Sunday, July 02, 2006

England v Portugal, BBC1

So, where to start?

All right, let's skip to the end: could someone explain why it's always described as "the lottery of penalties"? A lottery, according to my handy dictionary, is "something where the outcome is governed by luck". And yet when certain nations are involved - Holland, Italy, England - this alleged lottery ends up resembling a game of three card Monte run by a man who wears an eyepatch and has several teeth missing, which the victims inexplicably bound towards convinced that sooner or later they're going to pick the right card. It's clearly not a lottery, so please desist from saying it, will you? And how can people who spot themselves on the video screen during the penalty shoot-out cheerily wave and smile? Penalty shoot-outs are torture by any other name; how can they jig about in such an apparently carefree way? (Although, in this instance, most of them were Portuguese and presumably quite serene about what was about to happen.)

I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go back to the beginning, where Gary's on hand to provide us with lots of items to boost our confidence, except, er, the first one includes clips of the losses in 2002 and 2004 and all those games which England have been terrible in so far. Cheers, then. "The nation expects" proclaims Gary, tempting a punch, and he introduces the regular England match punditry line up. "They've got the players, they've got the support" suggests Hansen, scar oddly more prominent than usual; Shearer enthuses about England's "massive names" (you can insert your own Venegoor of Hesselink joke here, if you like); Wright is convinced that they've got "a lot more to offer than Portugal".

Yeah, I know. The problem with writing this up now is that everything is laced with deliciously bitter irony, not least Shearer's suggestion, backed up by Motson and Lawrenson, that Lampard "has to score eventually". Not that this is confined to the England analysis, with the inevitable discussion of Scolari's genius when it comes to substitutions being horribly undermined by him later bringing on Viana and Postiga, apparently on the basis that introducing players who were absolutely awful when they played in the Premier League worked the last time. Fortunately, for me anyway, nobody's developed a fatal strain of irony, as otherwise Shearer's assertion that English players would never try to get opponents sent off in the way Ronaldo did would have resulted in a dreadfully messy overdose. But we're getting ahead of ourselves again.

The hour of pre-match build up proves conclusively that nobody in their right mind needs an hour of pre-match build up. Ray Stubbs gets to interview Franz Beckenbauer, and manages to get through it without mentioning overworked helicopters. Then, oh Christ, it's Ricky Gervais, doing a hilarious skit about Peter Crouch or something. (If the price we have to pay for England going out is that we don't get to see Ricky Gervais' face for the rest of the tournament, then that's a price I'm almost willing to pay.) This is followed by what appears to be a feature on metatarsals and, just when it looks safe to turn the sound up again, another good omen from Gary. A clip from 1966. Oh good. Might forget what 1966 looks like if we're not careful. "The Portugese have captured the British public" announces David Coleman; I thought that was North Korea? How many teams captured the British public in 1966, exactly? And why have I never seen Gordon Banks' horrible, illusion-shattering flap for Portugal's consolation before? (Probably because I missed the relevant part of ITV's 1966 series, I suppose.) Ray interviews Alan Ball, who suggests that this is going to be "the biggest scrap of their lives", presumably having enjoyed Germany and Argentina's as much as the rest of us. Ian Wright suggests that Ball should take the half-time team talk, proof that he's not a fan of Manchester City/Portsmouth/insert your favourite Ball managerial disaster here.

In the tunnel we get to see the England team apparently being checked for jewellry by the fourth (or possibly fifth) official, before Beckham warmly greets Figo and, uh oh, Rooney and Ronaldo share a joke. Yeah, I know, irony-o-meter off the scale, not my fault, honest.

England start promisingly, a free kick in what Motson deems "Beckham territory", ie anywhere inside the opposition half, causing a brief moment of excitement, but then the game settles down into a terrifyingly dull pattern, Portugal passing the ball amongst themselves but not really looking as if they know how to get around the England defence, England unable to string more than three passes together. It takes six minutes for the first mention of the temperature (hot, you'll be surprised to learn): "I don't want to bore everyone about this" says Lawrenson, about 48 matches too late. "All a bit nervy" suggests Motson, before deciding to chide the referee for being "very pernickity on England tackles" over a replay of Owen Hargreaves kicking someone. "That's my word" adds Lawrenson, clearly unaware that all words belong to Susie Dent off of Countdown. Switzerland-Ukraine is slowly but surely put into a whole new light; this game must be at least as bad as that one, if not worse, and yet this one is horribly compelling. Maybe if you were Swiss or Ukrainian that game was actually the most enthralling two hours of the tournament and it was terribly unfair for anyone to suggest otherwise?

Half time. Hansen lays into the system, Shearer complains about lack of spark. Given goodness knows how many misplaced passes to choose from, the team naturally focus upon those of Owen Hargreaves. Alan Ball is called upon for his half time team talk; this seems to focus on the need for Gary Neville to shout at people. "They're there for the taking" says Ball, without suggesting how that might happen.

