Brazil v Australia, ITV1
Like many millions of others, I was an unsuccessful ticket applicant for this year’s World Cup. Three games I applied for, of which this was one (Togo v Switzerland, and Portugal v Mexico were the others I think). I wasn’t the only one intrigued by this game, the most heavily applied for of all, apparently. Still, no matter, plenty of money saved and the chance to enjoy the game in the company of Terry Venables. Which is much better, obviously.
That said, messers Venables, Gullit and Rider have a special guest with them for the occasion. With ITV’s commentary team making all manner of cricket references during the tournament (and not just when the Aussies are on display), it is quite fitting that they should fly in Shane Warne for Australia’s biggest ever soccer fixture. He’s not an expert, but that certainly hasn’t stopped him from offering opinions before.
Shane is placed at the centre of our more regular chums, and is asked by our host how he feels about this beautiful game. “I enjoy it”, he says twice, both times prefaced by a Tony Blair-like “look,…” that indicates a ‘for Crissakes, will you LISTEN!’ exasperation. This is his first contribution, but is perhaps forearmed with advance irritation in the expectation of several lame cricketing gags. He doesn’t have to wait long, Steve Rider linking on with “Watching Brazil, it’s just like watching England at cricket down the years,” that is pitched in that troubling medium between self-deprecation and cheeky wind-up. Unsure, Shane coughs a chuckle.
Its then briefly onto Brazil, Terry V pulling his best Albert Steptoe to mock those whinging about Brazil’s below-par performance against Croatia. Back to Australia, and the talk is of determination, Shane suggesting that Australian self-belief is with you from birth, going that extra mile to mime a fairly fluid forceps delivery whilst doing so. Clearly the ITV producer thinks the cricket gags haven’t been harvested thoroughly enough though, showing a hefty bobble that troubled Japan keeper Yosikazu Kawaguchi in the day’s previous game. Cue talk of ‘edges’, ‘bit of rough’, ‘turn’ yada yada yada, leaving one barren ol’ shaft of puns. Doesn’t mean they’re going to stop mining it though, that is clear.
Ned Boulting’s customary fanfare for the common man finds him in the park amongst the two tribes of yellow. He chats to a bloke dressed as Steve Irwin, asking the inflatable-croc wrangler whether or not he’d like to say hello to Shane Warne who’s in their studio. “Err, hello” says their prole of choice, in a manner that suggests his wife may have been receiving an unusually high volume of texts recently.
Doubts remain about the fitness and psychological readiness of Ronaldo. “Here’s Ned Boulting, again” sighs Steve, seemingly light on the colleagues, and the over-worked Nedward stands up to ask his question to Ronaldinho at a press conference. “Are you worried about Ronaldo?”. “No” says Ronaldinho, as his fingers are bent back by a Nike executive beneath the table. The team are less convinced, Gullit mocking that he left the field in the last game and “his shirt had no sweat on it.” “But he’s not fat” defends Steve, seeming to flashback to a portly and toilet-bowl-dunked youth.
Into the stadium and Jon Champion suggests Brazil’s national anthem is the most ideal around: “Chaotic and cordial in equal measure.” Once again the effects mic is up on the roving camera for the anthems, and not for the first time it sounds just like that day you were mucking about with a karaoke CD-ROM on your work PC with everyone joining in, but neither you or your colleagues were willing to really sell it, in case the boss heard you in the upstairs meeting room. Yeah, thats right, just like that day.
As the Aussie anthem ends, Jon Champs informs us that this is “one of the most eagerly awaited games of this World Cup” before allowing us to await it a bit longer through a break for a single advert. As we come back, it appears that Jon believes we are coming up to Halloween already, “So Jim Beglin, Brazil? Trick or retreat.” “Trick, definitely,” enthuses Jim, keen to egg his grumpy neighbour’s car. We then learn that the German referee is a dentist by profession, presumably delighted to be awarded this game purely for the case study potential amongst Brazil’s attacking ranks.
