Friday, June 30, 2006

Germany v Argentina, ITV1

Goal of the match: Germany's equaliser was the pick of the pair. Michael Ballack swung the ball in from the left and substitute Tim Borowski cleverly flicked on for Miroslav Klose to apply the finish with his head. Despite not having a sniff otherwise, Klose and his predatory instincts weren't to be denied, as he increased his tally for the tournament to five.

Shot of the match: Disappointingly few decent shots in a game of disappointingly few goal attempts, but Fabricio Coloccini's lofted effort (which might well have been a mishit cross) momentarily troubled Jens Lehmann, bouncing off the top of his crossbar.

Pass of the match: Juan Roman Riquelme's precision corner for Roberto Ayala's headed goal. Riquelme may have looked off the pace, but Jose Pekerman paid dearly for his decision to withdraw his string-puller midway through the second period, and Hernan Crespo with fifteen minutes of normal time left.

Miss of the match: Ballack, who planted a header wide from Bernd Schneider's chipped cross in what was far and away the best bit of play of a turgid first period.

Man of the match: No one outstanding player, but for Germany Torsten Frings was excellent, while substitutes Borowski and especially marauding winger David Odonkor were key in picking up the pace of the game and swinging things the hosts' way. For Argentina, Ayala kept Klose very quiet as well as scoring (though he was also one of two players to miss in the shoot-out), and Carlos Tevez worked extremely hard up front without any reward. He looks and plays like a pitbull, and that scar on his neck suggests his involvement in illicit dog-fighting in the back rooms of Buenos Aires pubs.

He was playing?!: Klose did very little other than score, and Luis Gonzales offered few clues as to why he was selected ahead of Esteban Cambiasso in the Argentinian starting line-up.

The Arjen Robben Award For Shameless Diving: Plenty of candidates. Arne Friedrich was perhaps most worthy, getting Juan Pablo Sorin the booking that would have ruled him out of the semi-final. But Ballack went down clutching his face theatrically, and even Maxi Rodriguez, arguably Argentina's best performer throughout the tournament, stooped to that level, picking up a yellow card for a contact-free tumble in the box.

The Nobel Peace Prize: Oliver Kahn was captured on camera offering rival Jens Lehmann words of encouragement prior to the shoot-out, and the pair embraced at the conclusion. Come on now - it was much more entertaining when you were at each other's throats. Speaking of which...

The Alex Ferguson / Jose Mourinho Award For Being Sore And Utterly Graceless Losers: Argentina. No need for the stupid bout of fisticuffs that tarnished their considerable contribution to this year's tournament, whatever Oliver Bierhoff may or may not have said. Rodriguez and Gabriel Heinze were particularly at fault in the extraordinary melee.

Separated at birth: Is it just me, or does Jurgen Klinsmann's right hand man Joachim Low look like Kyle MacLachlan?

Player who most resembles a boxer punched who's been punched in both eyes: Philipp Lahm.

The Three Musketeers: Frings, Sorin and Crespo should give up this football malarkey and join forces. They certainly look the part.

Face in the crowd: Lots of face-painted Germans and a few Argentinian beauties who would have had Lineker, Shearer, Leonardo etc breathing deeply. Surprisingly, no shots of Maradona, the man Steve Rider labels "a sort of one man Argentinian Barmy Army".

Stat attack: The seven World Cup Finals goals scored against Argentina prior to Rafael Marquez's shot for Mexico in the second round were scored by players who either at the time, before or since played for Premiership sides: Alan Shearer, Michael Owen, Patrick Kluivert, Dennis Bergkamp, David Beckham, Anders Svensson and Didier Drogba.

The kiss of death: Rider's opening gambit turned out to be wide of the mark: "Congratulations - you've survived two days without World Cup football. Here's your reward". Even more likely to ensure the mouthwatering tie was a damp squib was the montage which promised a feast of goals - and spectacular ones at that.

The words I dreaded to hear: "So, David Pleat..." "Afternoon everybody" followed soon afterwards.

The David Pleat Adjective Generator: Tevez - "squat"; Javier Mascherano - "vigorous, quick"; Borowski - "elegant, long-striding"; Odonkor - "forceful, progressive"; Riquelme - "smooth". Pleat also memorably described gangly Bambi-legged German centre-back Per Mertesacker as sometimes looking "like an uncoordinated spider".

The David Pleat Award For Idiosyncratic Pronunciation: Credit to the man himself for finding at least three different ways to say Heinze's name.

What's in a name?: Ally McCoist referred to "Thomas Ballack" before hastily adding "or Michael Ballack if you want". Yes, we DO want, Ally - you haven't earned the right to call players what you want.

Learning the lingo: Pleat spent some time explaining the concept of a "round-the-corner ball" (I'm still pretty much none the wiser) and Peter Drury invented the word "unknockdownable" to describe Tevez (perhaps you could also say he's got "bouncebackability", eh?). Best of all, though, was Pleat's comment in response to the revelation that Argentina were enjoying significantly superior possession: "But it's in much-ado-about-nothing land".

Graphically illustrated: Hurrah! At last one of ITV's arrow graphics proved useful. At the break McCoist and Andy Townsend claimed that both Riquelme and Ballack had been disappointing in the success rate of their passing in forward areas, and lo and behold the graphic actually proved the point rather well. A first time for everything etc etc.

A blast from the past: Drury compared Klinsmann's bounding celebration of his side's equaliser to "the Luton Town manager at Maine Road a few years ago - chap named Pleat". Klinsmann didn't skip onto the pitch like a frolicking and gambolling lamb though.

Boultingwatch: No more interviews with clueless American servicemen and drunken Aussies in fan parks for our Ned, it seems. Instead he was entrusted with pre-match reports on Ballack and Argentina, as well as delivering a live history lesson on the Olympiastadion.

If I had a pound...: ... for every time McCoist began a sentence "The thing I like about him / them is...", every time the word "efficiency" cropped up in connection with the Germans, and every time young Master Rooney used the words "you know" and "erm" in his interview, I'd be a very rich man.

You what?!: Discussing Tevez's "unknockdownability", Pleat claimed he's "like a little metronome". Hmm, you really don't have a clue what a metronome is, do you David? Meanwhile, commenting on the Argentinian teamsheet prior to kick-off, McCoist said "I would have maybe liked chocolate sauce on it" before offering an explanation of sorts: "I'd have liked to have seen Messi in".

Level of interest shown in match at hand: A superb game in prospect, and yet within seven minutes of the coverage starting we were whisked off to a Matt Smith interview with Michael Owen. And then a Gabriel Clarke feature including Ray Winstone: Motivational Speaker and that Rooney interview. At least Rider appreciated the tangent - "Let's not forget that that game's tomorrow. There's a big game today" - and the focus from then on was on Germany and Argentina.

Most bizarre moment of coverage: The footage of the Argentinian squad singing and bouncing around on their coach, held up before the game as an example of the team spirit in the camp. Sam Allardyce was interested to know what the song was, presumably so he can blast it out in the Bolton dressing room next season. 'Let's Get Ready To Rumble' by PJ & Duncan, Sam - magic.

What we learned: Like your average child actor Argentina had incredible potential and promise but squandered it in spectacular fashion (buggering up my predictions in the process); Jose Pekerman can go back to driving taxis with a fund of tales of woe with which to regale his punters; Germany march on like an efficient winning machine as though their name may be written on the trophy after all.

Spain v France, ITV1

Steve Rider promises us "some of the most glittering talent in the game on show tonight, including Terry Venables and Ruud Gullit ready to enjoy the feast that lies ahead." Yes, whatever. A tribute to Zinedine Zidane to start with, ITV clearly backing Spain for the win tonight. "Hannover stages a European summit," suggests tonight's commentator Clive Tyldesley. "Is it too early for Spain, or too late for France?" Today's inevitable weather check suggests it's a cooler evening than of late, but Tyldesley surprisingly has little to say before kick off. "So many household names...even in British households. Our children are almost as familiar with Zidane and Raul as they are with Rooney and Beckham..." The Spanish fans are caught out by a peculiar remix of their national anthem, which takes some doing seeing as it's instrumental. Franz Beckenbauer's first appearance at the stadium is during the French anthem, which
must frustrate Tyldesley as he has to be quiet and thus can't make some comic reference to worn-out helicopters or Air Miles.

Tyldesley suggests to David Pleat as we kick-off that whoever wins tonight will be a match for Brazil. Pleat agrees, audibly stumbling as he tries and fails to slip in a sly "evening everybody", and is torn between the two sides. "My head says Spain, my heart says France - and I'm going with my heart tonight, Clive." Pleat doesn't want to see a mismatch tonight, specifically hoping for no early baths.
"Everything points to a move to England," notes Clive as we get our first sight of Fernando Torres on the ball. "Manchester United reputedly at the front of the queue if they can find the £20 million plus that it will need to prise him away." Subtle hint to Sir Alex, maybe?
A moment of confusion after 5 minutes. The referee originally gives a corner after pressure from Thierry Henry forces Sergio Ramos to boot the ball out. We see a replay of Henry applauding the long goal kick from Barthez which gave him his chance, then Zidane preparing to take the corner. Now the referee begins whistling like mad, causing Zidane to look confused and point to himself whilst the referee runs up to Henry and shakes him by the hand. He then gestures for Zidane to give him the ball, then applauds as Zidane runs up to him in bemusement, leaving the ball on the corner spot. "Well, the decision's been reversed - it's not a corner, and he's
given handball against Henry on his assistant's say so. I don't know who was closer!" A very bizarre turn of events, with a sadly lackadaisical commentary. Still, it's worth a mention.
Tyldesley informs us that Spain have never beaten France in a competitive international, although their record is 11-10 in all competitions. "If you're a student of the game, you'll know that Luis Aragones is the coach of Spain," he explains, carefully avoiding any reference to the Spanish coach's infamous "black shit" comment aimed at Thierry Henry. "24 matches in charge of his country - no defeats..."
Henry suddenly breaks down the right wing and pulls a low cross back: "Ribery's there, and Vieira's there - and neither can get a decisive touch! There was a chance for each of them, it was a devil of a ball across the face of goal by Thierry Henry..."

"Ooh, he's given it!" Clive is caught by surprise as the referee awards Spain a penalty after Thuram barges into the back of Pablo, clipping his heel in the process. See if you can spot the point at which the replay forces Tyldesley to subtly change his opinion in mid-flow: "Seemed to go down in stages to me! Right on the edge of the penalty area, running away from goal, going nowhere...Thuram caught his standing foot, no doubt about it. Good decision!"
David Villa puts the penalty right in the left corner out of Barthez's reach, "and from a pretty soft penalty award, jubilation for Spain! They break the deadlock!" We see a babe in arms in the Spanish crowd being kissed by its mother. "Ah, bless," coos Clive.
Willy Sagnol charges forward with the ball, only to be tackled by Xavi when he takes one touch too many instead of passing to various teammates in better positions. Pleat suggests that that Sagnol was waiting for Henry to make a move, but Henry "made that expression we have seen before from him which suggests 'No I wanted that pass earlier!'" What expression is that, then?
Clive plugs ITV's two quarter-finals, instructing us to "take the next two days off".
As France are caught offside for the 5th time in the half, David thinks France are playing the ball forwards too quickly. Spotters badge for Pleat, I'd say. He goes on to suggest they need someone to "thread a ball through, slide a ball through..." Clive points out that "they do have the best slider and threader the world has seen in the last 10 years or so wearing their captain's armband tonight." In fact, it turns out to be Vieira who slides and/or threads the decisive ball through as Ribery beats the offside trap and Casillas, "and France are on terms! This team of veteran World Cup winners have one bright young spark in their ranks and he has equalised!" "He went round the goalkeeper like an experienced old head!" agrees Pleat.
"Oh, you don't want the half time whistle to come now! The game's been really sparked!" is Clive's oblique reference as the last few minutes of the half are action-packed. "Vieira - there's one for March, mate! Crashes into Cesc Fabregas!"

