Brazil v France, ITV1
When I drew this game, I was quite pleased to get the last quarter final, for time management reasons. However sitting down to appraise this game a mere 45 minutes after Christiano Ronaldo’s kick from the penalty mark seems like a pretty steep hill to climb. English sport has taken quite a battering today. For those of us that follow the summer game as well, the cricket team’s humiliation in the final game of a 5-0 one-day series whitewash is equally as troubling as yet another shoot-out failure.
ITV does not appear the place to escape the gloom, “The hurt goes on” being Steve Rider’s first words swiftly followed by “they just weren’t good enough”. Perhaps it would have been better for me to hide in a cupboard until kick off. “It was agony in Gelsenkirchen, but what will it be for France and Brazil” says Steve, demonstrating admirable newsreader training in dead-celebrity-to-intrepid-kitten style segue. Points for effort to the man, doing his best to console the audience and yet convince them another football match is the best way to hair-of-the-dog their way to a relatively decent evening. We go to a break, allowing us a little cry, which is kind of them.
“England are out of the World Cup” Steve reminds the goldfish in the audience as we return, while Terry is continuing to perfect his slightly-trousered pensioner routine, getting a little lost trying to decide which team it was this afternoon that went down to ten men. Mind you I think I may be going off a little myself as during Ruud’s appraisal, it sounds as though he refers to England as ‘we’. Probably just my hearing. Steve asks Terry about the rumours that he will join McLaren’s England set up which gives Ruud the chance to sweep Terry’s chimney. He asks, grandly, to be heard, then proceeds to gush about what El Tel could bring to the role, like a man who has spent the afternoon apologising profusely for criticising a colleague’s singing voice.
As we return from this, I dunno, 15th? is it?, break of the broadcast, we are met with a shot of a dramatically moustachioed Brazilian in the crowd massaging a market stall replica of the Cup, a disturbingly leery grin peeking from beneath his draft-excluding bristles. “They feel they own it, lets hope they haven’t pinched it” says Steve. Good a point as any to move onto talk of the prior performances of tonights sides. “When Zidane had to do it, he did it” says Ruud, Terry suggesting “He got an alarm call didn’t he” before suggesting what that might have sounded like, “wake up, wake up, wake up” he squawks like a toddler wishing to report local tooth-fairy activity at 5am on a Sunday morning.
The teams begin to enter the stadium and Clive Tyldsley can’t enthuse enough about the star players in either side and the fact we have the last two world champions on show, “Most of these players are part of the furniture of the penthouse suite of modern football” he says, with a puffed chest. In the 5th minute, Juan tries to back-heel the ball in when it’s three feet off the ground, although he is ruled offside. Attacking intent, but the early showboating suggests they are none to worried about the opposition.
The first quarter hour is pretty open and flowing with Brazil causing the most scares but the tempo soon decreases, the game bottling itself into midfield, where France, particularly Zidane, decide to put on a show of their own. “France are playing like Brazil” suggests Pleat. After Ronaldo blocks the ball with his hand while part of a defensive wall and protests to the referee about the ensuing yellow card, Clive attempts to lip-read. “‘I’m protecting my beautiful looks’, he’s saying” is his catty guess.
“Zidane is just a delight tonight” says Terry at half-time like he’s fallen in love for the first time, which also appears to be Ruud’s motivation for, once again, canvassing for Terry’s return to the England set up. “Thank you boys, thank you Steve” says Clive, keen to make the distinction as he receives the baton at the start of the second half, a mere forty seconds into which France squander a great chance. Zidane floats in a ball form the right and William Gallas heads just wide. The only comments Brazil are getting at this stage appear to be concerning attire, “he’s taken his headband off” says Pleat of Ronaldinho. It is a sartorial decision worthy of comment though, as the Brazilian bottle-opener’s greasy appearance in the first half will surely have ensured said garments clog up the queue-adjacent bargain bins of JJB outlet stores everywhere for some time to come. Steve Foster! Eric Young! Sales of your associated headgear have taken one hell of beating.
As France maintain their dominance, Clive decides he’ll try out some new inflections. “Shall we go for a run boys” he says with a high degree of mince as Henry scampers past two defenders on the left flank while later, as Roberto Carlos writhes around clencing a rear cheek, he pronounces “but-tock” like a Chinaman with a spastic diaphragm, for reasons best known to his doctor.
In the 56th minute, Zidane swings a free-kick in from the left missing everyone save for Henry who swoops in on an air-pocket at the backpost to direct the ball home with a slanted cushion sidefoot. Goals rarely come much more graceful. Five minutes later, Ribery gets to the by-line and slides a ball across, Juan’s attempted clearance slipping across the goal and just past the post. Brazil up their effort, bringing on Adriano and going all out for the equaliser. “Brazil have started to play…it’s a little late” says Pleat. France then hit on the break, a timed ball from Henry leaving Ribery free with Dida, but the keeper comes out sharply and Ribery’s necessarily first time shot thuds into his stomach. With their confidence back up, France take to stroking it around like they wish to better Argentina’s softly-softly goal against Serbia and Montenegro. “Please don’t give up the game, please please don’t stop yet” beseeches a forlorn Clive to the resurgent Zidane, “Terry Venables called him the magician and he’s been that…its behind his back; its up his sleeve” he adds as, at a Magic Circle AGM somewhere, a black ball is tossed into a ceremonial hat.
Two minutes from time, and Ronaldinho is in last chance saloon as he takes a free-kick on the edge of the box, but he sends it flying over the bar. “It’s been the old master’s night, not the young pretender” says David Pleat formulating ideas for a West End musical. As the game enters injury time, Ronaldo tests the flapping Barthez, while Cicinho sends a cross buzzing into the area which Ze Roberto can’t direct sufficiently. Attempting to get his team to keep their heads, Domenech gives it his best Corporal Jones on the touchline. They hold on, sending Brazil out and guaranteeing a European winner.
“This will have restored people’ faith in the beautiful game” says a surprisingly lyrical Pleat, and he’s got a point. After all my talk of not thinking I’d cope well with this after this afternoon, it was a pretty reasonable tonic. Terry Venables is still in awe of Zidane, “Every time he gets it you want to play music” he coos, “and when he gives it away, turn the music off again.”
Zidane has a great opportunity to win the World Cup again in the coming week, but what is now clear, is that his chances in the pass-the-parcel have never been lower.
Referee (Luis Medina Cantalejo, Spain): Signalling betrays an apparent fondness for buckling swash on the am-dram stage. Rather than running about endlessly when the play is stuck in one area of the field, he often appears to stop, arch slightly forward and peer intently like he is, at once, a swimming pool attendant, a Wimbledon line judge and a sumo. Anders ‘hair by Maurice’ Frisk was, arguably, the cult ref of Euro 2004. For 2006 though, I put forward Cantalejo as the new cult European ref of choice.
Pee Wee’s Playhouse secret word: Oh oh oh, it’s ‘magic’
These things I believe: Ronaldinho has clearly been taking hair arrangement tips from Harry ‘Peachfuzz’ Kewell. The blind leading the perfectly-sighted-but-apparently-unwilling-to-shower -- Zinedine Zidane is taking requests and will be here all week (or so he would hope) -- It is good to know that even after all these years Fabien Barthez still keeps goal like he’s repeatedly falling over a patio chair -- Where have this France team been hiding? –- All that said, I reckon the winner will come from the ‘other’ semi-final.
Product of a union between Leonard Cohen and the lining of John Motson’s sheepy: Raymond Domenech.
Back handed compliment of the day: “HE looks stiff and cumbersome…but he’s fantastic”, from the mouth of Pleat