Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Togo v Switzerland, BBC1

Like many, I’ve had a perverse fascination with Togo, stretching back to their struggle in the African Nations Cup. If only their team had just the one problem to deal with. Indeed, in trying to sum up all the back-stories, the VT is sped up, overdubbed and merged together to try and fit it all in. The footage is also stylishly treated, giving new, and put-upon, gaffer Otto Pfister, a sunken-eyed undead appearance.

They merge this into footage of Otto climbing off the coach for this game, an appearance that was in some doubt, as was that of the entire squad, who were threatening to boycott the game, with their financial arguments with their Federation still ongoing. "There’s the money in the bag there, Ray” says Alan Shearer as Adebayor climbs off the coach with an over-shoulder sack several times bigger than those of his colleagues. Considering Adebayor’s standing amongst his team-mates, you can imagine he might well think ‘screw it, then’ before cutting and running with the moolie. Let us praise Alan for his vigilance.

The panel today, Marcel Desailly and Lee Dixon alongside Al with Oswestry Town’s finest Ray Stubbs behind the bar, are all at pains to absolve the players of any blame in the matter. Back home, the good people of Togo, living in a country where the per capita income is well short of US$1,000, are not entirely happy with their footballing representatives asking for US$196,000 a game and US$38,000 for each win. However, with the Togo football federation richer to the tune of 3 million thanks to their qualification, and having made certain promises to their players, the panel argue that the players are just making sure those assurances are seen through.

Alan suggests that such heel-digging is not just for the World Cup stars, warning “by the way if our money’s not in the bank from the BBC at half-time, then we’re off as well.” “I wasn’t sure we came to an agreement on how much you were paying us to take part” retorts Stubbsie, keen to protect the interests of the licence payer.

It always takes a while when discussing Togo to get to on-field matters but when they do, Marcel conveys his disappointment with their star man Adebayor in the last game, “he didn’t show any skill” he says, bluntly, while Alan spends his time marvelling at how much he looks like Nwankwo Kanu.

They then use the small amount of time they have left, having unravelled the tangled flex that is Togolese football administration, to mention Switzerland. “They’re a tough team to beat” says Alan, “some teams just gel” adds Stubbsie, while Marcel puts in a word for Alexander Frei. Lee Dixon, with the blue-light flashing on his Hyperbole-Watch helmet decides to bring back the common sense approach, cutting in with “let’s get this straight, Switzerland can’t win it.” Good contribution, Lee.

Out in the stadium, and Guy Mowbray has been infected by general glee concerning last nights result in Group G, saying “Even tiny Togo will pack more of a punch than France did”, although he is slightly more gallant than Ian Wright, by apologizing to Marcel for saying so. Noticing a brightly painted Togo fan brandishing a suitcase decorated with his countries flag, Guy extends Alan’s gag from earlier “there’s the case, does that have the Togolese money in it,” both men seeming to believe that the Togo saga is nothing more than an elaborate World Cup edition of ‘Deal or No Deal’.

Then we see the Togo bench, and there is their yo-yo manager Theophilus P. Pfister, exchanging his plunging neckline and medallion effort from the Korea game for a cool pink short-sleeved shirt. Somewhere in Dortmund there is a strip-club barstool with a place-keeping coat over the back of it.

With regards the referee, Mowbray uses the “show me the way to Amarilla” line which I’m sure has been used by someone else during this tournament. The officials are all from Paraguay, “they’ll be hoping they’re here longer than their country’s team will be” mocks Guy.

After kick-off, Togo keeper Kossi Agassi, inconsistent in the Nations Cup, comes to the attention, Guy informing us that “he’s been warming the bench at Metz for four seasons. Goes by the nickname magic hands though.” Mark Bright stifles a chuckle, “didn’t he only play one game last season.” “So, as you say, he’s fresh” says Guy cheerily as they warm to Togo. Mohamed Kader has a good opportunity in the 6th minute, which he welts straight into the hands of keeper Pascal Zuberbuhler. “I would have expected better” says Guy, the star of Togo’s on-field abilities clearly rising. “Adebayor and Kader already causing problems, Senderos may have more problems with these than he did with Henry and co” suggests the man Mowbray, reinforcing his ‘aren’t France shit?’ point

They make the first of many references to the fairy-tale story of Togo’s Richmond Forson, who plays for Jeanne d’Arc Poire in the French Atlantic league “which is semi pro at best.” “He’s in the shop window, they all want to play in Europe” says Bright, temporarily unable to locate France on a map.

