Saturday, June 17, 2006



It must be a bugger being Puma. Nike and Adidas have snaffled up all the really top names in world football, meaning they're left with the B-list dregs. (Having the world's most expensive goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon, onboard is one thing, but Jermaine Jenas?! Clutching at straws there, lads...)

So, they wonder, how to compensate? By signing up arguably the greatest player the world has ever known.

And what do they do with Pele?

Have him utter the nonsensical phrase "Wilkommen zum Fussball" before sitting back and grinning in smug contentment like a toddler in toilet training perched on the potty and pleased with his efforts at bowel control.

How the mighty have fallen - or, rather, been persuaded to fall by the lure of lucre.

Netherlands v Ivory Coast, ITV1

Welcome to week two in ITVland, everybody! Jim Rosenthal is our host for the first of a double-header, and since he's already promising that "we're all going to have a quick stretch after the final whistle" it sounds like he'll be back later as well for some more boarded-up-window-to-hide-an-empty-stadium action. Perhaps sore that the biggest thrashing of the tournament so far has just unfolded on the other side, Jim is keen to gloss over the earlier game as quickly as possible, with the merest of discussions of Cambiasso's wonder goal.

"Ruud! She's come to see you, that one!" points out Jim as a montage of fans arriving at the ground ends with a Dutch woman kissing the camera. "Sometimes there's a thin line between carnival and going for the game," is Gullit's qualified compliment to the masses of Dutch support inside the stadium, although the orange shirt he's wearing himself suggests he'd happily be out in the carnival if not under ITV's employ.

Today's England report focuses on newly-discovered footage of Peter Crouch pulling Brent Sancho's hair. "What did you make of it?" asks Jim. "I didn't see it!" quips Stuart Pearce. "I think it was naive of the defender - he had to just go down, then it would have been a foul," notes Ruud - although quite how you're meant to drop to the floor when somebody is holding your hair and jumping up is an interesting thought. The Ivoirian fans are supposedly hoping for an "elephant charge", notes Jim before handing over to Clive Tyldesley, who advises that "you may want to adjust the colour and brightness on your set before you settle down, it's very, very orange out here!" Clive fails his vexillology test, telling us that "orange doesn't feature in the flag of Ivory Coast" just after the picture switches from a distinctly green, white and orange Ivoirian flag to the red, white and blue of the Netherlands.

Clive notes to Gareth Southgate that Ivoirian coach Henri Michel left the players to get on with their own pre-match team talk, before making reference to Pele's infamous prediction of an African winner of the World Cup. Next he's complaining about the groups: "It was all Heidi Klum's fault - the German supermodel made the World Cup draw in December and put probably the best of the African qualifiers in the same group as two of the favourites!"

"We're in the Gottlieb-Daimler Stadion in Stuttgart," observes Clive at kick-off, "where Fatima Whitbread broke a world record for Britain some 13 years ago!" Well, it was actually 20 years ago Clive, but what kind of pedant would pick you up on that level of minutiae?

"The word from the Dutch camp is that the spirit has never been better!" notes Clive, "No Davids, no Seedorf, no Kluivert, nowhere near the camp!" Van Basten is praised for his record in charge during the qualifying campaign, although Clive delights in pointing out "how ironic that one of the great forwards - truly great forwards of the modern game - has overseen a team which has kept 15 clean sheets in its last 22 internationals and has not conceded a goal in competitive international football since October 2004!" As irony goes, that's right up there with rain on your wedding day.

A quick overview of Van Basten's opposing coach: "There have only been 2 World Cups without Henri Michel in the last 20 years - he's coached France, Cameroon, Morocco, and now Ivory Coast at the finals. You can't stage a tournament without him - not allowed! He's like one of those Grand National jockeys who always seem to get a good ride on the eve of the race!" "Not the ones I back then!" chips in Gareth.

Ivory Coast have a penalty shout turned down after Eboue goes to ground with Van Bronckhorst's arm wrapped round him. "Well there's an irony!" notes Clive. "Remember the Champions League final? Arsenal vs Barcelona again then, and Eboue went down inside the box this time. He it was who won the free kick from which Sol Campbell scored for Arsenal on the day." Clive's sense of universal justice seems satisfied by the non-decision today.

Halfway through the half, and Holland have a free-kick just outside the box after Van Persie is brought down. Tyldesley notes that the Tizie is having to peer through his wall to see: "he's not a particularly tall goalkeeper but he's got some massive men in front of him. I'm not sure that's a great combination really..."Two Dutch players stand over the ball: "Robben and Van Persie having a conversation - nice to know they're on speaking terms!" Van Persie eventually takes the kick, and smashes it into the net past the unsighted Tizie. "If the first game belonged to Robben, the first half of the second game belongs to Robin Van Persie!"Slow-motion replays allow Clive to take credit for pointing out Tizie's bad positioning: "It's not great goalkeeping in truth, is it? Rather like a rather hesitant tail-ender, he was simply beaten for pace!"
Clive briefly offers an olive branch to the beleaguered Tizie by begrudgingly pointing out that "the slow-motion didn't do him any favours," before reminding us yet again that "I said it before the free kick, it was almost comical - there must be two guys of 6'3" in the wall and the goalkeeper, I don't think he is 6 feet - he just couldn't see over his own men!"

