Friday, June 23, 2006

Iran v Angola, ITV2

And so we reach this World Cup's supposed battle of the minnows - the game most quoted by non-obsessives as justification for moving the tournament away from BBC1 and ITV1 onto minor channels. Such as, for example ITV2, where we are today, but never mind, eh? We see only fleeting glimpses of the now-infamous framed carpet that serves as Iran's pennant, as we're frustratingly at an advert break during the coin toss, but its solitary appearance is during the anthems when it almost completely obscures the mascot tasked to hold onto it.

For the first time in the tournament, there are obviously masses of empty seats - indeed your correspondent was on the FIFA website just 24 hours earlier, idly pondering whether to pay £400 for a ticket and last-minute flight to Leipzig. Common sense, laziness and an unrelated culinary mishap soon put that thought out of my mind, so instead I sit here in the company of Peter Brackley and Clive Allen.

Mehdi Mahdavikia gets his first touch, allowing Peter to remind us of Iran's finest hour. "He enjoys iconic status back in Iran after scoring against the USA. Six years ago to the day, that 2-1 win over the Americans in France '98. Never to be forgotten." Brackley might not have forgotten the game, but he clearly has forgotten what year this is (clue: "six years ago to the day" was slap bang in the middle of Euro 2000, not World Cup 1998).

"There isn't a high tempo to the game at the moment," is Clive's early assessment as the camera switches to the dancing Angola fans. "There seems to be more tempo on the terraces!" "They are so keen to promote their once war-ravaged country aren't they, the Angolans?" suggests Brackley, perhaps underestimating the resources of the Angolan tourist board.

Discussion turns to the record-breaking exploits of Ali Daei, whose 109-goal international record beats Clive's "by 108", according to Brackley. Actually by 109, but it's rather cruel to remind Allen of his brief England career.

Peter informs us of Portugal's goal against Mexico, "which is of course bad news for the Angolans." Exceptionally good news, actually, but Clive doesn't dare correct him. "It's the other way round, isn't it?" he eventually deduces. "Good news for them! Sorry, I was getting confused there for a second!"

First reference to Angola's goalkeeper being without a club: 13th minute.

"He can be a bit of an enigmatic character, Akwa," suggests Peter as the Angolan forward is flagged offside. "He has a playboy reputation - he's the Clive Allen of Angolan football!"

Two Angolans injure themselves within the space of a couple of minutes, as first Mateus and then Loco require the stretcher. Little sympathy is shown towards the latter, as Clive instead opt to pass judgement on Loco's bizarre bald-except-for-a-few-dreadlocks-at-the-front hairstyle. "You should commentate with Ray Wilkins, he'd spend all day doing his hair, then leave the flipping thing at home!" advises Brackley.
No news on whether there is more than one stretcher per venue or whether Mateus was unceremoniously dumped on the sidelines once the second injury occurred.

"An oil tycoon has promised a £100,000 house for the first man who does score for Angola!" reveals Peter, as the gloriously-named Love - on as a sub for Mateus - scuffs a shot weakly into the keeper's arms. What, including an own goal?

Loco is back on the pitch, but looks distinctly uncomfortable as the ball deflects off him for an Iranian corner. Clive reckons the coach will want him to stay on until half time if he can. "His hairdresser will too, think of the sponsorship!" chuckles Peter. "That's what it was, a free haircut, was it?" realises Clive.The corner comes in and is unwittingly cleared off the line by Mendonca, who barely seems to react as the ball rebounds off his stomach and clear.

Angola get four corners in a row, which must be some kind of record, and even their fourth attempt is deflected behind only for the referee to miss it and give a goal kick.

"Love going nowhere," observes Peter as the Angolan sub runs into a posse of Iranian defenders. "Is that a song, Peter?" asks Clive. "Felt like one! Can't say one was coming on..." is the reply.

"In injury time we have another injury!" comments Peter as Iranian keeper Mirzapour gets clattered when reaching up to collect the ball. Sure enough, the first half doesn't end until the 51st minute.

Into the second half, and Peter reports on Mexico's missed penalty and red card. "It's all happening in that match," he says enviously. "Not a lot in this one at the moment, I'm afraid." Ze Kalanga throws himself to the floor inside the area, one of the more blatant dives seen in the tournament so far. No booking though, much to Clive Allen's annoyance. Ze Kalanga's next touch is to swing in a cross to the unmarked Flavio, who heads the ball home. "Now! Now there is hope! It's a long shot but they have a fighting chance!"

Peter notes that Flavio was the only Angolan in the box when he scored the goal, with fellow striker Love further back. "As the Supremes would say, you can't hurry Love!" "Boom boom!" "I can't believe I just said that but I did!"

Angolan captain Figueiredo comes off, and struggles to remove his armband in the process. On comes Rui Marques ("the Hull City player who was reluctant to play for Angola, until they got to the World Cup!"). Meanwhile, that cumbersome captain's armband is causing Jamba some difficulties as well, and in a clip that will surely be replayed in video montages for years to come, he is assisted in putting it on by Iran's Rasoul Khatibi.

Mahdavikia swings over a corner for Iran. "Oh, and it's there! And it's Bakhtiarizadeh! The man with the unpronounceable name has come up with the equaliser! Bakhtiarizadeh - it's some name, and that was some header! Just about the hardest name I've ever had to pronounce!"

Iran spend the final ten minutes looking for a winner, whilst Angola seem to have given up hope and are trying to settle for a draw. A rare Angolan free-kick in stoppage time is tapped weakly by Mendonca straight to the keeper. "It's not going to happen for them now, Angola, but they will treasure the part they've played in this World Cup group," says Brackley. "It's finished in Leipzig, Iran 0...er, Iran 1, I should say, Angola 1!"

What we've learned: erm...some of the Angolan players have got funny names? No, hang on, I can do better than that - er, Loco's got a funny haircut? Hmm, nope. Just about nothing to be learned from this game, sorry.

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