Monday, June 19, 2006

Saudi Arabia v Ukraine, ITV1

Goal of the match: Sergei Rebrov's long-range drive was a fine strike, even though it found its way into the Saudi net more easily thanks to 'keeper Mahbrouk Zaid's untimely slip. Jon Champion pointed out "look at the shock on his face" - and on the faces of Spurs fans, I imagine.

Shot of the match: Maxim Kalinichenko's rasping left-foot shot that pinged off the crossbar.

Save of the match: Nothing of note. Olexandr Shovkovskiy hardly touched the ball, while his opposite number Zaid conceded four and looked as comfortable as a man wearing a hair shirt dusted with itching powder.

Miss of the match: Kalinichenko skilfully worked himself an opening late on but blazed over when he should have made it five.

Pass of the match: Anatoliy Tymoschuk's perfectly weighted ball to Andriy Shevchenko, who took it down well but couldn't apply the necessary finish.

Man of the match: Kalinichenko, a livewire on the left side of midfield whose right-footed delivery had Jim Beglin purring. Before the rain left his blond barnet in rat-tails, his mop seemed to approximate that of Pavel Nedved, and he certainly displayed the Czech skipper's energy and verve.

He was playing?!: The Saudi attack was non-existent (not a single shot on goal, I think), so let's give it to Mohammed Ameen, whose withdrawal on 55 minutes first alerted me to the fact that he'd been on the field.

Shevchenkowatch: "What does £30m buy you?", wondered Jim Rosenthal pre-match, and at the break his declaration that "it's Sheva time!" was looking decidedly daft. The Ukrainian captain had, like Porky Ronaldo, seemed off the pace and out-of-sorts, missing presentable chances and misplacing passes. The Thierry Henry Award For Choking In Big Games was definitely heading his way, but 40 seconds into the second period he scored with a header, and later outpaced the Saudi defence to cue up Kalinichenko perfectly for the fourth.

Player who could or should have appeared in the 'Lord Of The Rings' trilogy: Andriy Voronin. Not only does that surname sound like a character from 'Lord Of The Rings', but he's got that high-ponytail-with-long-bits-at-the-back which makes you think he might be quite handy at sword-brandishing.

Player who provided me with my first glimpse of a Proper Beard at this year's tournament: Saudi substitute Abdulaziz Khathran. The likes of Gary Neville, Nelson Valdez, Ivan Klasnic and David Villa should be ashamed.

Player whose wife should be called Rene for comedy value: Andriy Rusol.

The man in the middle: Graham Poll, in whom Champion and Beglin seem more interested than the match. Apparently he was a promising footballer as an amateur, but refereed his first game at the age of 17. That speaks volumes about the officious pompous idiot. In his eagerness to be the centre of attention, he very nearly provided an assist for Ukraine, and he also did his best to look like your average Englishman abroad, all exaggerated gestures and expressions for the benefit of those unable to understand shouting in English.

Most bizarre moment of the match: Saudi coach Marcos Paqueta's tactics board, which looked a bit like a Scrabble board but with coloured counters. Rosenthal seized on it with relish, saying after the match: "For Saudi Arabia it's back to the drawing board - or, in their coach's case, back to the chequers board".

Stat attack: Saudi Arabia have qualified for every World Cup since 1990 but haven't won a game since beating Belgium to get to the knockout stages in Italy with that solo goal. Which of course they showed as soon as talk turned to Saudi Arabia, a mere 18 minutes into the coverage.

They wouldn't let it lie: Hurrah! Rain! Which meant no more blathering on about heat and the players' water intake. But it just gave Champion and Beglin a new pet subject, the slippiness and zippiness of the surface. Which they took every opportunity to mention.

Learning the lingo: I now know "what [Poll] calls a 'ceremonial'" (according to Champion) - it's a free-kick when the ten yards for the wall is paced out properly and everything is done to the book. The opposite of a quickly-taken free-kick, in other words.

The Commentators' Things About Saudi Arabia To Mention Checklist: The world's most capped player is their reserve 'keeper Muhammad Al Daeyea (who, judging by Zaid's performance, must be REALLY shit)? Check. They're due £87,000 bonuses each if they qualify from the group? Check. Leading striker Sami Al-Jaber once played for Wolves? Check. They're bankrolled by the Saudi royal family? Check. (The Saudi King wasn't present, detained at home due to domestic business - "So might you be with a reported 30 wives and 35 children", quips Champion.)

The In Your Face! Award For Graceless Boasting: Champion mentioned Ecuador v Germany and Sweden v England: "Both matches on THIS channel!".

Sticking the boot in: Robbie Earle referred to Ronaldo as looking "like an ex pro that's been out of the game for four or five years" and taking part in SoccerAid. Meanwhile at the final whistle Champion commented: "Saudi Arabia have laid claim to being the worst team at this year's World Cup".

Level of interest shown in game at hand: What do you think? The coverage begins with Shevchenko, soon leading into a discussion of ageing greats who've thus far failed to shine (Zidane, Ronaldo) while conveniently ignoring those who have, at least in patches (Figo, Nedved, Totti). Then more of the series about 1966 - students cramming into a Mini, World Cup Willie and the USSR v West Germany semi-final. At half-time, unbelievably, they went straight onto England, with a Gabriel Clarke report from the camp, and Ned Boulting in Cologne. The pundits' analysis of the first half was squeezed into a couple of minutes immediately before the second period. And then at the end, after a few cursory remarks, it was on to Harry Kewell's berating of Markus Merk, Patrick Vieira's disallowed goal and England again, wrapping up with a montage of action from England v Trinidad & Tobago...

What we learned: Ukraine - "dismembered and dismayed" by the thrashing by Spain, according to Champion - are still very much in the tournament; Saudi Arabia won't be for very much longer; rain makes the pitch slippery.

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