"He plays with the ball, Zidane - it's a toy to him!" purrs Clive as the second half begins. "I think Zidane's as gifted a footballer as I've witnessed in the time I've been watching the game. He'll be missed, a precious talent."
Clive declares that the half time whistle was a "nuisance" as the game was bubbling along in the final 5 minutes of the half, and that the opening 5 of the second half are just as cautious as the opening minutes of the match.
"No love lost perhaps between the Arsenal and the Barca man," understates Pleat as Henry clatters into Puyol. "'Remember me, Paris?'" smiles Clive.
Raul is substituted (cue the director showing Puyol helping Casillas put on the captain's armband, in the hope that it will be as widely replayed as the similar incident during the Iran-Angola match), and Clive relays the anecdote that this is the first time the Spanish captain has played an international match on his birthday - "because we're usually out by now!"
Clive's got a story: "Florent Malouda missed the opening game because of what was described by the French officials as a 'mystery injury problem', and when he was quizzed about it on his return for the second game, he said 'I've had an operation for haemorrhoids'. Just came straight out with it - where's the embarrassment? 'We've been trying to keep it quiet for you!' 'Nah, it's no problem!'"

"We've not had a yellow card yet! Isn't this great?" observes Clive, midway through the second half. "I think he's got a blunt pencil which is wonderful really after what we've seen recently," agrees David. Precisely 22 seconds later, Vieira goes in too strongly on Fabregas (who else?), and the commentator's curse has struck yet again, this time causing Clive to make promises he can't keep. "Sorry! Tell you what, I'll say nothing else all night, that's it! Turn the sound down! Sorry Patrick, my fault!" Clive suspects you couldn't get a bet tonight on Vieira receiving a caution for a foul on his Highbury successor.
Aragones is shown screaming on the sidelines after Vieira caught Torres in the face whilst trying to hold him off. Vieira is shown holding his finger to his lips, presumably in the direction of the Spanish bench. "I think the conversation is between Vieira and Aragones - I wouldn't want to come between those two!" chuckles Clive, as the referee tells the coach to sit down. "He's allowed to stand there, he's in his technical area!" protests Tyldesley, before suggesting Aragones looks like "an old fight trainer, a corner man!"
Fabien Barthez punches the ball clear ("in his own inimitable fashion") from a Spanish corner. "He looks about 5 feet 5 sometimes, Barthez, with the big men of both teams gathered around him." opines Tyldesley, "he comes out almost like an enthusiastic child and punches clear!" "I think he watched Bruce Grobbelaar when he was young!" suggests Pleat.
"It's not a head injury!" observes Clive as we see a replay of Gallas blocking a shot from Senna via his genitalia. A female medic attempts to strap the stricken Gallas onto the stretcher a little too close to the affected region for comfort. "They always laugh, don't they? Apart from the guy who's actually hurt. Even the physio just had a little smile there at the linesman - 'he got one there in the...you know. He's all right...' It's no joke for Gallas, I can tell you!" With both this tirade and a similar one when Dwight Yorke took one in the breadbasket during England-Trinidad, it would appear that Clive's auditioning for a testicular awareness gig, or something. A lesser man than me might suggest he's renowned for talking bollocks...
Speaking of which, here's classic Tyldesley: "Ten more minutes - tense more minutes!" Puyol blocks Henry off and is booked, although the replay doesn't do Thierry many favours. "Why has Henry held his face? He's been elbowed in the chest, it's a foul, he's got a free kick, and he is trying to con the referee to get a man sent off. It's got to stop!" "It's the rules of the modern game Clive, we saw it the other evening where a game was traumatically spoiled..." "Thierry Henry is a great player, that was not a great moment of his career..."
Zidane takes the resulting free kick, which Xabi Alonso can only partially get his head to. The ball loops up into the area, and "it's been forced in! It's Patrick Vieira! Scored on his birthday in the last game, he will celebrate that one even more if it turns out to be the difference! Maybe the last laugh on Cesc Fabregas for Patrick Vieira!"
Spain throw the kitchen sink at France in the closing minutes looking for an equaliser, but are inevitably caught on the break. "And Zinedine Zidane is onside, with a chance to put it away here for France. It's Zidane.........yes! The great man has put the seal on it, his career will go on, and he will face Brazil - yes Brazil - the team he scored twice against in the World Cup final in Paris on Saturday night, and it doesn't get much better than that, even in the career of Zinedine Zidane!" Pleat is happy that his prediction at kick-off has been accurate: "sometimes your heart does rule your head!" "France go into the quarter-finals! They tried to bury them last week but they've rolled away the stone and the champions of 1998 will go on to try to win the World Cup again!"

Ruud is disgusted with Henry's reaction that won the free kick, seemingly ignoring that Puyol's elbow was definitely worthy of conceding a foul regardless. Venables suggests Henry will suffer himself tonight, which seems ominous. Steve suggests that Brazil v France will be all the better now both sides are beginning to improve. Terry would just like to say (tenuously) that if France can improve after a poor start, then perhaps England can do the same. Steve closes as he began: "The World Cup remains a cruel competition for Spain, but France go on, and that means Zidane goes on as well, and that's no bad thing."

What we've learned: Rumours of Zidane's demise are very much exaggerated, although Spain didn't exactly mark him tightly; Henry's copybook has been blotted after the most high-profile playacting since Rivaldo in the last World Cup; and I'm off to Germany in 30 minutes time. See you next week, folks...

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A loose end

For the first time since 9th June, a day without any World Cup football whatsoever. And doesn't it feel strange? What are we going to do with ourselves?

Come back Switzerland v Ukraine, all is forgiven!

Roll on Friday...

Brazil v Ghana, ITV1

Goal of the match: It has to be Ronaldo's record-breaking 15th goal in World Cup Finals. Barely five minutes had elapsed when, with the Ghanaian back four high up the pitch totally out of sync with each other, Kaka slipped the ball easily through to the big-boned frontman, who went past 'keeper Richard Kingson with some neat footwork and rolled the ball into the empty net to edge ahead of Gerd Muller's tally of 14.

Shot of the match: Haminu Draman's shooting was generally rash and wasteful, in keeping with that of his team-mates, but he did force Dida to tip over one ferocious shot in the first half.

Miss of the match: Ghana squandered countless opportunities, but the most culpable was probably centre-back John Mensah, who should have scored with a header from point-blank range when left unmarked from a corner. Credit though to Dida, who instinctively flung out a leg to deflect the ball away.

Save of the match: After Asamoah Gyan's second yellow card, the Black Stars ran out of steam, and it was only Kingson who kept the score down, pulling off excellent stops from Ronaldo, Cafu, Juan and even his own team-mate John Paintsil, whose misdirected header nearly crept over the line.

Man of the match: It pains me to agree with Robbie Earle, but Ze Roberto was excellent and thoroughly deserved his goal. In the first period, though, Ghana's Sulley Muntari was superb, a real torment to the Brazilians, and captain Stephen Appiah was energetic and inspirational throughout.

He was playing?!!: Emerson. Well off the pace even before picking up his injury and being replaced, he was instrumental in allowing Ghana to seize the first half initiative.

Manager most likely to be mistaken for George W Bush: Carlos Alberto Parreira.

The Robert De Niro "You Talkin' To Me?" Award For Tough Talking: Radomir Dujkovic in his pre-match press conference: "They [Ghana] are not afraid of nobody".

Blast from the past: Former Leeds striker Tony Yeboah, interviewed before the match, was the Ghanaian team's "Mr Motivator". Visions of him in lycra and pop socks getting Appiah and co to do star jumps came to mind.

Face in the crowd: It's a shame we're not going to get to see the Ghana fan who carries a massive pot on his head anymore.

Most bizarre moment of the match: Gyan's head-first tumble onto the six yard line in the first period left him with white face paint on one side only.

Stat attack: Plenty to dwell on. Before the game, Ghana had had more counter-attacks than any other side in the tournament (27) - but this begs the question of how exactly you determine what constitutes a counter-attack? More concrete was the fact that Ghana used a grand total of five coaches and 80 players in reaching the Finals, and that the match marked Brazilian captain Cafu's 19th World Cup appearance, a new national record.

Minutes elapsed before mention was made of Ronaldinho playing "with a smile on his face": 38 minutes into the coverage (Ally McCoist). During the commentary it was Cafu who Peter Drury singled out for smiling, while Ronaldinho by contrast was very definitely not smiling when his captain opted not to pass to him late on in the game.

Minutes elapsed before Drury suggested it was a David v Goliath encounter: Less than three ("It is the mightiest and the humblest").

Patronised to within an inch of their plucky little lives: The last of the African teams left in the competition? Go to work, men! Most glaring was Jim Beglin's "Well done Ghana. This is a good little response now". By the 44th minute he'd had to concede that Ghana were the better team. Meanwhile, following his David-and-Goliathisms, Drury was forced to admit with evident surprise: "They are turning this into a proper match".

Guess who?: I turned on fifteen minutes into the coverage to hear the pundits discussing someone who has thus far looked unfit, overweight, lethargic and disspirited. Hmm.

It's just like watching Brazil: Drury: "It rather sums up Brazil that the man offside was their centre-half". Said centre-half Juan later put in a brief shift on the left wing...

The Jon Champion Award For Overstatement: Drury claimed that "the word itself [Brazil] is everything you desire in a football match". Beglin later balanced it out by pondering aloud: "I'm just thinking that maybe we expect too much of them".

A pat on the back: Beglin was quick to point out that the Ghanaians were defending dangerously high up the pitch, and took every goal as the opportunity to pat himself on the back: "The way they're set up defensively doesn't make sense - that's what's undone them".

Fight! Fight! Fight!: It all got a bit heated at the break, with Andy Townsend seemingly ready to take on a tag team of Earle and McCoist in the car park over who was at fault for Brazil's opening goal. A far cry from the laddish bonhomie of the BBC studio.

Most bizarre moment of the coverage: The footage of Appiah greeting the Brazilian players in the tunnel prior to warming up - for some reason, Adriano responded with a firm squeeze of the Ghanaian skipper's left arsecheek. After his comments the previous evening, it would have been interesting to know what Shearer made of it - and Clive "Men Holding Hands Disturbs Me" Tyldesley too...

Level of interest shown in game at hand: High, by ITV's usual standards. But then it was Brazil. Even then, there was a lengthy portion of the pre-match hour given over to England, with a Joe Cole interview and (mercifully) the last in their series about 1966, culminating in footage from the final worth seeing again primarily for Bobby Charlton's spectacular comb-over. Gabby also tried a Lineker-esque comedy line in response to Townsend: "You say the players may be bothered about missing their families. All they have to do is open the red tops...".

