Saturday, June 24, 2006

Togo v France, BBC1
Switzerland v South Korea, BBC3

In times of crisis, when facing a great dilemma, I have learnt to ask myself one thing. I’m sure you do the same. What would Ray Stubbs do? The surefire way of escaping any moral maze. A valentines night out with your lady? Or a valentines night in with the darts? Ask the Tao of Stubbs. A Ted Hankey 9 dart finish later and I’ve not looked back since.

So, today I am confronted with a problem. I am the only Finals Fantasy person available to cover the night shift, and needing to cover two simultaneous games. What would Ray Stubbs do? Well, I noticed yesterday afternoon, with one game on BBC1, and the other on interactive, that Ray was able to guide his punditry team through watching two big tellies at once. What’s good for Stubbsie…

So I’m doubled screened and as such, after complaining about last nights BBC3 broadcast not having it’s own dedicated build-up, I’m quite glad for a homogenised group chunter this evening. Needless to say, the French match is the focus what with them needing to win. Gary Lineker opens the show, “France must do something they haven’t done for 20 years, win a World Cup match abroad. It just doesn’t add up.” Making sure people don’t forget that England are still a concern, he adds, “the biggest name to go out of the cup so far is Michael Owen, France could change that,” dribbling at the prospect of delivering to us the first proper shock of the competition.

However as the papers are full of Alan Shearer guff, they soon probe their colleague about the supposed England coaching job. Apparently he had a phone call with McLaren a few weeks ago, but that is where it has been left. Last night, it was “first I’ve heard of it.” Mmm… Martin O’Neill’s presence allows further insight, “you’re name was mentioned in my interview…I said no” he gags before appearing to backtrack, “I hadn’t worked with you then. Now that I have…it’s still no.” Gotta love him.

Gary tries to wrestle the conversation back to today’s game. “Lots of Togo’s players play in the French lower leagues,” he says, “but France can take heart from the fact England thrashed Trinidad & Tobago in similar circumstances”. The smirk and eye-roll are, of course, in perfect unison. Martin O’Neill believes France may gain from Zidane being suspended, as that may free up Thierry Henry. Marcel isn’t so sure, sucking in a big intake of breath at the thought.

It’s back to England soon though and Lineker is able to probe Sven, “In hindsight, do you wish you picked an extra striker?” “No” says Sven, his heels taking such firm root, a display of chrysanthemums are displaced 20 yards from hi seat. With regards the Ecuador formation, Gary asks “Have you made your mind up yet?” “Yes.” Sven says, his cards buried as deep as possible into his inconsiderable chestal tuft. Martin O’Neill is not so convinced as the others as the quality of Gary’s probing. “He’s not going to turn round and tell you, especially you Gary, that he hasn’t brought enough strikers.”

Ivan Gaskill is then with us, reporting from the French camp and a press conference given by Patrick Viera and Mikael Silvestre’s upturned butternut squash of a head. “There’s the team, Marcel, do you like it?” asks Gary, like he’s presenting him with a birthday caricature that didn’t turn out as flattering as they’d planned.

Now it comes the point to split. They clearly believe no-one is really going to be watching the Swiss game, sending Steve Wilson in on his own. Stevie goes through all the permutations, as does Jonathon Pearce, covering the France game on BBC1 with Mark Bright. Like clockwork, both teams emerge from their respective tunnels, and line up for the anthems, Togo’s Kosi Agassa appearing to do the twist in preparation.

I know before the World Cup you were probably thinking about what your favourite anthems would be. En route I’ve discovered I’m a sucker for Japans. Soulwax fans amongst you may also have been wondering which of the anthems would make for a good mash up. Well, I’m here to tell you that the Swiss and Togolese anthems merge like Baileys into Guinness. The Korean and French ones together do get a groove going, but as the Swiss one has banged on for fackin’ ever, the synch is out and we don’t get to explore that musical experiment for very long. The games then kick off about 5 seconds apart. It’s not long before we get our first sight of suave Togo coach Otto Pfister and, recklessly, he’s in a light shirt again but, thankfully, he’s remembered his cream jacket, which will hopefully mask his heavy underarm leakage.

South Korea get the first opportunity of the evening, Lee Chung-Soo sending a pass shooting in front of everybody along the six yard line. Ten seconds later in the other game, David Trezeguet puts in a sighter than shoots past Agassa’s left hand post. He misses again after seven minutes, his header requiring Agassa to spring quickly and push it over the bar. This really is the story of his game, as he misses chance after chance after chance. Not that Togo aren’t having their own opportunities, Adebayor forcing Barthez to be sharp once or twice. “I like [Adebayor], as a player” says Bright, making it clear that he, like the rest of the world, thinks him otherwise to be a prize funt. “Togo are looking bright and purposeful” says Pearce, suppressing a splutter. Within a minute though, France have the ball in the net, Trezeguet (again), tapping in from 6 yards out, but he is ruled offside. Within a minute, Malouda brings a flashy dive from Agassa.

