Sunday, June 11, 2006

England v Paraguay, BBC1

So much for that central position throughout the tournament as Gary's at the ground for this one, introducing the inevitable Henry V battle speech over slo-mo action shots. Sensing we're "moments away from another discussion about Wayne Rooney's toe" Gary introduces the Alans and Ian, clearly on edge, something Gary can't help but notice when we see the players get off the bus and he notes that "thankfully they look more relaxed then Wrighty". Not even he can coax out the identity of the under-23 tournament Paraguay did well in, despite the whole studio willing his mind on. This 80 minute build up is far too lengthy for the amount that is worth putting in it, hence long montages of old England World Cup moments ("Some of those moments still give me a lump in the throat" "You were going to cry!") and, oh lord, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant doing Crouch-esque dancing business. OK, you're BBC employees, we're aware of that. Ray's back at pitchside and able to both hear and have us hear him, a surprisingly agile boon when he's talking to a three sheets to the wind Andrew Flintoff. There's an mildly ironic appeciation of shots of Rooney warming up, closing on Shearer warning, perhaps with a hint of personality foresight, "Fergie won't be happy with you lot" before we go round the country's big screens watching people cheer themselves, literally in Leeds where the instruction "start screaming!" is clearly audible. Gary, it turns out, has met Beckham on park bench for a glamorous chat. As Ian manages to turn shots of massive England support in Frankfurt centre into an anti-Sven statement we cross to the commentary box, where Motson is busy informing us that everyone, apparently, thinks the referee looks like Christopher Lee before surely self-consciously quoting a controversy he was involved in last season in Mexico. "It got touched on, and it's there!" comes shortly afterwards, although he's still hedging his bets, conceding "it might have been Gamarra" having just seen the super slo-mo. We must make a mention at this point of what might be the cult feature of this tournament, the (presumably) international communications construction creating a shadow on the pitch even more spectacular than the famous Azteca 1986 sun/spider, this one seemingly incorporating part of a ferris wheel design. Motson concedes that he's having trouble with the irregular shadows too, amid picture blackouts and lost score graphics. It's only in Germany. He's got a thing against the referee too, branding him a "demonstrative character with the whistle" - to be fair, we've never seen so many foul throws given in a game - and is prone to announcing minor knocks as if state announcements. His most illogical step comes when he wonders how many viewers have had to open their windows in the heat before declaring "the World Cup window has opened here", it apparently being 74 degrees in the commentary box alone. His attempt at critiquing a Three Lions chant breaks down when he remembers it was originally written for Euro 96, ending up offhandedly remarking "Lightning Seeds..." After Chris Birchall's video diary, which leads us all nowhere, we're back with Downing on, and "when this attack breaks down we'll discuss that". That's overly pessimistic. Robinson flying out of goal is "like a big banana". It's not getting any prettier a second half, Lawro remarking "the England supporters are trying to raise the team, aren't they?" as if in wonderment. He played towards the Kop, so what he thought they were up to is anyone's guess. The inquest starts in the studio, Gary having to issue a hurried "if you've just come in, don't worry" to much merriment. Both he and Wright somewhat illogically reckon Owen's substitution is "a throwback to his Italian days", something apparently to do with defensive mindedness. Ian has just completely lost it now, calling Roque Santa Cruz Roque Junior twice and worrying about "mental substitutions". The heat is briefly claimed as a factor, but as Gary reminds us "they should have been in Mexico in '86". "I'm tempted to say it's a game of two halves" is his inevitable summation as he gets so tired of it all namechecks Swindon instead of Sweden and seems to slow right down towards the end. It was only fitting the performance.

What we've learned: England still can't play for more than a half at a time; we need to find out exactly what role Sven has in mind for Theo Walcott; Paraguay aren't going much further if they don't sort out something around the midfield tenacity

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