Argentina v Serbia & Montenegro, BBC1
At domestic level, local unions are often a financial necessity, as with my own dear club - Havant & Waterlooville (no shoe-horning opportunity left untaken!), but it is the fractious, territorial nature of global politics that ensures that ampersands are not often found within the World Cup team ranks.
However this year, we have not just one, but two; the seemingly quite blissful Trinidad & Tobago union, of course, as well as Serbia & Montenegro, whose affair doesn’t appear to be going so well, considering they are about to split. Musical differences, I believe. So this tournament is indeed the first and last hurrah of the two becoming one on the big stage, before Montenegro secedes, probably into sporting obscurity when you consider only one Montenegrin takes their place in the current unified squad.
Today’s BBC broadcast opens predictably with yesterdays England goals, although Gary Lineker shimmies this neatly into a discussion as to who from this encounter will be joining “the usual suspects [who] are going through; England, Germany…Ecuador.” They play their cards early in the VT, showing scenes of Argentinean delight and Serbian dismay from the first round of games. Following this, it is a matter of seconds before Alan Hansen, knowing that Lineker has been up all night writing bondage jokes appropriate to an afternoon audience with little success, tries to reintroduce the S&M gag from the last time out. Al, like an embarrassing Dad, reminds us that Ian Wright didn’t get it first time round. “Yeah I did” protests Ian, seemingly about to add, ‘and…and…I was joking too, ahhhhh.’
Leonardo then goes all around the houses discussing the merits of the Argentinean side, his hesitations buzzing like an overegged Bruce Forsyth impression. They then chat about Maradona being in the crowd at all the Argentina games, at which point Ian reveals that he prefers Maradona to Pele. Hansen reacts with disdainful ‘WHAT!’ while Gary says “you’re allowed you’re opinion” in that way which is usually accompanied by the wheeling of a finger next to your temple. Neither does Gary vibrate a digit against his lips, sadly.
The initial talk in the commentary box is pretty defeatist from a Serbia & Montenegro perspective as well, Mick McCarthy opining that they were, in their first game, “dreadful”. Furthermore he reveals, from his chat with an unnamed, possibly fictional, journalist that the Serbian side don’t believe they can win this game. There seems some credibility in this theory when we cut to Serbian gaffer Ilija Petkovic on the bench letting out a big sigh from his terrified looking mush.
Within two minutes of the start, Argentina force two corners, and seem keen to camp out in the Serbian half. Doesn’t bode well for this game as a contest and, indeed, it takes only six minutes for Argentina to take a lead, Javier Saviola jinking a ball to Maximiliano Rodriguez who calmly ignores the amassing Serbs to easily poke the ball from the top of his boot to the left of keeper Dragoslav Jedric who never looks confident about his chances of blocking the shot.
Like with the first game, they show a shot of Maradona in the crowd celebrating the goal in slow-motion, gurning in a manner not seen since he charged down an American cameraman twelve years ago. Now, I know he’s done a lot of work, or had a lot of work done, to get himself back into shape recently, but I wouldn’t be so confident as to contradict suggestions that he has been replaced for public appearances by his own waxwork. Particularly as he often appears to be being held up by both wrists like a baby chimp.
Not wishing to be totally humiliated, the Serbs push up and create half a chance, Predrag Djordjevic sending a speculative shot wide. After Mateja Kezman fails to reach a long pass though, Jonathan Pearce asks, searching for that McCarthy insight, “why didn’t it work for him in England?” “Who? Kezman? No idea” says Mick, before eventually hazarding a few guesses. Later when Kezman goes down easily under a challenge Mick delves into Geoff Boycott’s bag of homespun derogatory quips, “I’d like to think ee’d put up more of a fight if ee were trying to nick ‘is wallet.” He really is in grumpy mood too, “In four years time we’ll be at a World Cup with no physical contact at all” moans ‘Clogger’ McCarthy as another soft free-kick is awarded.
After a period of decent-ish but blunt Serbian progression, Argentina steal away possession and work through 20-odd passes to dictate and cast a spell over the midfield, the ball finally getting into the final third with Saviola down the left flank. He then sweeps a pass across the pitch to Esteban Cambiasso on the opposite corner of the box, who flicks through a quick one-two with Hernan Crespo before hammering the ball into the roof. This has cheered Clogger up no end, “there’ll be better strikes from outside the box, but that’s the best [team] goal of the World Cup…if any kids are watching, that’s a real lesson”. Hard to argue with that, it must be said. We’ll be seeing a lot of that goal in the coming decades, for sure.