What we learned: Brazil are probably more clinical and ruthless than they are pretty to watch, and they'll be tough to beat; mobile or not, Porky Ronaldo is a threat; with better finishing, more luck, eleven men on the pitch and Michael Essien in the side, Ghana could quite easily have won, despite all their defensive shortcomings; England's third goal against West Germany in the 1966 World Cup Final was a bit controversial.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Portugal v Holland, ITV

Don't know if it's showing or not, but circumstances mean I'm running behind on these. Well, it's not as if it's my own blog or anything. So, let's cut corners and do this remarkable game in unsatisfactory bullet point form:

- England to begin with, obviously. Owen Hargreaves interviewed next to the press room window. Gabby promises "a little bit more on England later, but England are through", and indeed straight after a short package of "two of Europe's most beautiful teams" we do more on England, namely a close-up - close-up! With warning, but still - of Beckham vomiting, then a question to Terry on how England should play in the quarter finals.

- "It wouldn't be the same if the Dutch didn't have problems!" laughs Ruud. 1994, anyone? He's just given enough time to say he thinks it'll be a win for "Holland, but it's going to be a tight gam..." before being cut off mid-flow by Gabby so she can hand to Clive and David.

- "Who is going to spend the next six nights losing sleep about England? No, I know. Who's going to spend the next six days worrying about England, then." David is so surprised by the question "who would you prefer to play?" - essentially "who's the worst team in this game?" - that he forgets to greet the viewers. "I don't honestly think it matters a great deal" Clive sportingly sums up.

- 4-3-3 has apparently been "written in Dutch stone for years".

- "The referee is being a bit card happy for me in these early stages" David presciently claims.

- "Who's he trying to kid?...and there's a yellow card being shown, I think, to Maniche!" Yes, Clive, it's in a great big closeup.

- "Pauleta, trying to set up Maniiiiiche...yes!" "Hopefully it's got the makings of a classic now" he sums up.

- Clive's brought his notes with him, and "I've got a lot of guff here that I won't bore you with" on the new ball. His main concern is Ronaldo's injury, concernedly remarking "I don't remember seeing that strapping going on" as he goes down again and asking "how quickly will that heal?"

- "He's the poor man's Makelele. I mean no disrespect for that, Makelele was magnificent." Was?

- Tyldesley finishes the first half wondering about sin bins, while Gabby sums up the culture of both sides as "two sets of fans who know about partying".

- Terry reckons the first Costinha booking is "like coming out of Swan Lake or something here". Gabby's amended her line of questioning now: "Which of those teams could England beat more easily?"

- "11 against 10 is rarely a spectacle"? It's nearly not that at all - "ooh, Luis Figo has thrown his head there at Mark Van Bommel" Clive states "I would be very surprised to see Luis Figo" in the next game if there is one, as it's "not in itself a hugely damaging action but not an action we want to see on the field" But... "It's a yellow card for Figo and if the referee's seen it..." even though the footage just shown disproves that.

- "Oh, wait a minute..." and ten against ten as we cut to lots of holding on the touchline, Pleat inevitably seeing "the ugly side of the beautiful game".

- "It's not Craig Bellamy's brother, it's Johnny Heitinga".

- "Usually a bit noisier and more optimistic than that, the Dutch fans" - how can you gauge optimism from sound?

- Carvalho "has loose moments in him", apparently, and there's a very loose one now as he's grounded. "It wasn't a head injury, by the looks of it. No, it definitely wasn't a head injury. He'll live."

- "I'm not one to see players sent off unnecessarily..." "It's not Sneijer, is it? Is it?" "Hope you're keeping score here" David hopes. I'm sure Pleat refers to the ref's position as 'invidious' at this stage, but he's certainly "made a rod for his own back".

- "It's so vital now that Portugal keep calm" Clive hopes, seconds before Ricardo is booked and less than a minute before Nuno Valente goes likewise.

- "Cocu has now thrown Deco to the ground, and Cocu will be red carded... it's Deco!" Clive's entered a new phase of astonishment now, especially as Cocu was clearly not in shot. "It's my job to inform you, and I'm making more questions...I'm not sure what is occurring here". Pleat dubs it "outrageous" after Tyldesley has identified the second yellow as being for timewasting.

- Pleat audibly giggles while claiming of Kuyt "thing was, it was a terrible miss".

- Another Clive obsession, and a telling one - "a huge snub for Van Nistelrooy, as Holland are going to bring on a centre forward who's not him." Meanwhile Tiago's substitution is annulled, at which everyone seems to lose grip while Pleat elects to tell us where the fifth official is from. Said centre forward is the dream comedy name of the tournament, as Pleat spots: "Hope Vennegoor of Hesselink doesn't get booked, that's take a couple of minutes out of the game."

- "Van Bronckhorst is off! It's going to be a fourth dismissal!", relayed by Clive as if he's been personally let down. He goes on to listlessly list the records now broken before resignedly stating "who cares? it's been ridiculous". A superb cutaway has him almost in awe: "look at that! The two Barcelona team-mates, both sent off, both blaming the referee." How does he know? He does know "the game's been allowed to get out of hand". David reckons of the ref "I think he wants this over now" as Clive reports on a keeper push that we never see.

- 1-0 is the final score, and "it's Phil Scolari again!" This appears to have already been elected the main selling point of Saturday's game.

- "Drama like I don't think any of us have ever seen" is Gabby's verdict. Tel is more circumspect, labelling it "a catastrophe". You can tell Ruud is trying to be reasonable but failing, resorting to pausing the discussion for "but...but...who's having the laugh here?" before putting his head next to that of the actually laughing Tel.

- I've never seen Gabby like this before. She's actually raging about the Figo headbutt, the yellow card award meaning "for England it's bad". Ruud interjects "so you want Figo off, Deco off..." Compassionate him then goes on to piss himself at Ronaldo crying.

- "Beware, Big Phil, hell hath no fury like a country scorned" is the illogical sign off before a montage to, obviously, Loco In Acapulco.

Argentina v Mexico, BBC1

For reasons not immediately apparent, the opening montage is about Maradona. Like Thatcher, it seems his very presence dwarfs those younger and more relevant even this far along the line. Less eventually evident is why it's cut to Barry Manilow's Could It Be Magic, as summarily noted by Gary. Alongside comparative "clodhopping Celts" O'Neill and Hansen is Leonardo, Gary seemingly believing "it's always dangerous talking to Brazilians" about Argentina, so he goes straight in at the deep end and asks about Maradona, who Leonardo adjudges "sometimes a child, but always a genius". Gary's looking forward to the night's action as "after Germany, you can expect something very, very important" - at least it sounds like 'important', even if it doesn't make sense. Everyone expects Argentina to prevail, although O'Neill strikes a less positive note, suggesting "I'm not so sure they're as strong as everyone thinks". Asked to explain his view, he admits "I thought I'd be the second person asked, I thought I'd get away with it, and now I've got to qualify it" before suggesting they might not all be clicking simutaneously and/or fully fit. I'm not entirely sure he was entirely sure, especially as the best epithet anyone can subsequently come up for for Mexico is "organised".

"The last game in this city will decide who gets to play Germany" Steve Wilson notes, as well as that "the next match here will be in the German fourth division", as "Leipzig goes Latin". He promises "90 special minutes and hopefully more to come", suggesting he's hoping for personal overtime. The anthems find Juan Pablo Sorin exhibiting his "barrel chest, chin pointing up" while a camera finds our old friend La Volpe still down the tunnel, Wilson explaining that he's Argentinian. Didn't stop Sven. Wilson seems shocked the referee speaks Spanish and tries to catch individual words with, shall we suggest, limited success. Before we really know where we are Mexico have flown out of the blocks, and at a free kick floated into the box "the flick-on's an excellent one, and it's in the back of the net!", greeted at a level similar to that if Togo had just scored against Brazil. "Just when you think you know what's going to happen in this World Cup..." Wilson almost wistfully states, and with "Mexico going right for the jugular here" we could be on for something big. Argentina always pose a threat, though, Wilson noting as a free kick in the channel is lined up that "this might be about Riquelme versus Oswaldo Sanchez". Well, what else would a set-piece into the box be other than striker against defender? Indeed, not long afterwards that same defence seems to have a serious problem: "it's a good corner, it might be an own goal! It might be an own goal by Borghetti who was marking Crespo", as indeed the replay proves, although not conclusively enough for anyone in charge of these things. "They must have been worried about those first seven or eight minutes" Wilson summarises, not unreasonably given they went behind during that period, but for the Argentinian goal he continues to chide Borghetti, claiming "he knows what he did" and for the celebrating Crespo "try as he might, he's not going to get his name on that". Oh yeah? Lawrenson's co-commentating tonight, perceiving Mexico's key as "outnumbering" Argentina in the middle of midfield.

"A foul throw - you don't see them too often at any level, let alone a World Cup". Hang on, Steve, what about England-Paraguay, which at points seemed entirely to be made up of foul throw awards? Mark is still transfixed by La Volpe, at one point managing the meaningless phrase "when he leaves you out of the team you don't really argue with him, do you?" Our resident cynicism does tend to believe at times that the most aesthetically pleasing result for the broadcasters would be Argentina being all imperious again, Wilson decrying every Crespo attempt. Respite comes when Saviola goes down and Lawrenson reckons "he's not been able to sort of retract his knee... he's hurt his rump as well". Yeah, thanks. If anything's keeping the Mexicans afloat it's their massive and noisy following almost as much as their dogged determination, Wilson making sure both are given full recognition as much as how "the level of technical ability and technical nous is very, very high from both sides", which is a big concept to casually drop into the middle of a commentary. Wilson then goes off on one about how "I think FIFA rankings are a complete waste of time", yet still uses Mexico's fourth place ranking as all but proof "they're a very good side". I, erm, forgot to note who got yellow carded for an exaggerated fall, but Lawrenson's response to it was priceless: "Was it a foul? Naah! Behave yourself!", Steve adding "Absolutely not. Absolutely not. But it was, cos he gave it". Mark's impressed by the way "Borghetti's won nearly every ball in the air that's been played up to him", which surely is a basic skill of how he plays. It's not until 43 minutes that we get the Maradona cutaway, sitting very awkwardly in a position that leads Lawrenson to wonder "has he got a small chair there or something? Looks like one of those kiddies' stools." Wilson, remembering his corporation man status, likens him instead to "the Dennis Waterman character out of Little Britain". He's more impressed by Argentina's play, remarking that "like any good team, they've not been playing well but they've got themselves back on level terms". They pick their moment to really not play well. "Ooh, mistake!" Fonseca bursts through, Heinze fouls him - "it's a basic mistake" - but the referee adjudges Roberto Ayala as covering, no matter how much Lawrenson reckons "Ayala was not getting that, no chance. He is one lucky boy". "Might have been three yellows, that one" he unnecessarily adds. Wilson reckons "Ayala's not going to make up fifteen yards over the course of another fifteen yards", which almost makes sense.

