Sunday, June 25, 2006

Germany v Sweden, BBC1

Here we are at the knockouts then; the death or glory, and we open proceedings with the tournament hosts, who are just getting into their stride. “I never thought I’d say this, but the tournament has been better for it” suggests casual xenophobe Gary Lineker. “As long as they don’t win it, that would be taking it too far” he adds, probably making a mental note to finally get round to ordering that Stan Boardman single off Amazon.

Wishing to fit in with the English abroad, Hansen gets into stereotypes. “Efficiency and work-rate they’re noted for, but not ambience and charisma, but we’ve had loads,” as the panel go on to praise all things German both in terms of support and on-field displays. Although Gary won’t let this pro-Deutsch waxing go on too long, “we’ve not seen them play any one strong”. “Correct! Correct! At last you say something relevant” says Hansen, the disciplinarian housemaster of the BBC team.

Going onto the Swedes, we learn Lars Lagerback has been praised by the Swedish media for his moderation in playing down his teams chances. “Sven must really miss Sweden sometimes” quips Gary, who doesn’t miss a trick in giving the FIFA rankings a further satirical beating. “Sweden are actually ranked higher than Germany in the rankings, but then Czech Republic and the USA are 2 and 5 and I think Leicester are 7th, so we shouldn’t read too much into that.” The boy Lineker's on fire today, it seems.

Martin O’Neill’s time at Celtic with Swedish hero Henrik Larsson is naturally discussed, and the Ulsterman tries a little tenderness. “I could nearly say I’m madly in love with him...he’s unlike the mythical Samson, when he shed his dreadlocks he became better” he says lyrically. “How would he have done in the Premiership” asks Alan Shearer with a record-holders strut. O’Neill is quick to cut him down to size; “Hah, he’d have walked it, he’d have scored as many as you, Shearer.” Already showing he’s in mischievous mode, Gary presses the right O’Neill buttons, asking him for his opinions on Zlatan Ibrahimovic. O’Neill spins violently out of the winding up, “that’s why [Larsson’s] retiring, he’s been doing Ibrahimovic’s work for the last 4 years” he says, reiterating his notion that he is “the most over-rated player on the planet”.

For the second time today they go for another emo slo-mo VT package, but Gary is being particularly on the ball with it, “another gratuitous musical montage, you can’t beat them” he lies, as they move on to England stuff. Today Garth is yapping at Owen Hargreaves who comes across very well; relaxed, articulate, intelligent, hopefully he’ll continue to win people over. Discussing the right-back issue, Martin O’Neill nostalgically quotes from the book of Clough.

Back to today, and we move to Ray Stubbs who is inside the Allianz Arena with Boris Becker. Clearly they are trying to compete with ITV’s Shane Warne ‘coup’. Thankfully they only entrust Boris, dressed rigidly like an 80’s Wall-Street-adjacent tailor’s mannequin, in discussing matters such as the weather. However despite getting Ray his Access All Areas pass and a celebrity Teuton, it is the last we see of our Wirralian hero all day. Back in with the pundits and the elongated build-up has clearly caused a cameraman to nod off, the shot sliding towards Alan Shearer before jerking back to the still chuntering O’Neill. “We’re hoping for 5-5 with penalty kicks” is Hansen’s schoolboyish ideal, before we discover the apex of Shearer’s ambition. “The last 16, it doesn’t get any better than this,” he says, the rapier host quickly getting in the line I would almost certainly have otherwise written, “well apart from the quarters, the semi’s, the final…” As the four fall about, we move to the stadium.

After ‘Das Lied der Deutschen’ is belted out, Jonathan Pearce notes “that version [was] a lot louder and prouder than 2 weeks ago” “That was down to the corporates” says peoples champion Mark ‘No Logo’ Bright. The noise is understandable, the German nation has gradually got hooked into the tournament and there are only 4,000 Swedes in a red-hot sold-out 66,000 seat Arena today. Earlier in the afternoon, on ‘..Focus’, Lee Dixon had claimed that this support was worth “half a goal to them.” Not entirely sure how they’d cash in them tokens, myself.

Happilly for them, they get a real goal after only four minutes, Lukas Podolski nods down to Michael Ballack, who threads a short pass to Miroslav Klose. Klose’s progression is blocked by the diving Andreas Isaksson, but the ball spills out to Podolski who belts it in off the top of Teddy Lucic’s desperate, diving bonce. On the bench, Klinsmann bounces like a trampolining 8 year old before bundling into the circle pit that has formed in the dug out. Not long after, Henrik Larsson turns his man in the box but the angle is too acute for him to beat Lehmann. They show Oliver Kahn studying the efforts of his keeping colleague/rival intently. “I don’t think they share Christmas cards” sighs Jonathon Pearce with a ‘I don’t know, those boys’ shake of the head. Sat on the bench, and calmed down, Klinsmann applauds a German move like it’s the opening bars of a Neil Diamond encore.

