Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Paraguay v Trinidad & Tobago, ITV4

Reasons for an Englishman to watch Paraguay v Trinidad & Tobago:

1. Experience says that England v Sweden is never exactly a thrilling affair. Yes, all right, I know, hindsight is 20/20 and all that, well done.
2. I can live without listening to another Clive Tyldesley commentary on an England match for a couple of years, cheers.
3. 'And now over to Ned Boulting at the fan park'. I refuse to believe that there's anyone who can hear these words without being swamped by an all-encompassing feeling of cold dread.
4. If I hear the phrase 'England expects' once more, I'm jolly well going to punch whoever it is that says it.

And besides, given ITV's painfully England-centric coverage thus far, who wouldn't be interested to see how they handle a game that's presumably only being watched by people who've chosen not to watch England? Oh, I see.

Anyway, same break bumpers (hnngh), same weedy Kasabian theme tune (yeurch), and here's, oh, Angus Scott. "You're in the right place" he assures us, introducing a montage from Trinidad's games so far. His expert guests are the "three name men", Hasselbaink and Okocha, "but you can call me Angus". The budget hasn't extended to sending them to Kaiserslauten, but instead to a curious set with a large square of carpet separating pundits and presenter that looks as if it was cobbled together in around ten minutes; presumably this isn't the same set that was puzzling Simon last week.

Some brief commentary on "T and T"'s prospects, off for a break - no, I don't want to watch World Cuppa, ta - and back to Angus. "In Cologne all eyes will be on Wayne Rooney" he starts, ominously, and it's off for a Gabriel Clarke package that leaves no cliché untouched (well, apart from the one about aging prostitutes, unless I missed something). What the fuck is this doing here, exactly? In an attempt to find answers, your correspondent flicked over to ITV1 just in time to catch - no! but yes! - the start of the same Rooney package. (It was at this point, and not unrelatedly, that dragging in the TV from the other room to keep an eye on what ITV1 were up to seemed like a good idea.) Rooney's return is "encouraging England to expect" claims Gabriel, tempting a punch.

So, back to the game in hand then? Er, no, time for a pretty-but-pointless graph - whatever happened to the 3D replay, anyway? - plotting England's possible route to the final. This features Italy or France as potential semi-final opponents, suggesting that nobody at ITV has watched Italy, France or England thus far. There's time for some highlights of the tournament to date, but, as Angus assures us, "possibly the greatest moment could be still to come" - Trinidad and Tobago getting through the group stage against all the odds? - "it could be England v Germany in the next round". Oh, fuck off.

It's almost a relief to cross over to Peter Drury - first time for everything, I suppose - who tells us that there's "a lovely relaxed feel about the place". What, dear reader, could he be implying? This atmosphere possibly gets to the director, who gives us lingering close-ups of any women in the crowd he happens to come across, while Peter continues in hullo clouds, hullo sky vein for about five minutes or so, give or take the odd anthem, with co-commentator David Pleat saying nothing until 38 seconds of the game has elapsed - "evening everybody" - and not adding much after that.

The game starts promisingly, Kelvin Jack being forced to turn a free kick around the post - Peter taking the opportunity to remind us that his last game was against Gretna - before Paraguay give away a series of free kicks, Yorke seemingly trying to tease them into another own goal. From one of these free kicks the reverse angle reveals that behind Dwight is a large England flag with LEYTON ORIENT emblazoned across it, and this sends Drury off into raptures about the various flags from Britain that are on display. "Crystal Palace, Liverpool, Leyton Orient, Bristol Rovers, Sheffield United, Swindon Town, Wrexham, Airdrie are here and so are Rangers." Maybe Peter's trying to subtly point out to his paymasters that PEOPLE FROM ENGLAND AND THE OTHER POOR SAPS WHO ARE HAVING TO ENDURE YOUR COVERAGE ARE INTERESTED IN OTHER MATCHES AND TEAMS OTHER THAN ENGLAND AND SO COULD YOU PLEASE STOP RAMMING THEM DOWN OUR THROATS AT ALL TIMES YOU UNBELIEVABLE CRETINS. Or maybe he's just surprised. Who can say? (Peter, by concentrating on (and seemingly being genuinely engaged by) the match in front of him and not banging on about England every couple of minutes, gives by far the least annoying ITV commentary of the tournament so far. Which, again, isn't saying much.)

In the meantime, Trinidad attempt a short corner. At last Pleat awakes from his golden slumbers, ignoring the fact that Paraguay end up scampering away with the ball and thus living up to the grand tradition of the short corner: "it's a shame that didn't work, usually it's just a whack into the box". This gets David on a roll, and he's soon praising Beenhakker for moving Yorke into midfield and allowing him to "use his brains to pass the ball all over the park". It's a delightful image if nothing else.