"The script was written, it's just someone forgot to tell the Mexicans about it" is how O'Neill judges the half before completely failing to pronounce La Volpe. The commentators namecheck him enough, surely. "The only negative thing I could find before this game about Argentina was Sorin's hair" is Gary's Garyesque spin, while Alan mentions Oliver Kahn for some reason. There's much debate about who is trying to influence the referee's decisions, O'Neill claiming "I don't mind the manager pointing out the little yellow cards or red cards" in a manner which suggests he hasn't really thought that one through either. "It's made a Brazilian smile!" is Gary's inevitable homely judgement. Meanwhile, Garth is in a Porsche.

"Can't see this as being anything other than very, very tight all the way to the end" is how Lawrenson sees the second half developing, so obviously Saviola nearly scores within seconds. Actually it is pretty tight, nowithstanding the mild panic when the referee seems to book the wrong man - "it could get very confusing if he gets another" - Wilson helpfully adds - and the Mexican section going completely mad every time there even looks like a chance looming. Wilson seems desperate for a goal, giving a big build-up to a Mexico free kick 35 yards out that hits the two man wall. "Heart in mouth time for Mexico" comes as Argentina keep pressing, until 92 minutes in "...and Aimar, and Messi, and the flag's up, it's not going to count." Lawrenson complains "the flag was up very, very quickly, but he was onside", really stressing that last word. "On big decisions can World Cup destinies be changed" Wilson wrings out of it. "It is the first time we will have extra time" Wilson declares, there being "thirty more (minutes) to enjoy - I'm delighted". Lawrenson forsees "more attacking players for both teams", which seems an interesting interpretation of traditional extra time tactics.

"There are good games, and there are great games" adjudicates Hansen, calling the failure to send off Heinze "unfortunate" but "they even themselves up" with the disallowed goal. We're sure that's exactly how they'll see it too. Leonardo's not that confident of a similar extra half hour as "they need gas", which raises the odd studio knowing chuckle. It's left to O'Neill to put into words what many might be thinking, "I hope it doesn't go to penalties", Gary attempting levity by reminding us all "it'll be a taste of what's to come". So we're off for the tournament's first set of "tired legs, shrivelled nerves, it's all or nothing, tension, tension, tension" as Wilson puts it on being handed back to. It's his own nerves we're having to watch out for, as Messi goes through and Wilson suddenly notices, with no little excitement, "there was a leg stuck out there! Messi to his credit stayed on his feet...", with a little sadness in his voice at this point. We don't get to see this again, perhaps wisely, leading Mark to wonder "has the man who puts the replays in gone home?" Even when Wilson goes quiet for a few moments nobody out there is letting up, as... "That's a great goal! That's a fantastic goal! What a hit! What a hit! We've seen some great goals, and that is one of them!" Er, yes. The effect of his excitement is all the more heightened as despite the ball being played up to the edge of the box Wilson seemingly didn't see any movement worth immediately commenting on until the ball had met the net for what he calls "a goal fit for a king". That's knocked the wind out of Mexico, especially the player down with "cramp in his gastro" at half time, and not even La Volpe can do much, as Wilson laments - "all he can do is stand at the side of the technical area and shout - he might as well be whistling into the wind". Argentina know they're on top and are "starting to knock it about with a bit of a swagger now". When Wilson notices "three balls on the pitch at the moment" Mark almost sees it as tactical: "yeah, that's what Argentina want". He sees something more in them as they wrap up the 2-1, commenting "Argentina, like matadors, they'll show them it, take it away". A quick Google reveals bullfighting is illegal in Argentina.

Sorry about this one, which I thought I'd posted two nights ago but didn't come up, and then found I'd lost most of my notes for the last twenty minutes, so what caused Leonardo to say afterwards "the left foot goes...phh!" will have to remain a mystery.

Switzerland v Ukraine, BBC1

From the outset, it is clear that the BBC producers and pundits have as little interest in this game as their public. As Gary Lineker puts it, “The two least fancied teams in this round, compete to be the least fancied teams in the quarter-final.” There’s some Roger Federer stuff and some shots of Schevchenko (natch) while Lawro (given a night off from laughing off-mic in the stadiums), Leonardo (strapped to his seat in front of a telly showing a game with no South American involvement) and Alan Shearer try to find things to talk about. Gary tries a few early gags “Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Switzerland won the group that contained France. The average age of their side is just under 23, the average age of the French? About 56.” Lawro laughs off camera. You can take the man from the commentary box…

Lineker, buoyed by his pinch-hitting laugh-a-minute performance for the Germany game is on a roll. “Bit strange Senderos has been sent home for a dislocated shoulder,” he says to Alan. “In our day we’d have popped it back in and got on with it. Well you would.” To cover their lack of options, the Italy v Australia highlights are fairly extensive.

Soon they are relieved, and we enter the ground, where we see Swiss fans pogo-ing together like they’re amassed for the Strokes at a festival. During the anthems, they show a close up of two Swiss players holding hands. Good job we’re not on ITV, Tyldsley would have been in full “eh, eh, backs against the wall, lads” mode. Especially when he realised they were all doing it. That reaction may not be an exclusive ITV trait though, as you’ll discover later.

Eventually we hear from Mick McCarthy who sounds as though he’s trying to mask his voice through a hankie. Guy uses the lack of much happening to fit in a sly plug for the Autumn, “Shevchenko…who’ll you see a lot of on your Match of the Day screens next season”.

A few things occur in the first half. Raphel Wicky has a decent run and long range shot bringing a save from Olexandr Shovkovsky. Mick McCarthy makes sure to reiterate his point from a previous broadcast that Koebi Kuhn is “a lovely guy”,although I’m sure Mick would say that about anybody, once he’d checked that they weren’t Roy Keane. A Mexican wave starts after 20 minutes, “bit worrying” says a now mopey Mick. Then we have a burst of activity. Shevchenko gets his head down amongst Johan Djourou’s boots to nod into the ground, the ball dollying up up on the crossbar and away. Two minutes later Switzerland gets amongst the woodwork crashing action, Alexander Frei bending a free-kick against the outside of the upright. “Both sides have hit the woodwork,” says Guy. “One all” says Mick, demonstrating how that might be represented in numerical form. That’s pretty much yer first period.

“No wonder Hansen’s gone home for 2 days” says Shearer, revealing the secrets of the rota. “You have to think we’re going to get a better second half…as one of these teams is going to have to win it” Lawro reveals. “We’ve been hunting for a few other chances [to show you], we think we’ve found three,” says Gary, tempted to jump up and ask “anyone fancy a pint.”

To keep themselves entertained, they get a little cheeky. “After last nights bad tempered affair, they’re trying a little tenderness” he says as they show the captains share a cheek–kiss before kick-off, as well as a couple in the crowd getting down to some serious tonsil action. “Lets hope his wife’s not watching,” sniggers Gary. With more time to fill, they shoe-horn in a romantically soundtracked VT showing the Portuguese defender and keeper bundling on the line during their game in Mexico, finishing with a hug and a kiss to the forehead for the prostrate gloveman. “I retired at the right time” says Shearer, nose deep in a copy of Nuts.

To even up on the homoerotica, they show two yellow and blue bikini-topped ladies going in for a lip-lock. “I believe they’re Swedish” dribbles Lineker, rubbing the thighs of his trouser legs so aggressively he catches fire. “Better pairing than Larsson and Ibrahimovic” is Shearer’s pitch. “Good pair up front” continues host Letch Luthor, the Brandenburg gate behind him in immediate danger of being lost behind sweaty condensation. However a by now rather excited Leonardo trumps them all with “All they need now is a Brazilian.” Scarcely able to believe they’ve allowed this locker-room hidden camera footage make the air, they link us back to the stadium, probably to allow them to quickly nip back to the hotel for a circle jerk, as much as anything else.

The second half goes on and on and on much like the first with the occasional flash. In the 67th minute, Shevchenko suddenly rips one just wide in the blink of an eye, and 8 minutes later, Andriy Gusin’s header, from a delicious, penetrating corner, flies as close to the post as is possible without hitting it. “Oooh” is the intake from the crowd as they are shown the replay, keen to give the pretence they are enjoying themselves.

As they wind down to end of normal time, Guy advertises the extra half hour’s football, “Its at this point we usually say strap yourself in, but today its more about stopping yourself from getting up.” The heavy eyelids are also present in a studio now conspicuously free of biscuits. “There’s been some great games at this World Cup, and this is not one of them…it’s been like watching creosote dry” says Gary Lineker, sounding like his Great Aunt’s just pulled out her 8th slide carousel documenting her trip to Chipping Campden. “Been no offsides in 90 minutes, which tells its own story” adds flag enthusiast Shearer. Gary points out that Guy Mowbray has commentated on four of the five nil-nils, which comes fairly close to tipping our commentator over that teary edge.

Usually I type notes and put them together after the game. Extra time allows me to get ahead of myself, you’re missing nothing in my highlighting two quotes from Mick McCarthy from near the end of each half. After the first 15, he says “I’ve gone numb” with a genuine fright in his voice that suggests a sudden awareness of his aging. A further quarter hour later, he says “I hope no one scores now, no-one deserves to win” adding “we’ll need a stiff drink after this.” In the studio, Alan Shearer is getting grizzly “Thank god it’s finished, I feel like I’ve aged ten years.” “For a game played in Cologne, it stunk” says Lawro, throwing in a Swiss neutrality comment for good measure.

So, some excitement of sorts, although Shearer suggests these two teams may not even be able to conjour any thrills from the traditionally stimulating penalty shoot-out. Here is said shoot out in quotes, from Guy Mowbray unless stated.

PENALTY 1
U: Andriy Shevchenko. 0-0. “Still Zuberbuhler will not let one in”
S: Marco Streller. 0-0. “A poor penalty, is anyone going to score in Cologne?” (GM) “We’ll have to toss a coin for this match” (McCarthy)

PENALTY 2
U: Artem Milevskiy loops one softly in over committed keeper. 1-0. “how cool is that.”
S: Tranquillo Barnetta. 1-0. “And Barnetta hits the bar”.

PENALTY 3
U: Sergei Rebrov. 2-0. “Where’s your money Spurs and West Hams fans...Rebrov...scores...well struck.”
S: Ricardo Cabanas. 2-0. “Switzerland surely have to score at some point...Cabanas to get Switzerland back in the game...he hasn’t”

PENALTY 4
U: Oleg Gusev: 3-0. “Gusev deservedly scores...it is the men from Eastern Europe who go to the last 8”.

“I thought it was going to be nil-nil” on penalties sighs Mick, no doubt jumping out of seat merely to stretch his legs. “Switzerland go out of the competition without conceding a goal” is the comment back in the studio, “Not surprised when they put 11 behind the ball” says Alan ‘Total Football’ Shearer. Signing quickly off so the News can finally get going, Lineker looks genuinely pissed off that (a) he’s had to sit through it and; (b) that he hasn’t had much time to drum up a closing pun. “For the Ukraine there’s another game, for Switzerland there’s...the plane” he says with stumbling, weary embarrassment.

Referee (Benito Archundia, Mexico): Dunno, the fixed cheshire cat grin of the 4th official (Jerome Damon, South Africa) as they were stood in the tunnel, when they were walking out, while they were respecting the anthems and during the coin-toss pretty much dazzled me for the rest of the game, with regards the officials.