For seventeen minutes the only thing the second half has to recommend it over the first is that at least this one features Beckham blubbing away on the sideline and the occasional close-up of Aaron Lennon, allowing us to marvel at his bushy eyebrows, before... "look at Rooney battling for the ball... now, that's right under the nose of the referee, and there's a bit of angst here... the referee's gone to his pocket IT'S RED HE'S SENT ROONEY OFF". Lawro calls it as being for the stamp before we see the replay; "left foot between the legs" suggests Motson over the sort of shot that usually has commentators chuckling about the victim checking that everything's still there. "It's difficult to sum up the last few minutes. It's all gone horribly wrong on the surface" says Motson, as if to suggest that in fact the bit where the player who's scored or set up half the goals was injured and the one striker was sent off may be part of a deep-seated tactical masterplan that will become apparent at any minute.

And maybe it is, because even though the game returns to something closely resembling its previous turgid state, only with Portugal having more of the ball but still not looking dangerous, England actually look quite decent in patches, Crouch proving better at holding the ball than Rooney and Lennon being able to skip past defenders apparently at will. Motty tries to liven things up by tempting fate. "I don't want to send out bad signals" he says as Postiga replaces Figo as per 2004; surely it's a bit late for that at this stage?

Full time. Suddenly everyone is full of praise for Owen Hargreaves and his amazing engine. All of the talk seems to be of holding on for penalties, as if somehow the minor problem of England being absolutely useless at them has passed everyone by. The game restarts but things continue much as before. Postiga's goal is ruled out for offside: "Can you imagine the whole of Britain?" says Lawro, as if in private conversation (and forgetting the likely reaction in at least three countries). A brief moment of panic ensues when Robinson appears to flap at the ball; as he points out on the replay that actually it was quite well left, Motson suddenly sounds terribly tired. Jamie Carragher comes on to take a penalty. Jamie Carragher?

Ian Wright inexplicably suggests that "I think our time's come", which doesn't seem to be based on anything other than England having played quite well since the sending off. I can't actually read my notes on the penalties, and there's no way I'm watching the things again, but memory suggests that Lampard's miss was inevitable; Hargreaves just about disproved Hansen's theory, as related by Adrian Chiles the previous evening after Ayala's miss, that the best player never scores in the shoot-out; Gerrard looked as if he was about to burst into tears as he approached the ball, let alone afterwards, and with that any momentum from Viana and Petit's misses was lost; and after his curious taking of one while everyone was looking the other way, Carragher's miss seemed as likely as Lampard's. England lose on penalties; Ian Wright, among absolutely nobody else whatsoever, is surprised.

Once the bemoaning of penalties and nasty cheating foreigners getting players sent off, we'd never do that, oh no, is done with there's much wailing and gnashing of teeth about another England failure. Hansen tells us about all the great players the manager had at his disposal, and how he's at a loss to explain why they've performed so poorly. He bangs on and on about it all being down to the system, but in which way did the system stop all of these apparently great players managing simple passes to each other in the first 62 minutes of the game? Wouldn't really great players have adapted to the system, or shaped the system to suit their own games, or taken the initiative to change the system? Is there perhaps a more obvious answer lurking under our noses that nobody seems willing to acknowledge, that the reason these great players have been so relentlessly average is that actually they aren't nearly as great as they've been made out to be? Oh, so they all look good in the Premiership, but could it be that in the Premiership their non-English teammates are vastly better than the players that they play with for England and without them they're really rather ordinary? Just a theory.

Plusses. Aaron Lennon looks a terrific player. Only a fool would question why Owen Hargreaves should be in the squad. The rest of the tournament should be pleasingly free of angst, and you won't have to listen to the half-baked opinions of a lot of idiots once Monday morning is out of the way. And the next time England play, they'll be under the excitingly brand new, nothing like the old, regime of managerial bright young thing Steve McLa... oh, shit.

What we've learned: What, apart from not to trust Ian Wright's instincts? Well, probably best to come back and ask in two or four years' time, but my money's on "nothing much, to be honest".


Blogger Del said...

I think the person I'm most annoyed at is myself for believing that maybe, just maybe, we could've done it. You're right on all counts, of course. The system was wrong, but the players were rubbish. Portugal were average, and we couldn't beat them. Penalties were a depressing inevitability.

There's only one Owen Hargreaves. Which is a shame, cos if we had 5 we might just have won.

I'm listening to Hey Jude. It's helping.

2:56 am, July 02, 2006

Blogger SwissToni said...

Owen Hargreaves played magnificently.... which goes to show how much the BBC pundits knew, when all they seemed to be able to talk about was why Michael Carrick should be playing.

And you're right about Crouch too - another unsung and much ridiculed player who put in a sterling shift once he was brought onto the pitch. Our more heralded players -- your Lampards and your Gerrards -- again totally failed to turn up, and it was actually pretty apt that they then fluffed their penalties.

Jamie Carragher and Owen Hargreaves in our first 5 penalty takers though? Who was stepping up for the fifth? Jar-Jar Ferdinand?

