Rayo Majadahonda
Sporting Gijón
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Sporting Gijón win 4-3 on Penalties.
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Don't I know you from somewhere?

They say that football is business and looking at the stream of money into the game, you start to believe this is true.

Then the second round of the KNVB Dutch Cup comes along. Champions League participants PSV drew their own reserve team.

"What are the odds those teams have to play each other?", KNVB chairman Henk Kesler once asked about the probability of such a fixture. This week the impossible came true in Eindhoven. To cap it all, the game, which saw Jong PSV' beaten 3-0 by their senior counterparts was shown on national television.

Winning the Dutch Cup is now more important than ever for any Dutch team that can't win the title. Qualifying rules for European football change at the start of next season with UEFA Chairman Michel Platini implementing his idea of bringing more proper champions into the Champions League. This also changes the set up of the UEFA Cup and signals the end of the Intertoto Cup.

Every participant of the new UEFA Cup will have to earn his place via at least one and, for some, even four qualifying rounds.

For Holland it means that the last to qualify, the winner of the play-offs between the clubs between fifth and eighth place in the Eredivisie, will first compete in the qualifying rounds at the end of June.

There is only month between the final of the play-offs and the dates of that first UEFA Cup qualifying round. While some fans may be excited by the mouth-watering prospect of mixing the summer holidays with an away game somewhere else in Europe, no technical staff will share their delight. It will make preparation for a new season a nightmare.

Cup winners enter as late as the fourth round of the qualifiers halfway through August. Although still early in the season it allows players some holiday time and the manager some respite to build his squad.

So the cup should now be taken more seriously, but this has not yet dawned on Dutch football and its bureaucrats. In Eindhoven this week, coach Huub Stevens determined the line-up in a meeting with the coach of his opponents Anton Janssen, who also happens to be his assistant.

PSV players could have ended up on either side of the pitch at the kick-off. This type of game had a precedent in Germany when VfB Stuttgart Amateure crushed Eintracht Frankfurt 6-1 in the first round of the DFB-Pokal only to be drawn against their professional buddies.

Some of the glorious Frankfurt beaters, who in fact are also the reserve team, had to play their team mates in the second round. The DFB immediately decided this sort of pairing would be ruled out in future, at least until the final.

In Holland, the Dutch FA counts on the luck of the draw to keep them apart, although this will change from next season. At the moment, two reserve teams enter the draw. PSV won the Reserves Cup on penalties over NEC this spring, while reserve champions Young FC Twente will host ADO Den Haag.

In an attempt to organize something of a more serious league the reserves can only field players with less than 23 league games that season for the first team. Also, only three over 23 years old allowed.

By spring, this can make it rather difficult for reserve coaches to field a decent eleven. It is no wonder that reserve league tables can shift completely over the last months of the season.

On the plus side these games can be entertaining and for usually stressed fans a way to enjoy watching young talents without much concern for the result. Sometimes one of the stars is thrown in, returning from injury and there are even clubs who sign out-of-favour thirty-somethings to bring structure and tactical nous into their reserves matches. You never know what to expect from these teams, which makes their presence in the proper cup so awkward.

With a fabled youth academy, the reserves of Ajax have made the most appearances in the cup over the years. In 1987 the regular Ajax, coached by Johan Cruyff, could not get past the second round, while their youth team marched into the third. It turned out that there were then few rules to prevent Ajax playing top players in what was, in name, a reserves team.

Only a couple of them appeared in a win over Volendam, but then a top-strength eleven turned up in the subsequent quarter-final at Waalwijk against first division champions RKC, where the big boys crashed out for the second time that season.

In their Champions League-winning season of 1994-95 both Ajax teams marched into the quarter final where Ajax 1 played Feyenoord at home while Ajax 2 had to travel to FC Utrecht, both games scheduled for the same night.

Coach Louis van Gaal took a gamble and directed his usual substitutes into the players' bus to Utrecht, hoping both teams would be strong enough to go into the semi-final.

In the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam the game ran into extra-time after Feyenoord converted a penalty with ten minutes to go. Van Gaal decided not to make any changes as his bench was filled with junior players. Within four minutes it was over when Feyenoord's supersub Mike Obiku burst through the defence to score a sudden-death winner. By then the game in Utrecht had finished with the same score.

The Ajax reserves, also without any substitutions, had been in command throughtout the match, only for record youth international Marcel Witzenhausen to make a fatal mistake from where there was no come back. Especially not for Witzenhausen; his high-flying career ended that night. He would never make it into the Eredivisie.

In 2002 there was an immense sigh of relief at the offices of the Dutch FA when the Ajax reserves were eliminated on penalties in the semi-final by, again, FC Utrecht, who consequently met the real Ajax team in the final. What a delight a final between Ajax 1 and 2 in de Kuip in Rotterdam would have been. Their reserves would also have qualified for the UEFA Cup as their seniors had won the Dutch title.

These stories go to show how little the cup is taken seriously by its own organizers. This season there was not only the ridiculous mismatch in Eindhoven on the fixture list. There were also two reserve teams of amateur clubs in the hat as they had managed to win a regional cup. And then the businessmen wonder why the attendances are so low.

Ernst adds: It was quite the party on Tuesday night in the Philips Stadion where free admission had lured 28,000 people, most of them children at the their first 'real' game.

To add to the confusion, PSV 1 lined up an eleven which consisted of second-string squadmembers, leaving PSV 2 with an upgraded under 19-selection.

Fortunately Danko Lazovic planted his elbow in an pponent's face in the second half to show that there was something at stake.

In the above article I claimed that from next season some rule would prevent this situation, but apparently I was wrong there. PSV director Jan Reker was quoted as saying that he had suggested this and someone from the Dutch FA had found this not such a bad idea. And finally, that a reserve team would never be allowed into the UEFA Cup.


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