Pee Wee’s Playhouse secret word: zzzzzzzzzzzz

These things I believe: 7 clean sheets out of 8 before this for Ukraine, and not a single goal conceded by Switzerland in the tournament prior to, if ever a game lived up to its billing -- The BBC team clearly need Craig Charles’ driver to sort them out from at the nearest petrol station’s top shelf -- 58 minutes before a yellow card? Mr Archundia has clearly missed a meeting. -- This match would have synched up perfectly with loop playings of Leon Redbone’s music for the 1980’s ‘Relax’ Inter City ad.

Graham Poll joke d’jour: “I never could count. I believe there’s somebody else like that at this World Cup” – Guy Mowbray.

Revealing stat of the day: 125 minutes (approx.) of football: 1 offside given.

What a difference a day makes: Portugal v Holland: 25 fouls, 16 yellows, 4 red. Ukraine v Switzerland: 44 fouls, 1 yellow, 0 red.

England v Ecuador, BBC1

How long has Wayne Rooney been in the BBC's opening credits sequence instead of Steven Gerrard, then? "It's a strange old business, following England at World Cups - you look forward to the games for ages, and when they finally come around, you dread them!" is Gary's introduction, heading straight into a montage of the high and lowlights of England's tournament so far. Noting that - unlike Sven - the BBC have kept their "usual formation" of Hansen, Shearer and Wright (behind whom a red scarf is occasionally thrown up into the air). Having smirked at Owen Hargreaves being switched to right-back after a decent performance in defensive midfield against Sweden, Gary makes his first funny by pointing out that England are down to 3 attacking options: "the tall striker, the not-fully-fit striker and the baby striker", causing an extremely forced laugh from Ian.
Lineker's not the only comedy act though, as we review footage of Rooney's reaction to being substituted last week. "Keep your eye on Gary Neville here..." advises Wor Alan, before putting words in Neville's mouth (with hilarious consequences). "'Shall I speak to him?'...'Yes I will'....'Might just have another word with him'.....'Will I?'....'Yep'..." If that wasn't enough, Shearer switches seamlessly into sharp observational humour, as we continue to see the Rooney & Neville show. "Watch Gary Neville smile here - he has a laugh at him....boots come off.... ["he's gonna smile" interjects Wrighty] Gary Neville turns away..." "He gives up in the end!" cuts in Lineker, about 20 seconds after Alan should have given up. "That is so funny!" lies Hansen, adroitly. Where do they get their energy from? Oh hang on, that's on the other side, isn't it?

"Shall we have a sweepstake about when he switches to 4-4-2?" proposes Lineker at the end of discussions of formations and tactics, before linking to Garth Crooks' big interview with the in-form Joe Cole (who Hansen proposes for Man of the Tournament). Next it's Adrian Chiles' five fascinating facts about Ecuador ("number 4: Quito is 9300 feet, or 1439 Peter Crouches above sea level") culminating with the apparently ominous sign that they beat Britain in the Davis Cup six years ago. "But this is football, not tennis," explains Lineker helpfully for the benefit of any late arrivals. Ecuador's coach is quoted as saying his team are here to win, not to take photos - "two pieces of bad news for Beckham I suppose!" Hansen identifies Ulises de la Cruz as the weak link, and Gary informs us that Aston Villa fans prefer to call him "Use-less", which once again has the three stooges chuckling away. It really must be the heat affecting them out there.

Speaking of being affected by the elements, Ray Stubbs is outside with a wilting Alan Ball who recalls the heat and disappointment of Mexico 1970 and all but pleads to camera that the players mustn't let the nation down. Lineker suggests Ball should be doing the team talk in the dressing room with such stirring platitudes. Hansen goes a step further and suggests he should be in the team! From the former right-winger to the current incumbent, Hansen goes on to analyse David Beckham's weakness at defending the near post during opposition corners, which is all very interesting but doesn't offer much of a hilarious report, so let's fast forward to the final words from our pundits. Lineker reminds everyone how bullish people were about England's chances prior to the Paraguay game. Hansen believes "it wouldn't be half as much fun if it was plain sailing", and all agree England need a performance, "and of course a win".

Over to "a man who's been here so many times before, John Motson." "Well, not in heat like this Gary, I haven't! I don't know what it's like in the studio - 36 degrees in the commentary box here today! It's hotter today than it ever was in Japan 4 years ago, would you believe it?" John tries to accentuate the positive by pointing out that 2 of England's biggest ever victories in World Cup Finals have been in the first knockout game, before reminding us that England's last match in Stuttgart was the defeat to Ireland in the 1988 European Championships. Somebody makes the mistake of turning up the microphone in the tunnel as we see the players preparing to enter the pitch, just as John Terry gees up the team by screaming "Come on boys, it's all about fucking that..." Sadly, we hurriedly cut away before we can see the mascots' reactions - and even more sadly, we don't cut away in time to prevent yet another annoying child jumping up in front of the camera as it pans along the Ecuador team during their anthem. Speaking of which, it is amusing to see the cameraman put a bit of pace on panning along as he suddenly thinks the anthem is drawing to a close, only to realise in fact that was the elongated intro. "I've got the badge, by the way - I saw Delgado play for Southampton!" announces Motty as we see the Ecuador squad in their pre-match huddle. "You were one of three people, apparently!" replies Mark. Motson reminds us of an occasion where Delgado scored the winner against an Arsenal side containing Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell, apropos of very little. We see the two coaches just before kick-off, Eriksson clapping outstretched palms, Luis Suarez moving one fist on top of the other in a 'one potato, two potato' style. Outstretched palm beats closed fist in Paper, Scissors, Stone so advantage England there.

"Call me old fashioned, but I prefer them in the white shirts," declares John as the game gets underway. "I don't know if this is an omen John, but the sun's just gone in as we kicked off!" observes Lawrenson. "Well, it's a blessing for everybody!" states a sweltering Motson. Motson reminds us of Beckham's potential for being the first England goalscorer in three World Cups, before having to issue an apology for the earlier indiscretions of John Terry and the sound mixer: "I gather there was some fairly strong language in the tunnel, the England players obviously well wound up!" That's not a traditional BBC apology! I shall write to Points Of View immediately!
"Incidentally, I'm sure you probably know that yellow cards carried over have either been wiped out, or...players starting with a clean sheet as far as England are concerned in this knockout stage." Either/ors tend to feature two separate points John, not the same point twice. The ball is lumped up to Carlos Tenorio, who is still slowly walking back towards the last defender and is offside in whatever definition of the rules you want to mention as he suddenly perks up and tries to trap it. Motson clearly isn't able to grasp this though, claiming he was flagged "as he came back", whatever difference that makes. "Does that mean he's offside twice?" asks Mark, trying to cover. "Well, I dunno - that's the ambiguity of the law, isn't it?" repeats a determined-to-bumble Motty.
John reminds us that we're in the knockout stages, and therefore could be subject to extra time and even penalties. He then notes that several of the Ecuador squad have arrived at the World Cup in the midst of a domestic season and in fact halfway through a Copa Libertadores tie, the second leg of which will be played one week after the World Cup final. "Let's hope they've got a few weeks to prepare for it then!" quips Mark.
A poor attempt at a headed clearance from John Terry allows Carlos Tenorio a strike on goal. Luckily for him, Ashley Cole sprints like a madman to get back and just get the slightest deflection to divert Tenorio's goalbound shot onto the crossbar with Robinson stranded. Motson doesn't concede that Cole definitely got a touch until the third replay, as per the norm. A minute later and Ecuador get a free kick which goes past all the England defence and skips into Robinson's grasp with Tenorio breathing down his neck. "Phew! You were saying?" asks Mark. "I was really!" explains Motson. "We start - England start great and six minutes later we're hanging on! Typical, innit?" "It's England, it's called a rollercoaster!"
A lingering close-up of a standing Steve McLaren and a seated Eriksson. "You do sometimes wonder what they're thinking down there, don't you?" ponders Motty. Rooney tumbles to the floor in the area, but no penalty claim is asked nor offered. You wonder whether a foreign player might have been accused of diving. Meanwhile, Owen Hargreaves is a "better player than many people give him credit for" in Motson's eye, and Lawrenson offers the backhanded compliment that "you do always get an honest performance and he has pace".John Terry is booked for fouling Tenorio, who wanders off the pitch for treatment with an ice pack on his shoulder. The free kick that follows is deflected behind by Rio Ferdinand, only to be declared a goal kick by the official - "well done ref!" states a grateful Lawrenson.
"Yellow boots, yellow card - Valencia." If only it were 'Yellencia', eh John?
Lawrenson is encouraged by England's performance as the game reaches the 30th minute. The barely discernible tones of Alan Green in the other room seem to paint a different picture, but that's not important right now as we get another look at the Ecuador coach looking despairingly at the sky following one of their earlier opportunities. Motson's suggestion that he's more expressive than the England coach brings out Lawrenson's best Eriksson impression, as he says "well..." in a Swedish Chef accent.Beckham lines up a free kick as the referee forces the Ecuador wall back the required distance, and perhaps even further: "Tell you what, this is 10 yards plus VAT!" assesses Lawrenson. The England fans are in full voice, with the witty ditty of "5-1, even Heskey scored." Well, at least it's stopped them mentioning the war for a bit. Rooney attempts to thread a pass through to Gerrard only for Espinoza to slide in, miss the player and ball with his leg but collect the ball with his trailing hand. Referee says no, Motson only spots the handball at the third attempt. Owen Hargreaves sticks his knee in front of the ball just as Delgado goes to shoot and receives treatment right next to the corner flag, which doesn't amuse Mendez, who attempts to take a corner. "Referee won't be happy with this," observes Motson. "No, he'll make him move!" agrees Mark.

"It's a lot easier when you play, isn't it?" asks Lineker to Shearer as we return to the decidedly less cheerful studio team. Wright lays blame at Beckham's poor crossing, Shearer disagrees with Lawrenson blaming Robinson for the Ecuador chance that hit the bar, whilst Hansen is unimpressed with John Terry's initial header. Ian asks in vain for the "other angle" of the handball claim after only watching it from the inconclusive wide shot - "we'll take your word for it!" assures Gary.
Lineker points out that Wright's pre-match pick Joe Cole has had a disappointing half, trying to be too elaborate. Wright recommends he keep it simple, although admitting he could never do so himself when having a bad game. "You do surprise me!" remarks Gary. After a quick plug for Sport Relief, Lineker reminds latecomers of the score - well, nearly: "Here in Stuttgart, it's England 1, Ec...I wish it was England 1!" Hansen offers assistance by suggesting Lineker may have had a premonition of the final score.
"Sven's taken his jacket off!" notes Lineker as the teams begin to re-emerge. "The passion of the man(!)" remarks a clearly awestruck Wright, "Looks like he's told them off!" "He's given them that hard Swedish stare!" declares Lineker before handing us back to the commentary team.