Paraguay gradually get on top and it's no real surprise when they score, Sancho inadvertently diverting a free-kick past Jack. "Brent Sancho will go back to Kent with many happy stories and one regret" is Drury's sympathetic response, possibly forgetting that whole Crouch/hair pulling business. The lovely friendly atmosphere rather dissipates at this point, and we may as well be watching a pre-season friendly with Trinidad now playing the role of local non-league club about to be given a pasting by a middling Championship side who're attempting to get their supporters' hopes up. This spurs Beenhakker into action - he's old and Dutch, which automatically makes him a master tactician - and he replaces a defender with Kenwyn Jones, although this may be due to confusion caused by the fact that his ID badge, dangling from a lanyard around his neck, is absolutely vast and in danger of swamping him.

Paraguay soon have the ball in the net again, which excites Drury temporarily: "That was the 2000th goal!... or at least it would have been but for a late, late flag". For a brief moment we stand on the brink of the 'active or passive' precipice, but fortunately it becomes clear that that wasn't the issue, and so instead Peter complains about the lateness of the flag. At some length. And then Marcus Allback, of all people, manages to score the 2000th World Cup Finals goal elsewhere. It's really not Peter's night.

The half ends with Paraguay on top and Cornell Glenn suffering a particularly nasty-looking injury, which the director chooses to show us from every possible angle. "Last week he bent the crossbar and this week he's bent his left leg." Cheers for that. Sancho gets booked for a forearm smash on Gamarra - another magic memory to take back to Kent - and at half time the "smiling football nation" are lucky to be only one behind.

Over to our expert pundits for their in-depth analysis of the match so far. Jimmy didn't think Joe Cole had it in him - "what are you doing there, son?" - while it's impossible to follow what Jay Jay is talking about because his tangerine tie - perhaps he's always harboured a secret desire to play for Blackpool? - with the huge knot is terribly distracting. "We've been watching the England game out of the corner of our eye" says Angus, unconvincingly; so was I, and even I could have managed better than suggesting that Paraguay were on top and that T and T will have to play better in the second half.

The second half kicks off four minutes later than Cologne, and no sooner do Trinidad embark on their first attack than Allback scores that 2000th World Cup finals goal. Peter revises his hopes downwards - "a goal for Trinidad is all that we want now" - and Kaiserslauten goes rather quiet again, so much so that we can clearly hear the announcement about how the game is a sell-out even though an awful lot of seats are clearly empty. Our commentary team go rather quiet as well - perhaps there was something on their monitors distracting them - although Pleat still has time to refer to Paraguay's "Rocky Cruz" and to enthuse about Chris Birchall: "he's not unlike Beckham in the way he runs, and his looks, and he wears number 7, not that I'm suggesting he's a Beckham". So he can defend corners at the near post then! Ho ho.

With Trinidad on the way out, it's time for Peter to come over all sentimental before the brutal business of the knock-out stages begins. Russell Latapy enters the fray, and it "shows that in football there is a little bit of room for heart" - awww. "Every World Cup needs a Trinidad and Tobago" he gushes, as he urges Yorke and Latapy to "do something special". "Come on!" he yells as Latapy blasts one narrowly over. And despite all of this, you do find yourself rather hoping that Trinidad get something out of this game. They've knocked the ball around pleasantly and Birchall and Carlos Edwards again look particularly accomplished, even if Kenwyn Jones and Evans Wise ("the left-sided dribbler" from the German third division) look hopelessly out of their depth.

But it's not to be. A particularly long announcement over the tannoy (in German, rather than the English nonsense of the earlier fib about the game being sold out) seems to have the effect of distracting everyone and a neat one-two puts Cuevas through on goal, where he has the simple task of sliding the ball past Jack. Pondering why Cuevas hadn't started the game, Pleat reveals that he "doesn't know these players all that well". It's all right David, it's ITV4 and everyone's watching England, you can tell us. It's particularly harsh on Jack, who'd been excellent throughout and was worth his place despite Hislop's splendid displays in the first two games, and not really fair on the Trinidad and Tobago team as a whole.

"They lived the dream, they lived the dream" says Peter sadly. "If Trinidad and Tobago have proved anything, it's that there is nothing more important than making friends." While Peter sends off his application for a job scheduling E4, Angus is on hand to tell us that the dream goes on for England - er, yes, they'd qualified last week, do keep up. Some in-depth analysis of the game we've just watched later - "hopeless" proclaims Jimmy; "they didn't do their business" protests Jay Jay - and it's on to what they really want to talk about, ie England. "They've won their group comfortably, not really with football" is Jimmy's verdict. "More analysis after the break" promises Angus; after the break - no, really, I said I don't want to watch World Cuppa, ta - it's an interview with, er, Sven, some 30 seconds after it had been shown on ITV1.

So, in conclusion; when ITV are confronted with a match that is only being watched by people who've chosen not to watch England, they go on and on about England anyway. It's always the obvious answers that you miss, really.

What we've learned: It's surprisingly easy to follow two games at once (and it's good practice in case you ever end up having to take a job as a security guard), but it seems to be beyond Angus Scott, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Jay Jay Okocha; it's a testament to the politeness and good manners of the British public that Christian O'Connell gets through the day without anyone staving his face in; ITV Sport are beyond parody.

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