Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Brazil v Croatia, BBC1

Mark Lawrenson is never going to be regarded as one of the great sages of our time. He may be a nice enough chap, and he does at least try to amuse us (which is more than can be said for David Pleat, unless that's the reason for his comedy attempts at pronunciation), but when it comes to cutting insight he's usually left some way behind... well, everyone. Christ, even Andy Townsend has made a couple of useful comments in the last week. And yet here, when summing up the first half of the first half, his suggestion that "nothing's happened" is probably the most accurate statement of the tournament so far. I can vouch for this, because at this stage of the game the last thing I'd scribbled on my notepad was Ian Wright's comment that he'd have liked to have been a Brazilian because he'd always wanted to have a Brazilian-style name, which, while it leads off into a potentially rich vein of comedy, doesn't really help when you're trying to write a wry-but-informative review of Brazil v Croatia.

Bad games. You wait ages for one and then two come along at once (and if I hadn't picked South Korea in the office sweepstake I probably would have found the first game of the day pretty awful as well). Except that, because you've agreed to write about it on the internet, you can't ring your mum or start on case 3 of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney or go and have a bath or something else instead on the off-chance that the greatest moment in football history occurs in the second half and you're left looking like a fool when you don't mention it. It's not as if I'm not used to bad games: I've just sat through a whole season of them, and then stumped up a ludicrous sum to pay for a season ticket to watch more. But they're my bad games. I can rationalise watching bad games between average Championship teams. Other people's bad games bewilder me in every way, particularly when we've had several days of relentlessly enjoyable games and this particular bad game features the most vaunted forward line in the world.

It had all started so well as well. We'd had the obligatory montage of great Brazilian moments - yes, Garrincha thumping one in from distance, yes, Carlos Alberto, yes, Falcao running away in triumph, yes, Bebeto rocking his invisible infant - we'd had Leonardo picking out his favourites from the Bumper Book Of Reasons Why Brazil Are Good At Football - Charles Miller and his football, happiness, style, fun, samba music (*) - and we'd had Damian Johnson providing the obligatory "look, aren't their supporters really fanatical and here's some women very nearly showing us their breasts" report. We'd even had the tantalising suggestion from Ian Wright that when he'd played against Brazil "you could hear them dancing in the dressing room", alas never expanded on. They'd even bothered to mention Croatia (which slightly knackered a joke I'd worked out about Leyton Orient, but never mind) with Adrian providing a MOTD2-style top 5 including, er, Goran Ivanisevic winning Wimbledon, and being sent to report from the stadium on the grounds of his mum being Croatian. This should be have been great, not least because Strachan was in tow and it's always good to see the chaps together, but Adrian seemed to be distracted by something off-camera, and Lineker came out of the report with an attempted pun so appalling that we shan't draw attention to it in case anyone ever tries it again. So, every cliche in place, everything running along nicely, and then the match starts and we may as well be watching France v Switzerland again for all of the pulsating excitement on display.

Oh, all right, so Kaka rocketed one in just before half time, completely out of keeping with everything that had gone before, and so the team could wax reasonably lyrical. "It was a funny first half" suggests Hansen, but then he didn't have to write a wry-but-informative commentary on it. Wright begins each of his bits of analysis by saying "the thing about it is...", which makes you wonder if that was what he wanted as his Brazilian name.

Croatia come out of their shells a bit in the second half and the game improves marginally, occasionally reaching the realms of the all right-ish but still being largely poor - even the pitch invader who comes on towards the end doesn't do anything particularly interesting and seems to leave without a struggle. I've nothing particular against Croatia - no national side has a better kit, for a start - and they're not a bad side, but there is something desperately unexciting about them in these post-Sukor/Prosinecki/etc days. They seem to be one of a strata of mid-ranking European teams - Switzerland, Serbia, England er, Poland - that you have to have in the tournament but who you forget were even there about two minutes after they lose in the 2nd round (if they get that far). It doesn't help that whenever they cut to the manager prowling about his technical area, he has a bloke who looks like Father Ted sat behind him, reminding the discerning viewer that there are many other things to do with your time. Despite all of this they still have enough of the game to get a draw, but like Japan yesterday seem to get to the edge of the area and then lose their way, Prso is particular getting into good positions and then not seeming to know quite what to do. Possibly Brazil had another gear that they could have slipped into if need be, but of the vaunted front four only Ronaldinho lives up to his pre-match billing, and they've got to get rid of Ronaldo (Motson suggests as an alternative "the lively Fred", a phrase which sounds wrong in any context other than a local newspaper report about a particularly beloved lollipop man). It'll be interesting to see if Guus Hiddink manages to find a way around them, Wily Old Fox that he is.