In the 12th minute, Bastian Schweinsteiger passes to Klose who draws the defenders before reversing the pass to Podolski who doesn’t muck about in striking a second beyond Isaksson. “Disastrous start for Sweden. Only 8 teams have done that, come from a two goal deficit, in the World Cup” says Bright, flicking through his Schotts Miscellany. “The name you can hear being sung is that of Jurgen Klinsmann, that simply would not have happened last season” adds Pearce. Not long after he gets all excited when the ball ripples the net having been tipped round behind it. “It’s a goal, it’s in the back of the net...the wrong side” he says, in a not altogether seamless cover-up.

Sweden’s tasks becomes nigh on impossible in the 35th minute, as Teddy Lucic gets a second yellow. Pearce spots his chance, “how many has the referee counted today, he knows that two make a red.” Poll ain’t living that down anytime soon. It’s not a great call though as our ref seems to merely be following a request from two or three German players that he show a card for the most innocuous of challenges. A replay is then shown of the referee showing the red card in slo-mo. “Yes. Yes.” he nods with the kind of grin that usually accompanies plans for world domination being set in motion.

Although the game is in Germany’s pocket, Sweden occasionally cause problems, Ibrahimovic swivelling on 6 yard box and sending a shot which Lehmann blocks, before agitatedly swatting it behind as though it’s a perm-seeking crane-fly. It’s been quite a half, Sweden’s defence have been haphazard, their midfield conspicuous in their absences. It appears to be a cake-walk for Germany, particularly as they will play the entire second half with a man advantage, not to mention that extra half goal cushion.

“What is it about the Germans, even when they were supposed to be rubbish, they’re exceptional” says Gary at the break. “It’s the Swedes who are rubbish” snaps Hansen, while Shearer adds “chances galore” like he’s advertising a village fete. After discussing the half, Gary responds to emails about the setting of their studio so he delivers a live historical voice-over of a panorama of the Brandenburg Gate and the surrounding points of interest. Put down the tired Sven interview where he answers all the same old questions, and so something less boring instead. At the end Gary seems embarrassed, like he’s just said “mind if I read you some of this novella I’ve written” to his building site workmates in the pub. “I’ve got a job on an open-top bus tomorrow” he segues, ears reddening, suggesting “lets get back to football” as Hansen checks his initial praise to get back to his snidey banter shtick.

Before we head back, O’Neill continues his seemingly personal vendetta with Ibrahimovic, laying into him like he’s a nuisance neighbour. “He was once arrested for impersonating a policeman, maybe he’ll be arrested today for impersonating a footballer” quips Gary as we return to the box, where Pearce and Bright are giggling and threatening to send that line to the Swedish dressing room. Despite seemingly endless waves of German pressure, it is Sweden who have the first opportunity in the second half when they win a penalty, Larsson having been charged in the back by Christoph Metzelder. He has to wait for his own bench to make a substitution before he can take the kick, and this seems to throw him as he sends it high over the bar, Lehmann barely moving from his spot on the line.

For the remainder of the game it becomes once again, a shooting gallery and the impressive Isaksson makes save after diving save. Brilliant, really. Just prior to his substitution, the directors shows slo-mo of Ibrahimovic raising his shirt to reveal a tattoo on the side of his stomach that reads “Judge Me”. “Martin O’Neill already has” says Bright. Jonathon Pearce notices a stray boot on the pitch, Metzelder playing with one foot covered only by sock. “Ian Wright would have picked it up and thrown it in the crowd” says Bright before they show a replay of Larsson kicking it out of its owners immediate reach. Pearce also begins to lick his lips in the intense heat, “plenty of fluid being taken in, in a city where 110 million gallons of beer are brewed every year.” “One’s got your name on it” says Bright like a 1930’s Broadway impresario. “One?” whispers stein-jockey Pearce. That’s the end of it though, Germany 2.5 Sweden 0.

With plenty of time left at the end of the broadcast, in case of extras, we have time for more filler material, Adrian Chiles searching around Berlin for signs of German humour, visiting a comedy club and learning a filthy, unbroadcastable joke from one lady. At the end, we see him being covered in scarves and jester hats by some German lads. “The old Brummie jester” says our host. Well actually he says “gesture”, but it does appear he is beginning to lose it, as moments before he seems to forget the name of the colleague they are crossing to for the Jens Lehmann interview.

I can understand it though, it has been a long old week.

Referee (Carlos Eugenio Simon, Brazil): service with a smile

Pee Wee’s Playhouse secret word: untaxing

These things I believe: Going on his celebration for the second goal, Klinsmann has clearly sought the counsel of David Pleat on dealing with touchline excitement –- Notice the Germans were happy to showboat, in front of their support. Could it be there undoing later on, rather than their inspiration? -- Lets hope Lars Lagerback will no doubt take some comfort from the fact that “the last 16. It doesn’t get any better than this.” – Whenever Teddy Lucic forgets to prepare for a fancy dress party, he just turns up and tells them he’s come as The Thing from the Fantastic Four.

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