Tuesday, June 27, 2006

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.

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