At the end Motson surmises that it was "a fairly undistinguished game, by Brazilian standards", when aside from the odd moment from Kaka and Ronaldinho it would have been an undistinguished game by mid-table Championship standards. Passing over the game, the panel choose to berate the "off-form" Ronaldo; Leonardo shows his value to the discussion by describing his display (or his physical condition, or possibly both) as "very, very, very, very... bad". Back in the stadium Strachan and Chiles are equally unimpressed, and sign off with an exchange that I'm still not sure I understand even though I've rewatched it about half a dozen times:

CHILES: Enjoyed the game?
STRACHAN: Enjoyed it? I enjoyed you crumpling up the team sheet and crawling away in mourning...
CHILES: (Interrupting) I 'ate it! I 'ate it in there!
STRACHAN: ... and reducing football down to the basics.

Still easily the most entertaining part of the day, mind.

What we've learned: Brazil need to improve quickly otherwise they're going to lose in the 2nd round; Croatia v Australia could be one of the more interesting of the last round of group games; Ian Wright can hear dancing from a mile away.

(*) This has been puzzling me for some time now. Granted, Ronaldinho skipping past bewildered defenders is a joy and a thing of wonder, but I've watched Strictly Come Dancing (albeit not particularly closely) and I really don't see the connection. Although I'd have no objections if all punditry was forced to incorporate analogies to some form of dancing; next time England play there could be arguments as to whether they were playing 10 Year Old Girls Working Out A Routine But Then Having An Argument And Pulling Each Others Hair Football, or Fat Indie Boy Trying To Impress A Girl With Some Frantic Frugging But Then Drinking Too Much Snakebite And Making An Arse Of Himself Football, and Ian Wright could complain that Sven doesn't understand that people want to see traditional English Morris Dancing Football. It'd be great and everything.


Blogger Ben said...

Honestly, as someone who had to sit through France v Switzerland this game was infinitely better. Though still not good. Croatia definitely deserved a draw, and I was very impressed with Robert Kovak, Babic and Prso, who outperformed all the Brazilians with the exception of Kaka, Ronaldinho and possibly Juan.

Love the comment about "the lively Fred". As for the guy sat on the bench behind the Croatian manager, I can see the Father Ted resemblance, but I was thinking more a greying Tom Conte.

11:34 am, June 14, 2006

Blogger Matt said...

Tom Conte always looks elegantly dishevelled though; it's hard to imagine him in a red tracksuit.

I was probably a bit harsh on Croatia, all things considered - Kovac was indeed terrific, albeit without being up against much, and Prso got himself into some excellent positions and then seemed to get confused, as if he was surprised to be there. I thought Kaka had a bit of an odd game though - the goal was brilliant, but aside from that it seemed to me as if his role in the team hadn't quite been worked out, somehow.

2:13 pm, June 14, 2006

Blogger Del said...

I didn't see Father Ted, or Tom Conte. The first name that sprung to my mind was former Bosnian Serb leader and indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic. The one that everyone's trying to find. I was shouting at the telly "there he is!" but as ever, noone was listening.


The Croatian bench wasn't exactly the smartest place to hide. Surely a nation away from the former Yugoslavia would've made more sense. The arrogance of the man.

3:18 pm, June 14, 2006

Blogger Ben said...

Matt: Fair to say Kaka's role was undefined, but that's the norm I think, and he was quite effective wherever he popped up.

Del: Yes, I was thinking of him too. Come to think of it, have you ever seen Radovan Karadzic, Tom Conte and Dermot Morgan together in a room at the same time? It'd be quite a party.

4:00 pm, June 14, 2006

Blogger Matt said...

Curse my thin grasp of international politics, I could have got three paragraphs out of that and I wouldn't have had to write about the football at all.

Although I reckon it's the perfect hiding place; nobody in their right mind would think of looking for him there. Still, this explains all those votes they give each other during Eurovision. Wogan was right all along.

7:06 pm, June 14, 2006


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