portugal did over the weekend?

And as if Italy - France needed more drama, it is of course a replay of the 2006 World Cup final, won on PK's by Italy.

Oddly, that was the only time Italy has beaten France in the last 30 years, and every one of their shooters from that match will be on the field today, although Metrostars veteran (and possibly soon-to-be-unemployed) Roberto Donadoni may elect to replace Del Piero.

In the other game, Romania too has only beaten their opponent once - and that was earlier this year.

As for what to look for hey, I can't even figure out DC United and Real Salt Lake; I haven't got the first clue here.

But you know what? Logic would say that Holland takes the day off and Romania goes through, and that France rises up and gets revenge for the WC loss.

And since logic has had but darn little to do with this tournament so far, I'm going with Italy. Somehow, some way, they always seem to manage to be there in the end.