Friday, June 30, 2006

Spain v France, ITV1

Steve Rider promises us "some of the most glittering talent in the game on show tonight, including Terry Venables and Ruud Gullit ready to enjoy the feast that lies ahead." Yes, whatever. A tribute to Zinedine Zidane to start with, ITV clearly backing Spain for the win tonight. "Hannover stages a European summit," suggests tonight's commentator Clive Tyldesley. "Is it too early for Spain, or too late for France?" Today's inevitable weather check suggests it's a cooler evening than of late, but Tyldesley surprisingly has little to say before kick off. "So many household names...even in British households. Our children are almost as familiar with Zidane and Raul as they are with Rooney and Beckham..." The Spanish fans are caught out by a peculiar remix of their national anthem, which takes some doing seeing as it's instrumental. Franz Beckenbauer's first appearance at the stadium is during the French anthem, which
must frustrate Tyldesley as he has to be quiet and thus can't make some comic reference to worn-out helicopters or Air Miles.

Tyldesley suggests to David Pleat as we kick-off that whoever wins tonight will be a match for Brazil. Pleat agrees, audibly stumbling as he tries and fails to slip in a sly "evening everybody", and is torn between the two sides. "My head says Spain, my heart says France - and I'm going with my heart tonight, Clive." Pleat doesn't want to see a mismatch tonight, specifically hoping for no early baths.
"Everything points to a move to England," notes Clive as we get our first sight of Fernando Torres on the ball. "Manchester United reputedly at the front of the queue if they can find the £20 million plus that it will need to prise him away." Subtle hint to Sir Alex, maybe?
A moment of confusion after 5 minutes. The referee originally gives a corner after pressure from Thierry Henry forces Sergio Ramos to boot the ball out. We see a replay of Henry applauding the long goal kick from Barthez which gave him his chance, then Zidane preparing to take the corner. Now the referee begins whistling like mad, causing Zidane to look confused and point to himself whilst the referee runs up to Henry and shakes him by the hand. He then gestures for Zidane to give him the ball, then applauds as Zidane runs up to him in bemusement, leaving the ball on the corner spot. "Well, the decision's been reversed - it's not a corner, and he's
given handball against Henry on his assistant's say so. I don't know who was closer!" A very bizarre turn of events, with a sadly lackadaisical commentary. Still, it's worth a mention.
Tyldesley informs us that Spain have never beaten France in a competitive international, although their record is 11-10 in all competitions. "If you're a student of the game, you'll know that Luis Aragones is the coach of Spain," he explains, carefully avoiding any reference to the Spanish coach's infamous "black shit" comment aimed at Thierry Henry. "24 matches in charge of his country - no defeats..."
Henry suddenly breaks down the right wing and pulls a low cross back: "Ribery's there, and Vieira's there - and neither can get a decisive touch! There was a chance for each of them, it was a devil of a ball across the face of goal by Thierry Henry..."

"Ooh, he's given it!" Clive is caught by surprise as the referee awards Spain a penalty after Thuram barges into the back of Pablo, clipping his heel in the process. See if you can spot the point at which the replay forces Tyldesley to subtly change his opinion in mid-flow: "Seemed to go down in stages to me! Right on the edge of the penalty area, running away from goal, going nowhere...Thuram caught his standing foot, no doubt about it. Good decision!"
David Villa puts the penalty right in the left corner out of Barthez's reach, "and from a pretty soft penalty award, jubilation for Spain! They break the deadlock!" We see a babe in arms in the Spanish crowd being kissed by its mother. "Ah, bless," coos Clive.
Willy Sagnol charges forward with the ball, only to be tackled by Xavi when he takes one touch too many instead of passing to various teammates in better positions. Pleat suggests that that Sagnol was waiting for Henry to make a move, but Henry "made that expression we have seen before from him which suggests 'No I wanted that pass earlier!'" What expression is that, then?
Clive plugs ITV's two quarter-finals, instructing us to "take the next two days off".
As France are caught offside for the 5th time in the half, David thinks France are playing the ball forwards too quickly. Spotters badge for Pleat, I'd say. He goes on to suggest they need someone to "thread a ball through, slide a ball through..." Clive points out that "they do have the best slider and threader the world has seen in the last 10 years or so wearing their captain's armband tonight." In fact, it turns out to be Vieira who slides and/or threads the decisive ball through as Ribery beats the offside trap and Casillas, "and France are on terms! This team of veteran World Cup winners have one bright young spark in their ranks and he has equalised!" "He went round the goalkeeper like an experienced old head!" agrees Pleat.
"Oh, you don't want the half time whistle to come now! The game's been really sparked!" is Clive's oblique reference as the last few minutes of the half are action-packed. "Vieira - there's one for March, mate! Crashes into Cesc Fabregas!"