Crushingly inevitable defeat against a Portuguese side who tried to play against ten men by taking off all their strikers. I can only see one winner in their semi-final with France (and actually, I'd be saying the same thing if we had managed to creep through, and this way we're spared any Henry V montages).

We were poor throughout the tournament, but we may still never get a better chance.

Dear oh dear.

France v Brazil was a tonic though, wasn't it? Zidane is some player. He'll go far. Mark my words.


11:33 am, July 02, 2006

Blogger Del said...

Henry's never scored from a Zidane assist though... oh really?

11:51 am, July 02, 2006

Blogger Matt said...

Strange that the French are riven with internal disputes and in-fighting and seem to be able to play together pretty well, and the English are full of togetherness yet play like they've never met each other... Brazil-France was lovely, and if anything threw what had gone before into even sharper relief (there's some great players, Mr Hansen/Shearer/Venables), but I shall say no more as the excellent Skif is no doubt working away on his report as we speak.

I'm glad it's not just me who thought Crouch did well. I have a huge soft spot for Crouch (which may become apprarent in a future post) and tend to look at his performances rather kindly. I think Ashley Cole would have been down for the fifth penalty, as it goes.

1:16 pm, July 02, 2006

Blogger Ben said...

No, definitely not just you Matt - Crouch was superb. As was Hargreaves - should be fitted with a mileometer. I didn't think Gerrard was too bad, but he didn't impose himself on the game in the way that he can and usually does. Lampard, meanwhile, was rubbish again. Towards the end Hargreaves seemed to be performing his defensive duties and filling in for Lampard and Gerrard in taking players on and creating opportunities.

Portugal weren't - and aren't - great, and what kind of a tactical masterstroke was it to take off your lone striker and not replace him for twenty odd minutes? Pauleta may have been crap, but deciding to play without a striker at all was pretty incredible.

And still we couldn't beat them.

Like Del, I'm angry with myself as much as anything for getting caught up in the hype and daring to believe even though I thought I hadn't been.

7:26 pm, July 02, 2006

Blogger Del said...

Ah, but that's part of being an England fan. That inevitability. The sending off of Rooney. The missed chances. The good performance coming to naught. The penalty shoot out, and the crushing predictability. All I can remember in the very vocal and jovial pub was the complete silence after Ronaldo scored.

No curses, no groans of disappointment. Noone was remotely surprised, just glum. There was genuine sympathy from foreign fans, including Scots, who seemed as perplexed as we were at just how we succeed in underachieving quite so often.

12:29 am, July 03, 2006

Blogger Paul said...

It's because we take shit penalties.

With the exception of Hargreaves (who I seem to recall is also fairly tidy when it comes to free kicks) the rest all took crap penalties (alright, Carragher's first was OK, but why didn't he wait for the bloody whistle?).

It's not like Carragher & Gerrard haven't had the practice - witness the last FA Cup, or their Champions League success.

2:08 pm, July 03, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

the refere was rubbish the way handed the penalties (and the game).lampard and gerrard had a great season ,gerrard played for a yr on saturday. unfortuntley he that was enough. he lost self belief and when he stood up to take the penalty it was almost is if he was going to pull out. lampard should of been dropped. he had 21 shots on goal and didnt score 1 ,well if he cant score with 21 shots on goal then he aint gunna score 1 shot on goal.hargreave was are best player and was the only one with the confidence to score as for carragher ricardo couldnt face conceden 2 so 'he said i wasnt ready'. we just aint the germans.and erikkson, he couldnt get of his ass

2:40 pm, July 03, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seriously whingers, stop bleating already

England just weren't good enough, Of course you must still be proud, but stop blaming everything remotely possible but the actual [God forbid] team itself! Seriously, they had their chances and blew it. Move on 2008/2010, you have to keep believing but your owned nothing in return ok?

3:48 pm, July 03, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, overall we were poor. Nothing really happened throughout this campaign that grabbed the imagination. We struggled through a very poor group, and simple 2nd round. As for Rooney, maybe a bit harsh, but the ref was very close and he knew how the ref's had handled the tournament previously...
As for Ronaldo, yes total arse..But there are others - I went to the L'pool Chelsea game where Reina got sent off, but only after woeful playacting by Robben and a certain John Terry - he did everything he could to get Reina sent off, so is Terry just the same as Ronaldo?
As for post analysis, the players showed little passion and no backbone, and they should hang teir heads in shame.

4:54 pm, July 03, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am somali and not happy at all, My new country betrayed me. However,like all my new compatriot will be cheering for England next time

2:55 pm, July 04, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stop blaming Ronaldo for loosing the game. Rooney is childish. A spoilt kid...
The Portuguese weren't great but were better than England.
On penalties, the portuguese were far, far, far better than the english.
The portuguese are better! Have always win games with england and that's a poof. The english press said bad things about the portuguese players and therefore, about the portuguese. You had your payment: GONE HOME

6:07 pm, July 04, 2006


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