Slightly against the run of play, Alexander Frei opens the scoring for Switzerland in the 16th minute, the unmarked Tranquillo Barnetta receiving a looping cross-field ball from Ludovic Magnin, before belting it towards Frei who positions his leg to deflect the ball in. Swiss gaffer Kobi Kuhn is clearly delighted. “he’s here against doctor’s orders” says Guy “sweating out that fever.” If he wants a lesson in proper sweating though, he need only glance across at the Togo bench. In reacting to Adebayor being denied a penalty after being caught by the trailing leg of Patrick Muller, we see Otto Pfister fly off the bench, revealing more than a hint of moisture under each arm. Later, after viewing the penalty incident again, Ray Stubbs casually remarks “Fair to say football can be the pits sometimes.”

After the goal, and for the next half hour up to the break, Switzerland don’t see a great deal of the ball, Togo upping their game in the face of all the ‘laughing stock’ expectations. It is entertaining stuff, “bright game, enjoying this” says Ray during the interval. They then show various examples of why Adebayor is living up to his billing in this game, on every level, showing his jinking, passing and one case of him angrily berating one of his team-mates. If ‘mates’ is indeed the right word.

In the England bit, Garth Crooks drills into Sven’s tranquil veneer, interrogating him about the striking options for Sweden, and the international merits of Owen Hargreaves, Sven visibly bristling at the notion that the Bayern man has been heavily criticised by press and fans at home. The jolly VT finds them in Gelsenkirchen, in Wolfgang Fischer’s garden to be exact. He’s a chap who is currently putting up fans from 10 countries in his house and garden for free. Ivan Gaskill ends the piece saying “well, if you can’t beat them join them” before dipping between the tent flaps. “That was Ivan’s camp report” says Deadpan Stubbs, with the subtlest hint of double entendre.

Switzerland turn up the burners in the 50th minute, Barnetta bringing an acrobatic tip over from Agassi, Hakan Yakin belting just wide from a similar spot a couple of minutes later. Togo continue to have long spells of possession but in this second period look as soggy up front as their coach’s shirt. We cut to another shot of the Togo bench, the increased damp suggesting that Pfister has traded his nipples for garden sprinklers.

Swiss fans, naturally outnumbering the Togolese, turn up the noise “they look like they’re happy with one” says Guy. In the 64th minute, the Swiss bring about a chance from virtually nowhere, Frei flicking on for Hakan Yakin to again bring a save from the increasingly confident looking Agassi. In the 81st minute, after another sustained but aimless spell of Togo possession, Frei attempts an audacious lob from 30 yards but it dips onto the roof of the net.

In the final minute, Switzerland’s clincher comes, Mauro Lustrinelli, seconds after coming on for Frei, spots a red-shirt clear on the right, threading it across the box for Barnetta to hammer the ball in off the far post. A defeat of this size is perhaps a little harsh on Togo who put in a performance, at least in the first half, which belied their preparation. That said, they’ve been wasteful and laissez-faire more often that not on the attack and never really cause Zuberbuhler any problems. On the other hand; despite a grey, sluggish, utilitarian performance from Switzerland, they did cause Agassi to be at his best on a fair number of occasions and ultimately won without needing to step it up.

“For Togo, time to go” says the ever succinct Stubbsie, signing off.

Pee Wee’s playhouse secret word: Organized (re: Swiss), Disorganized (re: Togo)

Referee (Carlos Amarilla, Paraguay): “sorry son, no denim”

These things I believe: Some of Togo’s passing and attacking play towards the end of the first half was really quite thrilling. Imagine what they could be capable of without all the other bullshit going on, and if they all got on with their Adebayor. That said they could do with a lot more savvy in the final third. – If it comes down to goal difference, Switzerland will certainly rue their lacklustre attempts to kill this contest – My old man said be a Togo fan, I said… -- Thank god for a change in the German weather, Otto Pfister would have melted by Friday.


Blogger Ben said...

"Somewhere in Dortmund there is a strip-club barstool with a place-keeping coat over the back of it".

"We cut to another shot of the Togo bench, the increased damp suggesting that Pfister has traded his nipples for garden sprinklers".

Couldn't have put it better myself... Perhaps he should be on the next series of 'Strictly Dance Fever'?

12:13 pm, June 20, 2006


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