Having started the first half by recalling England's best 2nd round victories, Motson begins this half in slightly less upbeat mood as he reminds us of 2nd round matches that have gone all the distance (or thereabouts) - Belgium in 1990 and Argentina in 98. Gerrard is brought down just outside the penalty area almost immediately but no foul is given. "It's a foul by Reasco, there's no question!" declares Motson (only after a replay, mind). "No wonder Gerrard looks askance!"
Lawrenson wistfully mourns the loss of the shoulder charge from the modern game as Rooney concedes a foul for just that, and stares menacingly at the nearby linesman as he realises the decision.
With Peter Crouch and Wayne Bridge getting ready to come on, David Beckham lines up his umpteenth free kick of the afternoon. "And Beckham...it's gone in! It's gone in! England are in front! Relief! David Beckham! England take the lead in the knockout stage of the World Cup!" We're still seeing replays of the goal (or more precisely the celebrations - even a slow-motion replay of Victoria) as Motson is watching Rooney chase the ball into the box, only for the keeper to claim the ball. Motson questions the goalkeeper, but Lawrenson's happy to give all the credit to Beckham's ingenuity. Guess Aaron Lennon won't be claiming that starting position any time soon then?
"Well, a Beckham bender has put England on the straight and narrow here, Mark," suggests Motty after a couple of minutes' thinking time. "Yep, came at just the right time," agrees a straight-faced Mark. Beckham is hunched over and seems to be coughing his guts up for a moment, although this passes without comment for now.
Rooney leaves Hurtado for dead out on the left wing, and pulls the ball back to an oncoming teammate: "And following up there...[ball sails over the bar, camera switches to close up of Steven Gerrard even though he never touched it]...Frank Lampard!" A slight case of mistaken identity there from the director, I'm sure causing Gerrard's name to be cursed momentarily across the land for skying a shot from inside the area. Super Miss, Super Frank. We love it.
"I understand that rather like Zinedine Zidane, when he took a penalty in the match against England in Portugal, David Beckham was physically sick shortly after scoring the goal but was still determined to carry on. Mind you, on a day like this..." "Glad you brought that one up!" spews Mark. Rooney slides in vain trying to keep the ball in play - "ah, fuck off!" is clearly audible thanks once again to the overenthusiastic sound mixer.
Sure enough, a few minutes later we get to see Beckham's sudden stomach evacuation again. "David Beckham was ill," is Motson's rather uncertain commentary of a thankfully brief replay. "That was an edited version, I think!" Lawrenson roars with laughter off-mic. Mark suggests bringing Lennon on to replace the suffering captain, and at the same moment Motson points out that Lennon is being told to go and warm up. "I didn't see him, honestly," protests Mystic Mark. "No, I know," confirms Motson.
Paul Robinson is down for a couple of minutes in the last 5 minutes, which Mark suggests is a clever time-wasting ploy. Motson points out the delay has given all the players chance to take a drink, although "never mind them, we want water!" "Need more than water, watching England..." suggests Lawro.
The final whistle blows, and Motson sums up by pointing out that England have been "patchy against Paraguay, tentative against Trinidad, subdued in the end by Sweden, but they were energetic and effective today against Ecuador!"

Another close-up of Posh and unidentified young boy as Lineker takes over: "A hug for Brooklyn...if that's the right child!" Ashley Cole, having been on fine form during the match is tripped by a camera cable as he salutes the fans afterwards. "You have to give the manager credit, Ian?" asks Gary. Ian initially feigns not to hear before quite specifically stating "I know you do, *you* should give him credit. I give credit to the lads, to Beckham and that - I ain't giving it to him!"
Garth Crooks interviews Beckham, who reveals that "Wazzer said before the game, 'you've been terrible in training the last two days so you'll score one tonight!'" and that Roberto Carlos sent a text requesting Beckham score him a free kick. Last word with Lineker: "England are through to the quarter-finals of the World Cup thanks to a Beckham special. You never doubted him, did you?"

What we've learned: An England team playing 4-5-1 and featuring Hargreaves and Carrick isn't the death knell everyone was predicting; Frank Lampard's shooting prowess this tournament will provide a plethora of photos for Spot The Ball competitions in years to come; and your correspondent's late report filing (booking a flight to Gelsenkirchen this time) has probably left him with about as much chance of being picked for the final as Graham Poll...

Monday, June 26, 2006

Italy v Australia, ITV1

Goal of the match: Not a great deal of choice, really. The decision to award Italy a penalty in the 94th minute may have been dubious, Fabio Grosso falling very deliberately over the prostrate body of Lucas Neill, but substitute Francesco Totti's spot-kick was firm, perfectly placed and pretty much unstoppable. Just the impact the man "pilloried from one end of Italy to the other" will have wanted to have, having been omitted from the starting line-up.

Shot of the match: Marco Bresciano's fearsome shot, on one of the very rare occasions when an Australian was allowed too much space by the Italian defence.

Miss of the match: Luca Toni missed two presentable headed chances in the first half, but fellow striker Vincenzo Iaquinta was more culpable, hitting a second half shot straight at Mark Schwarzer from close range with the Aussie back line in total disarray.

Save of the match: Schwarzer, already diving to his right, did well to deflect a Toni shot away with his legs.

Man of the match: It would have been Neill but for his injury time rush of blood to the head (even though Grosso went looking for the penalty, Neill was at fault for committing himself far too easily and unnecessarily). At the other end, Italian skipper Fabio Cannavaro was his usual imperious self, outshining his team-mates in a game in which defences dominated (though perhaps not quite to the same snoozesome extent as they did in the later Switzerland v Ukraine match...).

He was playing?!: Very few of the midfielders on display did themselves any justice. Was Vincent Grella quietly effective or just quiet? Luke Wilkshire showed why he lines up for Bristol City, but, to be fair, his much more feted opponent Andrea Pirlo didn't really do anything of distinction either.

Gesture of the match: Tim Cahill's "diddums" wobbling of his lower lip with forefinger in the direction of Marco Materazzi shortly before the Italian defender's dismissal.

The Biggest Boned Player Award: Need you ask?

Player looking most likely to have just got off a submarine: Italian midfield ankle-biter Gennaro Gattuso.

The Sir Bobby Robson Award For The Manager Most Resembling A Lost And Confused Pensioner: Marcello Lippi stood open-mouthed following Materazzi's sending-off, as though trying to work out what day it was.

The Rage Against The Machine Fuck You I Won't Do What You Tell Me Award: Italy. According to Jon Champion, they were ordered by FIFA to wear white shirts and blue shorts, and warmed up in that kit - but for the match itself they switched to the more familiar blue shirts and white shorts. Symptomatic of a healthy disregard for the champagne-and-caviar quaffers who pass for authority, or of an unpleasant arrogance?

Face in the crowd: For the Aussies, a fat dreadlocked man in a yellow wifebeater vest bouncing up and down manically. For the Italians, a man with a large foam hand in the colours of the Italian flag. And there I was thinking only Boro fans and 'Gladiators' audiences thought foam hands were a good thing.

Stat attack: Italy are now unbeaten in 22 games, their best sequence since 1939. The Aussies, meanwhile, exited in the knockout stages having been ahead for precisely three minutes during their four matches.

The England Award For Arrogance And Overblown Self-Confidence: Italy. Apparently today's edition of the Republica newspaper claimed the idea that they could be beaten by Australia was a "joke". What a shame the Azzuri didn't end up with egg all over their faces.

Stereotypes Corner: Barely a couple of minutes after taking over from Jim Rosenthal, Champion referred to the "tinny-fuelled rendition" of the Australian national anthem.

Patronised to within an inch of their plucky little lives: Australia, of course. Plenty of references to their spirit and determination (Rosenthal, for instance, said at the break "The Aussies are hanging on and they will play right to the end - don't worry about that" as if we thought they'd bow meekly before their more established opponents), and there was the inevitable Champion nod to their "wonderful adventure" towards the end.

Minutes elapsed before Champion mentioned that Scott Chipperfield was working as a bus driver when he won the first of his fifty Australian caps: 30.

Sticking the boot in: "Not even a wayward English referee has been able to stop [Australia]". No sympathy for Poll, then, Jon? He also noted (with marvellous redundancy of expression) that "'cavalier' in relation to Italian football is a relative term". Rosenthal's best shot was say "The Australians will try to get in the Italians' faces", and then turn to Sam Allardyce with the words: "You know all about sending teams out to do that"...

Fish out of water: Ned Boulting, for once (thankfully) not interviewing drunken idiots in a fan park, tried and failed to extract much of interest from an Italian sports journalist on the subject of the country's match-fixing scandal.

The Jon Champion Award For Overstatement (sponsored by Des Lynam): Surprisingly, it would have to be awarded not to the man himself but jointly to Allardyce and Ally McCoist. The former claimed Italy were "excellent" (not quite sure about that, Sam...), while McCoist's buzzword was "sensational", an adjective he applied at the break both to Materazzi's distribution from the back (illustrated with one of those pointless graphics) and to Toni and Alberto Gilardino's movement (the latter, incidentally, was replaced at half-time).

The Yeah But No But Award For Self-Contradiction: Another joint award, this time to McCoist and Andy Townsend. Before the game, and again at half-time, Hiddink was hailed as one of most tactically astute coaches in the world. At full-time he was savaged for not changing things round and having a real go at ten man Italy.

Learning the lingo: "We thought we were in for overtime", chuckled Rosenthal after the full-time whistle. You've been watching too many of those Budweiser trails, haven't you Jim?

You what?!!: According to Champion, "Guus Hiddink specialises in that ever-so-slightly crumpled look".

Most bizarre moment of coverage: Either right at the start, when a problem with the feed meant our initial view was from a camera high above and behind the Italian goal, or the moment before the game when Rosenthal leaned over to Allardyce and patted the Bolton manager's stomach with the words "none of that", claiming that's what Hiddink did and said to Mark Viduka when he took charge. The prospect of being fondled by Jim Rosenthal on live TV is too awful to contemplate.

What we learned: This was the first proper look I've had at Italy, and as expected they're defensively superb but not particularly exciting going forwards; three more dodgy late penalty winners and Lippi will have to fulful his promise to shave his head; the Aussies' apparently superhuman fitness levels didn't help them overcome ten men in the end; I'm seriously doubting whether I can handle another ITV game.

Your Brazilian name

You may well have come across this before, but hey ho...

If you played for Brazil, what would your name be?

I'm Skiffleiro. Or a less exciting Dava, based on my given name.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

"Afternoon everybody"

Germany v Sweden, BBC1

Here we are at the knockouts then; the death or glory, and we open proceedings with the tournament hosts, who are just getting into their stride. “I never thought I’d say this, but the tournament has been better for it” suggests casual xenophobe Gary Lineker. “As long as they don’t win it, that would be taking it too far” he adds, probably making a mental note to finally get round to ordering that Stan Boardman single off Amazon.

Wishing to fit in with the English abroad, Hansen gets into stereotypes. “Efficiency and work-rate they’re noted for, but not ambience and charisma, but we’ve had loads,” as the panel go on to praise all things German both in terms of support and on-field displays. Although Gary won’t let this pro-Deutsch waxing go on too long, “we’ve not seen them play any one strong”. “Correct! Correct! At last you say something relevant” says Hansen, the disciplinarian housemaster of the BBC team.