"He plays with the ball, Zidane - it's a toy to him!" purrs Clive as the second half begins. "I think Zidane's as gifted a footballer as I've witnessed in the time I've been watching the game. He'll be missed, a precious talent."
Clive declares that the half time whistle was a "nuisance" as the game was bubbling along in the final 5 minutes of the half, and that the opening 5 of the second half are just as cautious as the opening minutes of the match.
"No love lost perhaps between the Arsenal and the Barca man," understates Pleat as Henry clatters into Puyol. "'Remember me, Paris?'" smiles Clive.
Raul is substituted (cue the director showing Puyol helping Casillas put on the captain's armband, in the hope that it will be as widely replayed as the similar incident during the Iran-Angola match), and Clive relays the anecdote that this is the first time the Spanish captain has played an international match on his birthday - "because we're usually out by now!"
Clive's got a story: "Florent Malouda missed the opening game because of what was described by the French officials as a 'mystery injury problem', and when he was quizzed about it on his return for the second game, he said 'I've had an operation for haemorrhoids'. Just came straight out with it - where's the embarrassment? 'We've been trying to keep it quiet for you!' 'Nah, it's no problem!'"

"We've not had a yellow card yet! Isn't this great?" observes Clive, midway through the second half. "I think he's got a blunt pencil which is wonderful really after what we've seen recently," agrees David. Precisely 22 seconds later, Vieira goes in too strongly on Fabregas (who else?), and the commentator's curse has struck yet again, this time causing Clive to make promises he can't keep. "Sorry! Tell you what, I'll say nothing else all night, that's it! Turn the sound down! Sorry Patrick, my fault!" Clive suspects you couldn't get a bet tonight on Vieira receiving a caution for a foul on his Highbury successor.
Aragones is shown screaming on the sidelines after Vieira caught Torres in the face whilst trying to hold him off. Vieira is shown holding his finger to his lips, presumably in the direction of the Spanish bench. "I think the conversation is between Vieira and Aragones - I wouldn't want to come between those two!" chuckles Clive, as the referee tells the coach to sit down. "He's allowed to stand there, he's in his technical area!" protests Tyldesley, before suggesting Aragones looks like "an old fight trainer, a corner man!"
Fabien Barthez punches the ball clear ("in his own inimitable fashion") from a Spanish corner. "He looks about 5 feet 5 sometimes, Barthez, with the big men of both teams gathered around him." opines Tyldesley, "he comes out almost like an enthusiastic child and punches clear!" "I think he watched Bruce Grobbelaar when he was young!" suggests Pleat.
"It's not a head injury!" observes Clive as we see a replay of Gallas blocking a shot from Senna via his genitalia. A female medic attempts to strap the stricken Gallas onto the stretcher a little too close to the affected region for comfort. "They always laugh, don't they? Apart from the guy who's actually hurt. Even the physio just had a little smile there at the linesman - 'he got one there in the...you know. He's all right...' It's no joke for Gallas, I can tell you!" With both this tirade and a similar one when Dwight Yorke took one in the breadbasket during England-Trinidad, it would appear that Clive's auditioning for a testicular awareness gig, or something. A lesser man than me might suggest he's renowned for talking bollocks...
Speaking of which, here's classic Tyldesley: "Ten more minutes - tense more minutes!" Puyol blocks Henry off and is booked, although the replay doesn't do Thierry many favours. "Why has Henry held his face? He's been elbowed in the chest, it's a foul, he's got a free kick, and he is trying to con the referee to get a man sent off. It's got to stop!" "It's the rules of the modern game Clive, we saw it the other evening where a game was traumatically spoiled..." "Thierry Henry is a great player, that was not a great moment of his career..."
Zidane takes the resulting free kick, which Xabi Alonso can only partially get his head to. The ball loops up into the area, and "it's been forced in! It's Patrick Vieira! Scored on his birthday in the last game, he will celebrate that one even more if it turns out to be the difference! Maybe the last laugh on Cesc Fabregas for Patrick Vieira!"
Spain throw the kitchen sink at France in the closing minutes looking for an equaliser, but are inevitably caught on the break. "And Zinedine Zidane is onside, with a chance to put it away here for France. It's Zidane.........yes! The great man has put the seal on it, his career will go on, and he will face Brazil - yes Brazil - the team he scored twice against in the World Cup final in Paris on Saturday night, and it doesn't get much better than that, even in the career of Zinedine Zidane!" Pleat is happy that his prediction at kick-off has been accurate: "sometimes your heart does rule your head!" "France go into the quarter-finals! They tried to bury them last week but they've rolled away the stone and the champions of 1998 will go on to try to win the World Cup again!"

Ruud is disgusted with Henry's reaction that won the free kick, seemingly ignoring that Puyol's elbow was definitely worthy of conceding a foul regardless. Venables suggests Henry will suffer himself tonight, which seems ominous. Steve suggests that Brazil v France will be all the better now both sides are beginning to improve. Terry would just like to say (tenuously) that if France can improve after a poor start, then perhaps England can do the same. Steve closes as he began: "The World Cup remains a cruel competition for Spain, but France go on, and that means Zidane goes on as well, and that's no bad thing."

What we've learned: Rumours of Zidane's demise are very much exaggerated, although Spain didn't exactly mark him tightly; Henry's copybook has been blotted after the most high-profile playacting since Rivaldo in the last World Cup; and I'm off to Germany in 30 minutes time. See you next week, folks...

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