Ten minutes later Saviola, now on the right, harries defender Mladen Krstajic, wins the ball and dribbles into the box, his weak shot is saved but the ball spins out to Rodriguez who decides to trick-shot it in off the inside of the post to avoid the defensive leg sliding in. It flies along the line but so quickly that Goran Gavrancic gets caught in his own laces and the ball squeezes behind him. 3-0 at half-time then, everything the Serbs apparently feared.
Hansen’s appraisal once again begins with those one-word sentences he loves. “Quality. Possession. Passing.” adding in a display of face-spiting nasal mutilation, “if I see a better goal than that I’m going home.” Gary then wheels out his best Christmas Cracker effort, with regards Argentinean coach Jose Peckerman, “did you know he used to be a taxi driver?” “Really” says Alan, like he’s just been told they’re all going to the zoo after. “Yeah” says Gary, scarcely able to believe his feeder-line has flowed so well, “he gives his team-talks with his back to the dressing room”. I swear I can hear a distant gong being repeatedly hit.
“Such a good game, it seems a shame we have to move on, so lets reflect on England’s performance yesterday,” he goes on. Tut tut, but at least they discussed today’s game first and for more than a derisory 60 seconds. Really though, considering the interactive options, the BBC3 re-run and the highlights on both channels, is there anyone in the country who hasn’t seen this stuff before?
Steven Gerrard is our England man in conversation today, his grimace possibly being due to the sun, or it may just be his way of dealing with being caught in Garth Crooks’ headlights. The pundits then compare England’s performance to that of Argentina’s today. If you’re going to be Anglo-centric, and I guess you have to be while we’re still in it, then this does seem the better way to go about it. BBC coverage just seems to flow so much better and we are soon back to what we can expect of the second half.
Leonardo suggests, with the look of a man who’s about to inform his kids that a fox has done for the family rabbit, that if Serbia don’t get it together in the face of this Argentinean display that “it’ll be hard.” “S&M are going to get a good whipping” says Wrighty, overplaying the ‘see, I do get it’ card. At the end of the game, no doubt, we’ll see 'The Story of O' and several back-issues of ‘Boudoir Noir’ piled up on his side of the set’s coffee table.
Argentina start the second half as they finished the first trying out neat flicks and rapid passes around the edge of the Serbian area. “It’s a carnival” says Mick McCarthy, desperate for a toffee apple. Mirroring the greeting received by Rooney last night, Lionel Messi’s arrival brings the large contingent of blue and white clad supporters to their feet. He makes an immediate impact, earning a free kick from which he receives the ball, sliding it across the six yard box for Crespo to slot easily home. 4-0. They’ve done quite well to keep them out for the first thirty minutes of the second half, but down to ten men (Kezman having been tunnelled just after the hour), it now looks as though the floodgates will open.
The nightmare continues six minutes later as substitute Carlos Tevez beats two defenders and slots the ball into the far corner. It doesn’t finish their either, ickle Lionel scoring a sixth after easily manoeuvring the ball through the Serbian defenders that now look on the verge of tears. At least they had anticipated it, which may take the some of the sting away. Devastating stuff from Argentina though. “The biggest rout of these World Cup finals thus far” exclaims Pearce, growling the word “rout” in such a way as to suggest spirit possession by Mark E. Smith.
“What a pleasant way to spend an afternoon” says Anthony Cecil Farquar-Hansen. “If you’ve just come in, you’ve had a nightmare” says Gary smugly. “Where have you been?” mocks Alan, forgetting that some people (although not me apparently) have to do proper work for a living between 2 and 4 on a Friday afternoon.
To highlight the precedent for Argentina’s multi-pass first half goal, they dig out the Brazil 1970 goal. Leonardo quips “I’m not sure why that goal seems so much better”. He continues in ‘but seriously’ style, suggesting the standard has been set and that Brazil now need to show something more. Wrighty also aligns himself with Argentina “I’m the Don King of pundits. I’m always in the favourite’s corner”.
Lineker closes the show by discussing the rankings: “According to FIFA, Argentina are the 9th best team in the competition, behind Mexico and the USA...FIFA need to watch more football.”
Pee Wee's Playhouse secret word: Masterclass
Referee (Roberto Rosetti, Italy): I was under the impression that Rob Lee was at Wycombe these days.
These things I believe: Serbia & Montenegro's Albert Nadj comes to this competition having spent the last 2 decades playing bass with the Chilli Peppers -- Argentina look quite good then, showing exactly how to send a message to the other big contenders when playing ‘lesser’ names -- Are we sure Maradona’s clean? -- Hansen can’t get enough of the sadomasochism gags, or rather than the same sadomasochism gag over and over again.