Saturday, June 17, 2006

Netherlands v Ivory Coast, ITV1

Welcome to week two in ITVland, everybody! Jim Rosenthal is our host for the first of a double-header, and since he's already promising that "we're all going to have a quick stretch after the final whistle" it sounds like he'll be back later as well for some more boarded-up-window-to-hide-an-empty-stadium action. Perhaps sore that the biggest thrashing of the tournament so far has just unfolded on the other side, Jim is keen to gloss over the earlier game as quickly as possible, with the merest of discussions of Cambiasso's wonder goal.

"Ruud! She's come to see you, that one!" points out Jim as a montage of fans arriving at the ground ends with a Dutch woman kissing the camera. "Sometimes there's a thin line between carnival and going for the game," is Gullit's qualified compliment to the masses of Dutch support inside the stadium, although the orange shirt he's wearing himself suggests he'd happily be out in the carnival if not under ITV's employ.

Today's England report focuses on newly-discovered footage of Peter Crouch pulling Brent Sancho's hair. "What did you make of it?" asks Jim. "I didn't see it!" quips Stuart Pearce. "I think it was naive of the defender - he had to just go down, then it would have been a foul," notes Ruud - although quite how you're meant to drop to the floor when somebody is holding your hair and jumping up is an interesting thought. The Ivoirian fans are supposedly hoping for an "elephant charge", notes Jim before handing over to Clive Tyldesley, who advises that "you may want to adjust the colour and brightness on your set before you settle down, it's very, very orange out here!" Clive fails his vexillology test, telling us that "orange doesn't feature in the flag of Ivory Coast" just after the picture switches from a distinctly green, white and orange Ivoirian flag to the red, white and blue of the Netherlands.

Clive notes to Gareth Southgate that Ivoirian coach Henri Michel left the players to get on with their own pre-match team talk, before making reference to Pele's infamous prediction of an African winner of the World Cup. Next he's complaining about the groups: "It was all Heidi Klum's fault - the German supermodel made the World Cup draw in December and put probably the best of the African qualifiers in the same group as two of the favourites!"

"We're in the Gottlieb-Daimler Stadion in Stuttgart," observes Clive at kick-off, "where Fatima Whitbread broke a world record for Britain some 13 years ago!" Well, it was actually 20 years ago Clive, but what kind of pedant would pick you up on that level of minutiae?

"The word from the Dutch camp is that the spirit has never been better!" notes Clive, "No Davids, no Seedorf, no Kluivert, nowhere near the camp!" Van Basten is praised for his record in charge during the qualifying campaign, although Clive delights in pointing out "how ironic that one of the great forwards - truly great forwards of the modern game - has overseen a team which has kept 15 clean sheets in its last 22 internationals and has not conceded a goal in competitive international football since October 2004!" As irony goes, that's right up there with rain on your wedding day.

A quick overview of Van Basten's opposing coach: "There have only been 2 World Cups without Henri Michel in the last 20 years - he's coached France, Cameroon, Morocco, and now Ivory Coast at the finals. You can't stage a tournament without him - not allowed! He's like one of those Grand National jockeys who always seem to get a good ride on the eve of the race!" "Not the ones I back then!" chips in Gareth.

Ivory Coast have a penalty shout turned down after Eboue goes to ground with Van Bronckhorst's arm wrapped round him. "Well there's an irony!" notes Clive. "Remember the Champions League final? Arsenal vs Barcelona again then, and Eboue went down inside the box this time. He it was who won the free kick from which Sol Campbell scored for Arsenal on the day." Clive's sense of universal justice seems satisfied by the non-decision today.

Halfway through the half, and Holland have a free-kick just outside the box after Van Persie is brought down. Tyldesley notes that the Tizie is having to peer through his wall to see: "he's not a particularly tall goalkeeper but he's got some massive men in front of him. I'm not sure that's a great combination really..."Two Dutch players stand over the ball: "Robben and Van Persie having a conversation - nice to know they're on speaking terms!" Van Persie eventually takes the kick, and smashes it into the net past the unsighted Tizie. "If the first game belonged to Robben, the first half of the second game belongs to Robin Van Persie!"Slow-motion replays allow Clive to take credit for pointing out Tizie's bad positioning: "It's not great goalkeeping in truth, is it? Rather like a rather hesitant tail-ender, he was simply beaten for pace!"
Clive briefly offers an olive branch to the beleaguered Tizie by begrudgingly pointing out that "the slow-motion didn't do him any favours," before reminding us yet again that "I said it before the free kick, it was almost comical - there must be two guys of 6'3" in the wall and the goalkeeper, I don't think he is 6 feet - he just couldn't see over his own men!"

"Ha ha!" comments Clive as Van Persie showboats a backheeled pass to a team mate. "Anything you can do, Arjen!" "He might find he gets a rap on his ankles in a minute," warns Southgate. "What - from Robben?" chuckles Tyldesley.

"There's no flag here - it's Ruud Van Nistelrooy, and Holland are starting to motor! The message goes out to Argentina, 'you can score freely, so can we!'" Clive recites Van Nistelrooy's recent history at Old Trafford, pointing out that "if he has a great World Cup, the politics of the situation may just change a little!"

Zokora hits the crossbar with Ivory Coast's first meaningful attack, before Robben breaks down the other end and tumbles over in the area. However, the ref's unimpressed and reaches for the yellow card, gaining Gareth's approval. "I think he's got it spot on - I think he could have drawn a penalty here but I think he makes too much of it!" "The referees have been told to be absolutely certain before they issue yellow cards for diving," Clive tells us. "It is a bit of a personality call - there is contact, brushing contact - he could have stayed up, couldn't he?" Gareth's still suggesting he could have blagged a penalty if only his acting was better: "I just think it's the manner in which he goes down which causes him to be booked... It's a bit too theatrical!"