Over at the other game, the Swiss break and Barnetta is free to bomb at the keeper but there is a fine run and tackle to cut him off just as he is about to pull the trigger. A little while later, ref Horacio Elizondo gets in the way of the ball. Queen bitch Wilson sees his opportunity “Not the worst referring mistake we’ve had in the last 24 hours.” On the South Korea bench we see Docker Dick Advocaat motioning to one of his players like he’s trying to stop them cleaning his windscreen at a traffic light. The shooting gallery continues in Cologne, Agassa dealing well with everything that is being flung his way, Togo escaping their half when they can.

In the 23rd minute, Hakan Yakin swings a gorgeous cross into the box, Phillip Senderos pulling back his sack of onions ‘ead, flinging it forward as though it’s on elastic, and meeting the ball beautifully to send it into the far corner. So powerful is the header though, that his skull follows through and crash-test-dummies into that of Choi Jin-Chui. As Senderos wheels away, a stream of blood starts on its increasingly rapid journey down his nose, while Jin Chui is left with seemingly a number of cuts on his swede. It is a few minutes before either return from being patched up on the sidelines, Jin-Chui’s gauze held in place by a minimalist tea-cosy of a hair-net, which later gives the BBC1 team plenty to giggle about in their dealings with the first half highlights. Replaying the goal once more, Swiss gaffer Kobi Kuhn is seen in front of his bench shaking his fists, his mouth gleefully wide open, like an excited infant getting a waft of rusk.

In the meantime, it seems fairly end to end in the other game, with France looking, as would be expected, much tbe better side, Agassa is not able to rest for even a brief second. Otto Pfister, in his yacht-party jacket on the touchline, is gesturing wildly, possibly trying to ascertain the potential availability of a glass of Pimms. Once again Trezeguet has a chance, causing Agassa to jump on the ball twice on the goal-line. Trez is offside again, but “Agassa is having a night to remember.” Mark Bright says so, and my right eye agrees.

At half time, Shearer discusses Trezeguet “he’s always there, but he looks nervous to me”. Martin, however, thinks France are doing okay. On BBC3, once again they’ve locked Manish out on the balcony, this time with Gavin Peacock, to crowd around their Trevor Bayliss wind-up telly. Looking again at the Senderos goal, “he had to be really brave” they agree, a wince clear in their eyelids. “Is naivety something they’ll benefit from?” asks Manish of Switzerland’s young side, hoping VT can be found of at least one of them going in at half-time sucking their thumb.

Synchronicity occurs once again for the second half kick-offs. Togo are given a rough offside decision early on, it’s moot though as Adebayor bottles out of a challenge of Barthez, but Pearce is nonetheless indignant “poor offside decisions have blighted these finals” he moans. In the 53rd minute, Thierry Henry back heels in the box leaving Florent Malouda free to cut the ball back to Ribery who, yet again, blasts over the bar. “The longer this game goes, the more anxious they’re going to be.” They don’t have to wait long though to get the rewards for their attacking pressure, as two minutes later Ribery strolls into the box, passing into Viera’s feet and he hits a curling shot on the turn to finally breach Agassa’s heroic wall. Is that the seal broken, you wonder. Indeed, it is only 5 minutes later that France virtually guarantee themselves progression to the knockouts, Viera nodding a long ball to the feet of Henry, who mirrors the first goal, slamming into the other corner on the turn, before cupping an ear to the crowd.

In the 64th minute, Alexander Frei hits Korea on the break, welting his shot against the outside of the post then at the other end a Korean point blank header is tipped over by Pascal Zuhberbuhler. Back in Cologne, and it’s a procession for France but nothing further is added, “Once again David Trezeguet has not taken a big chance on the big stage in the big tournament” exclaims Pearce as he wastes another gilt-edged opportunity.

The Swiss then add a second of their own. Frei breaks behind he Korean defence, rounds the keeper and screws the ball home, “He’s put it in the net for once” sniffs Wilson, believing it not to count as the linesman had flagged. Despite the referee clearly over-ruling the linesman due to the fact a Korean foot supplied the final pass, Steve wails “the flag was, the flag was up” over and over again, and occasionally for the next few minutes, during which time the Koreans create a number of excellent chances but come up against a very much in-form Zuberbuhler (zero goals conceded in the group, nay bad). Out of the corner of my eye, it appears at the France game, Platini is getting amongst a Mexican wave, while the Togo fans, most of whom, despite the replica shirts, do not appear native to Africa, are into a conga-line which drags in the German and other neutrals along the way. Why not, it gets really serious as of tomorrow, as the pundits are keen to point out as they wrap up later.

When the whistle blows, we see weeping Korean players and fans. In their discussion of the highlights of this secondary game, the pundits fall over themselves to praise the referee for his actions in over-ruling his assistant. “If it had been Graham Poll, he’d have waved play on three times” quips Gary, and is ignored, so he tries “Uruguayan officials…should we be calling for Montevideo evidence.” And is, again, ignored. An expert soundman muffles the sound of him stamping his feet in tantrum.

“Enjoyed the game”, he asks Shearer. “Yeah” says Alan, sounding bored, but appears to realise that, adding “it’s been really good” like he’s trying not to sound sarcastic, but only sounds more so for it.

“Let the fun begin” says Gary, to close.

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