"Ha ha!" comments Clive as Van Persie showboats a backheeled pass to a team mate. "Anything you can do, Arjen!" "He might find he gets a rap on his ankles in a minute," warns Southgate. "What - from Robben?" chuckles Tyldesley.

"There's no flag here - it's Ruud Van Nistelrooy, and Holland are starting to motor! The message goes out to Argentina, 'you can score freely, so can we!'" Clive recites Van Nistelrooy's recent history at Old Trafford, pointing out that "if he has a great World Cup, the politics of the situation may just change a little!"

Zokora hits the crossbar with Ivory Coast's first meaningful attack, before Robben breaks down the other end and tumbles over in the area. However, the ref's unimpressed and reaches for the yellow card, gaining Gareth's approval. "I think he's got it spot on - I think he could have drawn a penalty here but I think he makes too much of it!" "The referees have been told to be absolutely certain before they issue yellow cards for diving," Clive tells us. "It is a bit of a personality call - there is contact, brushing contact - he could have stayed up, couldn't he?" Gareth's still suggesting he could have blagged a penalty if only his acting was better: "I just think it's the manner in which he goes down which causes him to be booked... It's a bit too theatrical!"

Tyldesley gives us a brief summary of the Ivory Coast's recent political turmoil, and no sooner has he pointed out that footballing success has brought the nation together than Bakari Kone tears through the supposedly impenetrable Dutch defence to pull one back. "It's a wonderful goal! Truly outstanding strike - all his own work! A tiny man who accelerated away and rocketed the first goal past Edwin van der Sar that he has conceded in going on for 17 hours of competitive international football!"

"We've seen some good goals today, haven't we? We might have a goal of the day competition in tonight's show!" notes Clive, before Drogba leaves his foot in as Van der Sar rushes out to grab the ball from him. Gareth attempts a defence: "He does catch him, but it's a ball he's entitled to go for. I know the goalkeeper's union won't agree with me!" The referee doesn't agree either and Drogba picks up his second yellow card, meaning he will miss the final group game.

Drogba has an immediate chance for redemption as the Ivory Coast quickly break away following a Dutch corner. Drogba intercepts a loose pass and storms upfield with only Van Bronckhorst back and Aroune Kone in support. Sadly for Drogba, his attempted square pass to Kone is poor and is easily blocked by Van Bronckhorst. "Nearly two years without conceding a goal, and they nearly lost two in five minutes!"

Drogba's captaincy skills are discussed as we approach half time, with Clive particularly enamoured by Didier leading his players through the warm up in the coach's absence. "Sometimes you forget how when players play in the Premiership, what huge figures they are in their own country," points out Gareth. In the midst of this, Arouna Kone blasts a shot over the bar. "The Dutch got in a muddle there in defence," says Southgate, "'yours' - 'mine' - 'yours' - 'mine'"

At half time, Kone's goal reminds Jim of Michael Owen's against Argentina in 1998, causing Jay-Jay Okocha to hope for the same result today as then. A 2-2 draw is the limit of your ambitions, Jay-Jay? Pearce thinks Drogba's booking is harsh, Gullit thinks it was justified, but Jay-Jay Okocha refuses to cast the deciding vote and sits on the fence remarkably well.

"How have I caught a cold in this weather?" protests Tyldesley at the start of the second half, perhaps showing signs of fever a few moments later: "It's one of these comments that wise co-commentators make in a moment like this Gareth, but the next goal in this game could be all-important. I'll make it for you! It's a bit of a truism really, statement of the obvious isn't it - 2-2 or 3-1, but at the moment you wouldn't know who was going to score it!"

Meite aims a shot that Van der Sar saves comfortably, giving Clive the opportunity to be mischievous. "The big number 12 who's just had the shot was apparently - so I learned in my research - the subject of a bid from Middlesbrough Football Club quite recently. True or false?" "How recently?" "How long have you had the job? No I think it was probably before your time!"Clive then reveals that the player claimed to have provisionally agreed terms with Bolton in January before pulling out as the club wanted him to miss the African Nations Cup. "That doesn't sound like Sam at all!"
"There are a lot of rumours flying around at the moment," notes Clive as the conversation grows to a more general transfer discussion. "How many agents have called you today?" "Phwoah, dear - I never realised that my number had been posted on the ITV website!" Good corporate reference there, Gareth, you'll go far.