Going onto the Swedes, we learn Lars Lagerback has been praised by the Swedish media for his moderation in playing down his teams chances. “Sven must really miss Sweden sometimes” quips Gary, who doesn’t miss a trick in giving the FIFA rankings a further satirical beating. “Sweden are actually ranked higher than Germany in the rankings, but then Czech Republic and the USA are 2 and 5 and I think Leicester are 7th, so we shouldn’t read too much into that.” The boy Lineker's on fire today, it seems.

Martin O’Neill’s time at Celtic with Swedish hero Henrik Larsson is naturally discussed, and the Ulsterman tries a little tenderness. “I could nearly say I’m madly in love with him...he’s unlike the mythical Samson, when he shed his dreadlocks he became better” he says lyrically. “How would he have done in the Premiership” asks Alan Shearer with a record-holders strut. O’Neill is quick to cut him down to size; “Hah, he’d have walked it, he’d have scored as many as you, Shearer.” Already showing he’s in mischievous mode, Gary presses the right O’Neill buttons, asking him for his opinions on Zlatan Ibrahimovic. O’Neill spins violently out of the winding up, “that’s why [Larsson’s] retiring, he’s been doing Ibrahimovic’s work for the last 4 years” he says, reiterating his notion that he is “the most over-rated player on the planet”.

For the second time today they go for another emo slo-mo VT package, but Gary is being particularly on the ball with it, “another gratuitous musical montage, you can’t beat them” he lies, as they move on to England stuff. Today Garth is yapping at Owen Hargreaves who comes across very well; relaxed, articulate, intelligent, hopefully he’ll continue to win people over. Discussing the right-back issue, Martin O’Neill nostalgically quotes from the book of Clough.

Back to today, and we move to Ray Stubbs who is inside the Allianz Arena with Boris Becker. Clearly they are trying to compete with ITV’s Shane Warne ‘coup’. Thankfully they only entrust Boris, dressed rigidly like an 80’s Wall-Street-adjacent tailor’s mannequin, in discussing matters such as the weather. However despite getting Ray his Access All Areas pass and a celebrity Teuton, it is the last we see of our Wirralian hero all day. Back in with the pundits and the elongated build-up has clearly caused a cameraman to nod off, the shot sliding towards Alan Shearer before jerking back to the still chuntering O’Neill. “We’re hoping for 5-5 with penalty kicks” is Hansen’s schoolboyish ideal, before we discover the apex of Shearer’s ambition. “The last 16, it doesn’t get any better than this,” he says, the rapier host quickly getting in the line I would almost certainly have otherwise written, “well apart from the quarters, the semi’s, the final…” As the four fall about, we move to the stadium.

After ‘Das Lied der Deutschen’ is belted out, Jonathan Pearce notes “that version [was] a lot louder and prouder than 2 weeks ago” “That was down to the corporates” says peoples champion Mark ‘No Logo’ Bright. The noise is understandable, the German nation has gradually got hooked into the tournament and there are only 4,000 Swedes in a red-hot sold-out 66,000 seat Arena today. Earlier in the afternoon, on ‘..Focus’, Lee Dixon had claimed that this support was worth “half a goal to them.” Not entirely sure how they’d cash in them tokens, myself.

Happilly for them, they get a real goal after only four minutes, Lukas Podolski nods down to Michael Ballack, who threads a short pass to Miroslav Klose. Klose’s progression is blocked by the diving Andreas Isaksson, but the ball spills out to Podolski who belts it in off the top of Teddy Lucic’s desperate, diving bonce. On the bench, Klinsmann bounces like a trampolining 8 year old before bundling into the circle pit that has formed in the dug out. Not long after, Henrik Larsson turns his man in the box but the angle is too acute for him to beat Lehmann. They show Oliver Kahn studying the efforts of his keeping colleague/rival intently. “I don’t think they share Christmas cards” sighs Jonathon Pearce with a ‘I don’t know, those boys’ shake of the head. Sat on the bench, and calmed down, Klinsmann applauds a German move like it’s the opening bars of a Neil Diamond encore.

In the 12th minute, Bastian Schweinsteiger passes to Klose who draws the defenders before reversing the pass to Podolski who doesn’t muck about in striking a second beyond Isaksson. “Disastrous start for Sweden. Only 8 teams have done that, come from a two goal deficit, in the World Cup” says Bright, flicking through his Schotts Miscellany. “The name you can hear being sung is that of Jurgen Klinsmann, that simply would not have happened last season” adds Pearce. Not long after he gets all excited when the ball ripples the net having been tipped round behind it. “It’s a goal, it’s in the back of the net...the wrong side” he says, in a not altogether seamless cover-up.

Sweden’s tasks becomes nigh on impossible in the 35th minute, as Teddy Lucic gets a second yellow. Pearce spots his chance, “how many has the referee counted today, he knows that two make a red.” Poll ain’t living that down anytime soon. It’s not a great call though as our ref seems to merely be following a request from two or three German players that he show a card for the most innocuous of challenges. A replay is then shown of the referee showing the red card in slo-mo. “Yes. Yes.” he nods with the kind of grin that usually accompanies plans for world domination being set in motion.

Although the game is in Germany’s pocket, Sweden occasionally cause problems, Ibrahimovic swivelling on 6 yard box and sending a shot which Lehmann blocks, before agitatedly swatting it behind as though it’s a perm-seeking crane-fly. It’s been quite a half, Sweden’s defence have been haphazard, their midfield conspicuous in their absences. It appears to be a cake-walk for Germany, particularly as they will play the entire second half with a man advantage, not to mention that extra half goal cushion.

“What is it about the Germans, even when they were supposed to be rubbish, they’re exceptional” says Gary at the break. “It’s the Swedes who are rubbish” snaps Hansen, while Shearer adds “chances galore” like he’s advertising a village fete. After discussing the half, Gary responds to emails about the setting of their studio so he delivers a live historical voice-over of a panorama of the Brandenburg Gate and the surrounding points of interest. Put down the tired Sven interview where he answers all the same old questions, and so something less boring instead. At the end Gary seems embarrassed, like he’s just said “mind if I read you some of this novella I’ve written” to his building site workmates in the pub. “I’ve got a job on an open-top bus tomorrow” he segues, ears reddening, suggesting “lets get back to football” as Hansen checks his initial praise to get back to his snidey banter shtick.

Before we head back, O’Neill continues his seemingly personal vendetta with Ibrahimovic, laying into him like he’s a nuisance neighbour. “He was once arrested for impersonating a policeman, maybe he’ll be arrested today for impersonating a footballer” quips Gary as we return to the box, where Pearce and Bright are giggling and threatening to send that line to the Swedish dressing room. Despite seemingly endless waves of German pressure, it is Sweden who have the first opportunity in the second half when they win a penalty, Larsson having been charged in the back by Christoph Metzelder. He has to wait for his own bench to make a substitution before he can take the kick, and this seems to throw him as he sends it high over the bar, Lehmann barely moving from his spot on the line.

For the remainder of the game it becomes once again, a shooting gallery and the impressive Isaksson makes save after diving save. Brilliant, really. Just prior to his substitution, the directors shows slo-mo of Ibrahimovic raising his shirt to reveal a tattoo on the side of his stomach that reads “Judge Me”. “Martin O’Neill already has” says Bright. Jonathon Pearce notices a stray boot on the pitch, Metzelder playing with one foot covered only by sock. “Ian Wright would have picked it up and thrown it in the crowd” says Bright before they show a replay of Larsson kicking it out of its owners immediate reach. Pearce also begins to lick his lips in the intense heat, “plenty of fluid being taken in, in a city where 110 million gallons of beer are brewed every year.” “One’s got your name on it” says Bright like a 1930’s Broadway impresario. “One?” whispers stein-jockey Pearce. That’s the end of it though, Germany 2.5 Sweden 0.

With plenty of time left at the end of the broadcast, in case of extras, we have time for more filler material, Adrian Chiles searching around Berlin for signs of German humour, visiting a comedy club and learning a filthy, unbroadcastable joke from one lady. At the end, we see him being covered in scarves and jester hats by some German lads. “The old Brummie jester” says our host. Well actually he says “gesture”, but it does appear he is beginning to lose it, as moments before he seems to forget the name of the colleague they are crossing to for the Jens Lehmann interview.

I can understand it though, it has been a long old week.

Referee (Carlos Eugenio Simon, Brazil): service with a smile

Pee Wee’s Playhouse secret word: untaxing

These things I believe: Going on his celebration for the second goal, Klinsmann has clearly sought the counsel of David Pleat on dealing with touchline excitement –- Notice the Germans were happy to showboat, in front of their support. Could it be there undoing later on, rather than their inspiration? -- Lets hope Lars Lagerback will no doubt take some comfort from the fact that “the last 16. It doesn’t get any better than this.” – Whenever Teddy Lucic forgets to prepare for a fancy dress party, he just turns up and tells them he’s come as The Thing from the Fantastic Four.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Czech Republic v Italy, BBC1

Ray Stubbs introduces what the BBC website has just revealed will be the first of 11 consecutive live games on the BBC. Aah, blessed relief from Budweiser and EDF Energy until Sunday night. We're assured than Messrs Shearer, Desailly and O'Neill are "right up to speed on all the different qualification permutations this afternoon". Martin points out to Marcel in that slow, deliberate way he always employs when talking to non-British pundits that the Ghanaian coach has kept Samuel Kuffour out of the starting line-up, going against Desailly's previously stated wish to see Kuffour returned to the team after his mistake against Italy. "Martin, Marcel phoned him up and sorted it out!" is Ray's rather weak segue into the split, as BBCi viewers disappear off to watch the Ghana-USA game and the rest of us are left in the hands of Mark Bright and John Motson.

Motson welcomes us by explaining that an announcement is forthcoming back in Italy about the corruption scandal currently rocking Serie A, and explains that this could lead to four clubs being relegated (he doesn't actually mention Juventus, Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio by name, but this is the new and non-technical BBC, after all). In true understating Motson fashion, he states non-categorically that "I don't recall a World Cup match starting in that kind of atmosphere before!" Motson recalls attending the Italy v Czechoslovakia game at Italy 1990 where both teams made it through the group, and wonders if that's to be an omen for today. Mark Bright has always liked it when the last group game can lead to "somebody falling out..." (the image of Pavel Nedved and his Juventus teammates in the Italian team having a childish squabble and refusing to talk to each other springs to mind).
"There's going to be a contrast in the welcomes here, because Mark and I have been in the city today and we think there's more enthusiasm from the Czech Republic fans than there is from the Italians!" A fine theory John, but since the two teams arrive on the pitch side-by-side, it's rather difficult to ascertain any difference on television in the welcomes afforded by the two sets of fans. Mark Bright offers the opinion that Italians "don't travel" - unlike the Swedes, Swiss and Mexicans - and that the Czech fans probably outnumber the Italians in the stadium today. "Mind you, there'll be a few people in the Italian restaurants across Europe [chuckle] who'll be following this very closely, so we'd better be strictly neutral here!" Is Motson on some kind of crusade to slip some kind of food reference into every commentary these days? I anticipate the first pasta, pizza or spaghetti pun with dread.
"Just can't get used to Totti with his hair so short! [chuckle]" is John's first comment immediately following the anthems. "It's the fashion now, John, it's the fashion!" explains Bright, sounding for all the world like your Grandma explaining the state of young people nowadays to her elderly neighbour after you turn up on her doorstep with a mohican and your nose pierced. We then see the Czech bench, causing Motson to identify the coach: "Karel Bruckner, 66 years old - the Methuselah of football coaches in the World Cup. Not quite fair on him, Methuselah was several hundred years old if you know your Bible!"