Early in the game, the director is clearly amused by Guus Hiddink’s gesticulations, as we cut to him apparently demonstrating David Byrne’s moves from Talking Heads’ ‘Once In A Lifetime’ video. Meanwhile Champs is enthusing about the global Aussie support, and ignoring the comedy rule of three, “Flags are out in all those Aussie staging posts around the world: Sydney, Melbourne, Darwin, Adelaide…Earls Court.”
Brazil are awarded a fairly early free-kick, Roberto Carlos scampering towards it as though he has just run off the edge of a cartoon cliff, before giving it a lazy-eye belt into the crowd. Not long after, Ronaldinho breaks into the box then treads on the ball and falls over. “Pub footballers everywhere rejoice” says Jon.
Mile Sterjovski gives up the chase on one very promising Australian move down the left having played to the whistle. The whistle, unfortunately, having emanated from the crowd. “Where do you start looking,” asks Champion, “there’s 66,000 here and most of them will have whistles.” Just prior to half-time, after Marco Bresciano shoots over the bar, we see a shot of Guus Hiddink throwing down his water bottle in frustration. “Now now, don’t be greedy” says Champion like a weary dinner-lady.
Into the break and we see plenty of shots of happy Australians “Shane Warne is a very proud Australian today looking at those pictures” says Steve as we witness two drunk Aussie fans impersonating rather haphazard kangaroos. Meanwhile El Tel is still unconvinced by Ronaldo “He looks bewildered” and is amused by the whistle in the crowd thing, chuckling “he didn’t look at the linesman, he’s there for that” whilst meaning to mime a flag wave, but instead appearing to simulate a tiny, butler-alerting porcelain bell.
We move to shots of more inflatable kangaroos, and ‘Utility’ Boulting reports again from the fan park, chatting to two increasingly trousered Aussie fans. “Calm down fellas” says Steve like a grumpy granddad, trying to get us quickly to the second half. Ronaldo makes a contribution early on, threading a ball along the edge of the box to Adriano who jinks to the side of Scott Chipperfield then sidefoots through the committed defender’s legs and out of the reach of Mark Schwarzer.
Australia do not suddenly become bystanders upon this goal though. Dida tries to do too much in catching the ball above Viduka’s hexagon head, the ball dropping to recently introduced sub Harry Kewell who blows the big chance with the goal gaping. They go close again in the last ten from a free-kick, moments after Brazil hit the bar, and then again with a lob from the beefy Middlesbrough forward. Just as Brazil were feeling that they was gettin’ nowhere, Fred doubles their lead, Robinho’s shot rebounding off the post and Schwarzer, which allows him to merely stick a foot out to claim the goal. Not altogether a fair reflection on Australia’s contribution to the game, it should be said.
Ruud Gullit has been uncharacteristically over-excited by the Australian effort, saying “We were here and we were like ‘ooh’, ‘ahh’, ‘eerrghh’,” as though hypnotised by a Catherine Wheel. For Steve’s final thought, he decides a watered down Paul Hogan impression is the way to go, musing “you do get the feeling that as regards this new fangled sport of soccah, that it might not be long before Aussie rules”.
Now that, Steve, is a wrong ‘un.
Referee (Markus Merk, Germany): Decisive in all matters aside from wardrobe.
Pee Wee’s Playhouse secret word: “passion, spirit” (Shane), “spin, etc.” (everyone else).
These things I believe: Cafu is the most civilised player in the world, responding to a yellow card with a hand-shake for the ref. Early contender for the Finals Fantasy Golden Bowler Hat -- Brazil always intended to build up to a peak, hence why they only played Swiss league sides and New Zealand in the friendlies, so with this as a slight improvement on the Croatia game, we write them off at our peril -- After largely going toe-to-toe with the world champions, if Australia keep this confidence and strength of will with them, they really should qualify with Brazil.
Product of a union between Jim Rosenthal and a fifty pence piece: Mark Viduka.