Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ivory Coast v Serbia & Montenegro, BBC 5 Live Sports Extra

"So what if it's a dead rubber? For the football aficionados among you, you'll know this could be a cracker." Strange games, these, where everyone knows nothing rests on them but the duty is to cover them anyway. We don't even catch the name of the presenter who has to introduce an audio compilation of Didier Drogba clips after telling us he's suspended tonight. Your team is Alistair Bruce-Ball, Chris Waddle and to kick off David Oates, who reminds us "there's nothing on this game, but in a funny kind of way it could be more interesting". After a preview of the 5 Live game, when surely everyone who wanted to hear that match is already listening to the station as us over here have made the conscious decision to take this game in instead, we find Oates also going on about the weather, although "after 12 dry, warm and mainly sunny days we can hardly complain". "There are plenty of people here, if not from the Ivory Coast, then certainly supporting the Ivory Coast, and I've just noticed the rain is absolutely bucketing down" is a classy non-sequitur, as if the two were somehow related. Oates then gets in his information on possibly the final ever play of the Serbia & Montenegro anthem: "their anthem is called Hey Slavs, it was written in 1844 by a Slovak priest". You wouldn't imagine that sort of thing would go down well in the post-Yugoslavia era.

It's evident that the commentary team are taking this as languidly as we listeners are, wondering if S&M will "play Peter Crouch style" and at one point referring to "one of their balding players". Nice to have the extra perception of the action, but we could have lived without that. Luckily there's an early goal to settle us all in - "goalkeeper's lost his bearings - it's a walk-in! What were the Ivory Coast defenders doing there, and what was the goalkeeper doing there?" The action continues apace, even when it shouldn't, Oates going ballistic with a "how did that miss?" at one point before noticing "linesman has flagged for offside, in fact..." Waddle spots on the monitor, we're led to assume, "a shot of Henri Michel just close his eyes and shake his head". Indeed it seems all up for the Ivory Coast when "the defence was all at sea again, and Sasa Ilic has made them pay again". Just good to hear that name out of presumed context, of course. "They're a shambles at the back" is Oates' immediate diagnosis.

I'm not the first to point this out, but Chris Waddle can only refer to spot kicks as a "pelanty", and Ivory Coast getting one seems to be the catalyst for the rest of the game to be littered with such awards and claims, so fun for all ahead. "If it goes through his hands you've got to say well done" is his curious perception of the award. Dindane, a name right out of a list read by Danny Kelly, scores but there's encroachment, a decision which Alistair nearly dismisses because it's the same referee as in England's first game. Luckily the second attempt is also scored, and "this time it counts", and apparently "the neutrals will start swaying now". Towards the Ivorians, presumably, not just swaying for the fun of it. Dindane then gets booked for diving, Alistair having found his theme and ready to stick to it. "A fair few contentious decisions being made" he declares, only seconds later to state "our Mexican referee has got that spot on". Casually winding down at last towards the end of the half he almost doesn't notice his next decision, spurred suddenly into action by "...oh, and Nadj is being sent off". Waddle finally gets to pronounce "he's got one right, he's got one wrong". Oddly, Bruce-Ball begins his half time wrap-up "and here is the story of the game...", which isn't something you get from most commentators.

Our man in London declares this "an absolutely stonking match", predicting "I doubt it'll be the same score at full time" like an unwise man. "We'll be back with more...in a sec" he then tells us in a very un-BBC way. The rest of half time is spent talking about England in any case, the mantra for the coverage being "5 Live is the only station with a presence in the English team hotel". That's good.

"Both teams and the referee are all unpredictable" Chris, in no way picking at a nit, sums up what we have to look forward to, Oates joining in after the team rundown with a hearty "the referee is from Mexico, and he's not very good, to be honest". "With this fella you can lose track of the yellow cards, can't you?" he will shortly ponder, to which Chris, perhaps expecting something less, agrees "I don't think it was a foul...er, sorry, it was a foul". What Chris sees as "like a practice match, on the training ground" actually sounds quite entertaining, especially when the Ivory Coast hit back: "That's a good ball in - oh, and it's in from Dindane!" Chris, like a dad should do, sees "they're having a little celebration, obviously a rehearsed one if they did score". Not that the referee, who Waddle reckons looks like Ray Reardon, is going to be left out of play for too long, giving another penalty/pelanty which forces Oates to admit "I can't say I saw which defender it was who gave away the handball..." There's plenty of pre-take shenanigans, Oates waspishly remarking "the referee now looks like he's going to play in goal", before Kalou nets and "they do the team dance", something not elaborated on. The conceding defender turns out to be the same man as before, in which case he apparently "should hang his head in shame".

As "a crazy, crazy dead rubber" comes to a close Bruce-Ball gets to see a second late in the half red card, by which he seems unsurprised as "it's been a crazy game and a few crazy decisions from the referee" before getting completely flummoxed by the concept of the end of the game. Curiously, the presenter's immediate tack is to ask Waddle "how do you compare Cameroon to this Ivory Coast side?", like it matters, before winding up with "if that's a dead rubber, bring the rest on, frankly". He'll get some practice.

What we've learned: the Ivory Coast might well have qualified from another group (first team to win a finals game after being two down since England-West Germany 1970, apparently); Marco Rodriguez will probably get the final after all that; even in these circumstances 'other' group ending games with nothing riding on them are curious, cold places.

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