Discussion turns to the Czech team's fitness as the game gets underway, and Bright questions how long the returning Baros can last. Having commented on how Plasil has moved to Nedved's left, Bright points out that Poborsky is playing on the right wing as usual. "He never moves, does he?" observes Motson. "Well he moves [chuckle], but not his starting position! Doing well to keep moving, Poborsky - he's 34!" Baros has the game's first chance, but his "rustiness" causes his first touch to let the ball run away. Meanwhile, Totti puts the ball out of play for an unidentified player to receive treatment. Bright eventually spots that Poborsky is the man receiving treatment on the near side of the pitch, and explains "the reason we couldn't see that is because there's 10 cameras in front of us so we can't see the near touchline." "Yeah, a bit like Cannavaro, we get our excuses in early, Brighty!"
Nedved has a shot from 25 yards which Buffon comfortably gets down to save. "Equal to the save, Buffon. Wasn't a real test for him..." "They must test each other every day in training at Juventus, I would think!" Minutes later Nedved has another go from similar range, but this time Buffon can only palm the ball away towards the oncoming Jankulovski only for the Italian keeper to scramble to his feet and block the second shot as well. Motson's view on the above? "Nedved...and he'll have to be quick, Buffon here - ooh-hoo!"
Nesta is struggling and Materazzi is waiting on the sidelines to replace him. However, Nesta takes so long to slowly meander across from the far side of the pitch that the referee decides to play on without allowing the substitution, much to Bright's delight. "The referee went over and asked him, but he was just borrowing time to get the sub warmed up!"
"Of course, the other intriguing thing about this group is that whoever finishes second, chances are you'll play Brazil in the next round!" "[chuckle]" "That's Mark Bright chuckling, not me!"
"There's big news coming from the other game," teases John before commentating on the action here for several more seconds. "The news coming in is that Ghana have scored against the United States to go 1-0 up there, and if Ghana win they qualify at the expense of one of these, so the drama has already started in this group! It's changed things a little bit because if Ghana were to win they're through!"

Italy win a corner even though the ball seems to come off Gilardino's shin. "Oh, Materazzi! It's a goal and he's got it! Only minutes after coming on! And the Czech Republic here are in deep difficulties! Not only are Ghana in front, the Czech Republic are behind!" Bright isn't impressed with the defending: "You always look for men on the posts and there is none today!" "Good point!""So not the table says Italy are top, Ghana are second, and the Czech Republic are still coming from behind in more ways than one!" (fnar) "Nothing against the Czech Republic here Mark, but if an African team did get through it would be a reward for some of the football the Africans have played."
"You can't get away from the fact we're getting a lot of goals from corners in this World Cup, Mark?" asks John, as an aside. Mark agrees, but is unimpressed with the lack of marking on Materazzi for the goal. John attempts to excuse the Czech defence: "When a substitution's made they have to re-educate the defenders who to mark on corners, eh? Presumably whoever would have picked up Nesta...but then, he didn't always go up..." Bright's having none of it: "Well, the way we've always done it is, it's on a whiteboard before you go out - your name with who your man is, who you mark. The first thing you do when you come back for the corner is look for your man and engage him straight away!" "That's if it's man to man, and not zonal? We're getting a bit technical, aren't we? [chuckle]"
"Look at that flick by Totti, this is Perrotta, and Totti again - you saw a flash of the real Totti there!" Another Italian corner, and "they're marking zonal," warns Mark. It comes to nothing. John's not complaining that the "freak heatwave" during the earlier games has now subsided.

First inadvertent reference by Motson to Czechoslovakia instead of Czech Republic: 1 minute into first half stoppage time

An as-yet-unnamed Czech player slides in and catches Totti's ankle. Motson predicts a yellow card, only for Bright to suggest it will be a second yellow and thus a red. "Oh it is, it's...it's number 19 - he's got to go, he's got to go." Furious stalling from Motson as he tries to remember who the number 19 is. "It's Polak! Red card, two yellows - what a desperate day for the Czech Republic! But there's better news for them from somewhere else because the United States have equalised against Ghana..." We end the half just in time to switch to Simon Brotherton commentate on the penalty that sees Ghana go 2-1 up. It's quite interesting to hear Brotherton bring us BBC1 viewers up to speed without specifically acknowledging our arrival in the traditional BBC Radio fashion ("and we welcome listeners to BBC World Service...").

Marcel is happy with the Ghana scoreline and gives a detailed analysis of that game so far even though we're supposed to be reviewing the other game first. "You can see which game you've been watching!" quips O'Neill. "He's got vision, you remember when he used to play, he's got vision, he's watching everything this afternoon!" excuses Stubbs. "You'd have a word with a player if he did that and got sent off, wouldn't you?" asks Ray to Martin about Polak. "Well, you wouldn't let him into the dressing room to be perfectly honest! I don't know whether to feel sorry for the Czechs or go out and give them the biggest shaking of their lives!" Sounds like O'Neill had the Czechs in the office sweepstake. We briefly review the Ghana penalty, which seems harsh in even Marcel's opinion. Martin says it best: "It's a poor decision. We might be cheering Ghana on, perhaps - because of you [looking at Desailly] - but deep down it's a terrible decision. We're talking about the referees, I don't really want to go into it but I think they should have a word with themselves, have a look at themselves." "You feel really disappointed with that penalty kick incident?" asks Marcel. "No I don't, because I like Ghana a lot..." explains O'Neill, "In the course of life it won't make a great deal of difference..." Marcel compares the poor decision to France's disallowed goal versus South Korea, Martin agrees and Ray sums up by pointing out that these things happen.

"This referee is pedantic on some things but remarkably unconcerned about others!" points out John after some rather pointless fouls are awarded at the start of the second half. Baros is flagged offside though the replay suggests he might have been level. "Oh, d'you know what, I'd give that, let him play on!" suggests Mark. Motson suggests this is a prime opportunity for Totti to prove himself. "Martin O'Neill feels he underachieves an awful lot of the time..."
Motson's impressed by Italy's composure - "bear in mind that they lost Nesta quite early on, didn't they?" "Didn't disrupt them much," agrees Bright. "Well, not really, the sus-stis-tute scored the goal!" concludes John. "We've heard no more from the other match so we assume Ghana are still leading, so it doesn't get any better for the Czechs!"
Rosicky kicks Gatusso on the shin, causing the Italian to stay down as play continues momentarily. Motson is still wondering whether the Czechs should play the ball out a good couple of seconds after the referee has stopped play to check on the stricken Italian. "Is it Pirlo?" asks Bright, before a close-up of excessive stubble identifies it as Gatusso. "Collision of knees there, two players knock knees together. We were talking about this before, if a player goes down and it's not a head injury, should you kick the ball out? Oh, it's not - it's a kick on the shin..."
"Still 2-1 to Ghana I'm now informed, so that means that the Czech Republic are really...unless we see a turnaround the like of which we haven't seen in this World Cup, the Czechs are going out!" A turnaround like, say, Australia v Japan, John? 15 minutes left, and things seem desperate for the Czechs (John suggests they need to either score themselves or hope the US do - even though the latter would be useless without the former). Bright wonders if Bruckner will go for broke and throw Koller on. Motson is adamant (for the first time in about a decade) in predicting he won't appear, expecting Marek Heinz instead. "Just soundbites in the press conferences? Obviously you know otherwise!" suggests Mark of the pre-match speculation that Koller might be used if necessary. "Well, no I don't - it's just they do want to use a bit of kidology sometimes. I think if he was fit enough they'd have used him earlier, that's just the point I'm trying to make!"
Totti scuffs a shot a long way wide. "Go on, talk about Totti!" encourages Motson. "Well, I'm not a great fan! He looks overweight, he's lost that yard or two..." Brighty's definitely not impressed.
Motson's earlier prediction turns out to be correct as Heinz is ready to come on. "Last throw of the dice isn't it?" asks Bright. "Absolutely. Then again you never know." Ah, there's the indecisive Motson we know and tolerate.
"It's Totti again!" Cue a feeble attempted chip that floats gently into Cech's arms. "Tch, tch, tch, tch, tch," Bright tuts. "There's woes and all sorts of whistles from the Italian crowd round the back of the goal. That's woeful!"
"A player who expected to play no part in this match may have won it," observes John, as the Italians march up the pitch looking for a second. Pirlo waltzes through a series of desperate tackles from the knackered Czech defence before flicking the ball up to an unmarked Inzaghi 8 yards out. "Pirlo...still Pirlo... Inzaghi!" Nope, he's headed it wide with almost the entire goal unguarded as Cech was guarding the opposite post anticipating a Pirlo shot. "That Pirlo run reminded me of Ricky Villa in the FA Cup years ago!" notes Mark. "I think Toni will be back for the next game, don't you?" asks Motty.
"You could say, John, that Italy have played with 10 men!" smirks Mark as the ball once again passes by Totti, who's still being whistled by his own fans. "You could say that! It's a point that may well be taken up in the studio if I'm not mistaken!"
"I have to confess I was one of those who thought the Czech Republic could be one of the outsiders in this World Cup," admits John, "but I think when Koller went off it changed everything. Here's Totti, who hasn't changed very much!" The commentators' curse comes into immediate effect as Totti is involved in a quick breakaway as the ball is threaded through to Inzaghi with the entire Czech defence pushed up to the half way line, and it's 2-0. "He timed his run right, didn't he?" asks the uncertain Motson even though Inzaghi was a yard inside his own half when the ball was played.
A replay shows Lippi on the Italian bench as the goal is scored, only to be rudely interrupted by a bizarre celebration by Gatusso. "Look at that! Gatusso's grabbed the coach around the neck! He didn't like that much, did he Lippi?" "I'm sure that's playful?" suggests a clearly amused Bright. "That's got to be one of the enduring images of the World Cup!" "If that's what he does when he's playful, what does he do when he's angry?"
"They've carried Totti for a lot of this game," is Bright's concluding opinion of a conclusive Italian performance. "I was tempted to say for all of it!" remarks Motson. "This isn't about Totti-bashing," concedes Mark, "he's a decent player coming back from injury, but how long do you persist with him at this stage because his productivity's been nil!"

The final whistle blows and we again switch over for the closing minutes of the Ghana-USA match. It appears that Brotherton has no co-commentator, which seems odd considering the BBC's resources. That match also ends, and the Ghanaians have been pluckiest of all the plucky underdogs. We later see Marcel's reaction at the final whistle, a sigh of relief whilst holding one hand up in a victory salute and leaning so far back into his chair that all we can see is his chin. "We thought you were going to fall off the balcony!" laughs Ray. We rush through a brief analysis of the two games - even Martin stops himself mid-sentence with a quick glance to the floor manager - "I can see you're in a hurry!" It's been a bit of a manic afternoon all round, really.

What we've learned: the Czechs are one-trick ponies and will need to either adapt to playing without Koller or start cloning him; Italy can comfortably numb other sides into submission with their patient possession game; and Totti is going to challenge Ronaldo as the media's chosen "has-been" of the tournament.