Tuesday, June 27, 2006

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...

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