Sunday, June 18, 2006

Japan v Croatia, ITV1

Goal of the match: Our survey said er-er.

Shot of the match: Niko Kranjcar's venomous drive off the face of the crossbar following a great turn. He looks quite a player, but just needs to be more involved in games.

Save of the match: Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi's superb stop from Darijo Srna's first half penalty. He was very nearly embarrassed shortly afterwards, though, with a back pass that bobbled bizarrely over his foot and out for a corner.

Miss of the match: It would have gone to Srna (harshly, as his spot-kick was actually pretty decent) had it not been for Atsushi Yanagisawa's awful slice wide with an open goal beckoning in the second half.

Man of the match: Kranjcar showed some lovely touches, but it was probably between Dado Prso (for his clever runs and ability to hold up play), Srna (for his tireless running and dangerous balls into the box) and Josep Simunic (for being an impassable rock at the back for Croatia).

He was playing?!: Japan's strikers Yanagisawa and Naohiro Takahara hardly had a sniff, but most disappointing was Marco Babic, who, aside from one slalom run and shot, was a peripheral figure having shone against Brazil.

Most bizarre moment of the match: For a while it looked as though Japan were putting men on the posts for Srna's penalty. Then I realised the players were just having a drink and timewasting to put him off - and it worked. That bobble was pretty bizarre too.

Player with a chin to rival Hugh Dennis: Josep Simunic.

Player with no relation to Dr Raj Persaud of 'This Morning' fame: Dado Prso.

The Methinks He Doth Protest Too Much Award: Alex, whose incredible gusto in singing the Japanese national anthem suggested someone desperate to demonstrate in a very visible and audible way his dedication to his adopted home country. Meanwhile his teammates barely uttered a word. As the nation that gave us karaoke, they couldn't have been expected to pass up the opportunity to belt out a tune.

The Smartest Coach Award (as awarded by David Pleat): Zlatan Kranjcar, who, with his cream suit, pastel blue tie and slicked hair, looked every bit a primped and preening self-made millionaire.

Who does the bloke next to Zlatan Kranjcar look like?: One of the great debates of our time. I'm inclined to dismiss the comparisons to Dermot Morgan and Tom Conte and put my weight behind Del's suggestion (see the comments here) that he is in fact Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadic.

Face in the crowd: Loads of Japanese fans blowing whistles and tooting horns contrasted with one particular Croatian fan glowering from under his makeshift headgear fashioned out of a scarf.

Stat attack: This result means that Japan have still never won a World Cup game on foreign soil. Which is a less interesting titbit of trivia than the fact that some of the Croatian squad went to see Deep Purple in concert on Friday night.

The David Pleat Award For Idiosyncratic Pronunciation: How ITV didn't see that getting Pleat to co-commentate on a match featuring a player called Fukinishi was a ticking timebomb I don't know. But fair play to him, he's nothing if not unpredictable, and chose to change the third vowel, calling him "Fukinashi".

Learning the lingo: Pleat told us that the Japanese are "spiritful", and Peter Drury invented the concept of the goalkeeper's "semi-punch". Surely it is a punch or it isn't?

Double-entendre Corner: Drury's encouragement that we should "have a fiddle with the red button" raised a childish smirk.

The lowest form of wit: "[Hidetoshi Nakata] has seen two of the most beautiful cities in the world, Florence and Bolton". Drury can expect his postbag to runneth over with angry missives from Lancashire.

You what?!: According to Drury, Kawaguchi was "elastic". Hmm. Pleat excelled himself, referring to the Croatian outfield players as "ten red and white chessboards" and shortly afterwards claiming "I think you can almost smell the fatigue". Even more bizarrely, he described Kawaguchi as "like a cat on hot bricks" when rooted to the spot from a corner - no David, "like a cat on hot bricks" means to be UNABLE to stay still.

Level of interest shown in game at hand: Even by ITV's usual standards, remarkably little. Before the match there was another installment of their series about 1966, this time revolving around the popularity of karate, a panda who was reluctant to mate and Portugal's astounding Eusebio-inspired comeback against South Korea. Ruud Gullit then started talking about the 1974 World Cup. At half time there was the inevitable report from the England camp. And even the commentary team didn't seem to care, Drury saying "We're essentially your warm-up act" before mentioning their coverage of the Brazil game and the appearance in the studio of Shane Warne.

What we learned: Croatia have a very solid defence and some lively forwards but need to start hitting the net; Japan are spiritful and sprightly but have nothing in the way of a cutting edge and will soon be on the plane home; the only teams ITV care about are England and Brazil.

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