Tyldesley gives us a brief summary of the Ivory Coast's recent political turmoil, and no sooner has he pointed out that footballing success has brought the nation together than Bakari Kone tears through the supposedly impenetrable Dutch defence to pull one back. "It's a wonderful goal! Truly outstanding strike - all his own work! A tiny man who accelerated away and rocketed the first goal past Edwin van der Sar that he has conceded in going on for 17 hours of competitive international football!"

"We've seen some good goals today, haven't we? We might have a goal of the day competition in tonight's show!" notes Clive, before Drogba leaves his foot in as Van der Sar rushes out to grab the ball from him. Gareth attempts a defence: "He does catch him, but it's a ball he's entitled to go for. I know the goalkeeper's union won't agree with me!" The referee doesn't agree either and Drogba picks up his second yellow card, meaning he will miss the final group game.

Drogba has an immediate chance for redemption as the Ivory Coast quickly break away following a Dutch corner. Drogba intercepts a loose pass and storms upfield with only Van Bronckhorst back and Aroune Kone in support. Sadly for Drogba, his attempted square pass to Kone is poor and is easily blocked by Van Bronckhorst. "Nearly two years without conceding a goal, and they nearly lost two in five minutes!"

Drogba's captaincy skills are discussed as we approach half time, with Clive particularly enamoured by Didier leading his players through the warm up in the coach's absence. "Sometimes you forget how when players play in the Premiership, what huge figures they are in their own country," points out Gareth. In the midst of this, Arouna Kone blasts a shot over the bar. "The Dutch got in a muddle there in defence," says Southgate, "'yours' - 'mine' - 'yours' - 'mine'...no..."

At half time, Kone's goal reminds Jim of Michael Owen's against Argentina in 1998, causing Jay-Jay Okocha to hope for the same result today as then. A 2-2 draw is the limit of your ambitions, Jay-Jay? Pearce thinks Drogba's booking is harsh, Gullit thinks it was justified, but Jay-Jay Okocha refuses to cast the deciding vote and sits on the fence remarkably well.

"How have I caught a cold in this weather?" protests Tyldesley at the start of the second half, perhaps showing signs of fever a few moments later: "It's one of these comments that wise co-commentators make in a moment like this Gareth, but the next goal in this game could be all-important. I'll make it for you! It's a bit of a truism really, statement of the obvious isn't it - 2-2 or 3-1, but at the moment you wouldn't know who was going to score it!"

Meite aims a shot that Van der Sar saves comfortably, giving Clive the opportunity to be mischievous. "The big number 12 who's just had the shot was apparently - so I learned in my research - the subject of a bid from Middlesbrough Football Club quite recently. True or false?" "How recently?" "How long have you had the job? No I think it was probably before your time!"Clive then reveals that the player claimed to have provisionally agreed terms with Bolton in January before pulling out as the club wanted him to miss the African Nations Cup. "That doesn't sound like Sam at all!"
"There are a lot of rumours flying around at the moment," notes Clive as the conversation grows to a more general transfer discussion. "How many agents have called you today?" "Phwoah, dear - I never realised that my number had been posted on the ITV website!" Good corporate reference there, Gareth, you'll go far.

Clive savours in reciting the name Gilles Yapi Yapo, who comes off the Ivoirian bench in the 61st minute. He then tells us that Van Basten revealed yesterday that the 1988 Dutch squad were taken to see Whitney Houston prior to that year's European Championship final (in which Van Basten scored "maybe my favourite international goal" reveals Clive). Tyldesley suggests that van Basten might try to do something this year in the hope of repeating that success. "Pearcey will probably find him a concert," suggests Southgate. "Might not be to his taste, but he'll find him one!" "They'll come out with burst eardrums!" predicts Clive.

Tyldesley plugs the Ask England feature on the ITV website, before Boka brings down Van Persie who was clean through. He only picks up a yellow card however, causing Clive to play Devil's advocate: "He's just a bit wide, and strictly speaking he is running away from goal, but I think morally, ethically he is denying him an opportunity - whether it's a *clear* goalscoring opportunity or not, maybe the referee has erred on the side of caution and common sense there." "Woe betide we bring morals and ethics into football, eh Clive?" "That would never do!"

One of Clive's apparent personal bugbears is raised as Van Bronckhorst stays down after being barged not only off the ball but off the pitch. "There's no good reason here why Ivory Coast need stop... Zokora very very sportingly is going to play the ball...and the fourth official is waving him to play on!" Much consternation follows as Gareth reminds us of a similar incident during France v Switzerland.

Ivory Coast really press for an equaliser in the last 15 minutes, with one of their best chances coming from a corner where Drogba heads the ball across goal beyond Van der Sar but into the awaiting chest of Van Persie who's standing on the far post.

In the last few minutes, Dindane receives the ball on the right wing but Ooijer's enthusiastic slide tackle wins the ball and almost takes out the cameraman in the process. "Hey, take it easy!" is the audible warning from the nearby linesman.

After about three "last throws of the dice" during which Southgate repeatedly criticises Ivoirian short corners instead of hoofs into the box, the final free kick is indeed hoofed up and over the bar, and it's all over. Ivory Coast are the best team to be eliminated from this World Cup in Jim's opinion, as he rushes through the post-match niceties before advising us to come back in half an hour to watch "seeded Mexico", as if anyone's fooled by FIFA rankings and seedings any more.

What we've learned: The Van Persie-Robben one-upmanship contest could be one of the most interesting sub-plots of this tournament; Holland's "rock solid" defence could well be ripped apart by a strong attack (such as, for example, Argentina); and if Ivory Coast had a half-decent keeper and an easier group they could have easily made it to the Quarter-Finals.

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