Clive savours in reciting the name Gilles Yapi Yapo, who comes off the Ivoirian bench in the 61st minute. He then tells us that Van Basten revealed yesterday that the 1988 Dutch squad were taken to see Whitney Houston prior to that year's European Championship final (in which Van Basten scored "maybe my favourite international goal" reveals Clive). Tyldesley suggests that van Basten might try to do something this year in the hope of repeating that success. "Pearcey will probably find him a concert," suggests Southgate. "Might not be to his taste, but he'll find him one!" "They'll come out with burst eardrums!" predicts Clive.

Tyldesley plugs the Ask England feature on the ITV website, before Boka brings down Van Persie who was clean through. He only picks up a yellow card however, causing Clive to play Devil's advocate: "He's just a bit wide, and strictly speaking he is running away from goal, but I think morally, ethically he is denying him an opportunity - whether it's a *clear* goalscoring opportunity or not, maybe the referee has erred on the side of caution and common sense there." "Woe betide we bring morals and ethics into football, eh Clive?" "That would never do!"

One of Clive's apparent personal bugbears is raised as Van Bronckhorst stays down after being barged not only off the ball but off the pitch. "There's no good reason here why Ivory Coast need stop... Zokora very very sportingly is going to play the ball...and the fourth official is waving him to play on!" Much consternation follows as Gareth reminds us of a similar incident during France v Switzerland.

Ivory Coast really press for an equaliser in the last 15 minutes, with one of their best chances coming from a corner where Drogba heads the ball across goal beyond Van der Sar but into the awaiting chest of Van Persie who's standing on the far post.

In the last few minutes, Dindane receives the ball on the right wing but Ooijer's enthusiastic slide tackle wins the ball and almost takes out the cameraman in the process. "Hey, take it easy!" is the audible warning from the nearby linesman.

After about three "last throws of the dice" during which Southgate repeatedly criticises Ivoirian short corners instead of hoofs into the box, the final free kick is indeed hoofed up and over the bar, and it's all over. Ivory Coast are the best team to be eliminated from this World Cup in Jim's opinion, as he rushes through the post-match niceties before advising us to come back in half an hour to watch "seeded Mexico", as if anyone's fooled by FIFA rankings and seedings any more.

What we've learned: The Van Persie-Robben one-upmanship contest could be one of the most interesting sub-plots of this tournament; Holland's "rock solid" defence could well be ripped apart by a strong attack (such as, for example, Argentina); and if Ivory Coast had a half-decent keeper and an easier group they could have easily made it to the Quarter-Finals.

Mexico v Angola, ITV1

Jim Rosenthal is in charge and starts with the suggestion we're going to get a look back at this extraordinary day so far in his opening. So we're going to get cogent analysis after the montage, yes? No, instead Andy and Stuart talk at length about England. Shouldn't they have covered this by now, especially in this detail? Jim finds particular amusement in how "the security person was brave enough to take away Pearce's deoderant", and while he wants to work the Hard Pearcey angle Stuart's going to run the comedy route of having his deoderant taken away, claiming "they ground me down!" and later "I'm chucking up!" before Jim closes the debate with a deeply disturbing assurance that "you're looking good and very fragrant tonight". "We will be in Hanover in plenty of time" he assures us, curiously, as we get to see a man with comedy eyes on his knuckles. Oddly, the Argentina-Serbia & Montenegro highlights were assigned to Peter Brackley, a man who seems to get one ITV job a year. Jim is approving of Ivory Coast, claiming "there is a way to go home and that's the way to do it" in a manner that almost makes sense before Andy tells us "you did a bit of detective work, James". Apparently Kone's goal is "near enough identical" to Michael Owen's against Argentina, in that he cut across the box and fired in. The night's real obsession is Mexican coach Ricardo La Volpe and his lighting up on the touchline, Pearce, by now well into comedy mode, ruling out following suit as "it'd be up my nose and everything" before, as the 'debate' dragged on, forcibly climaxing it with "I'm feeling drawn towards Woodbines as we speak".

Having called Angola "World Cup newcomers" twice in his opening link, just in case we'd forgotten, Jim's Madonna-esque mike stops working during the link into the game itself, coming back just in time for his breezy if not formal "let's say welcome to Jon!" Jon himself continues the commentators' point of mentioning before every game that no African country has yet won a game but claims Angola have more reason to succeed than most as "during the last World Cup they were busy celebrating the ceasefire". "A competition was held in Mexico in the 1940s to create a new national anthem and here's the winning entry" he patiently notes before it's played. Cheers. "On the coolest evening of the World Cup so far there are plenty of sombreros around the stadium" he pointlessly adds before starting on his merry way with the perceived idiosyncracies of La Volpe, noting with appropriate pauses and timing that "he looks, and acts, and sounds... like a pirate". Regular partner Jim Beglin is almost begrudging, pointing out "the smaller nations have been put in their place" and Mexico are merely "a nice outfit". The whole half seems to be made up of stoppages and inaccurate free kicks, which gives Champion time to consider a South African nicknamed "Old John" and get back to the crux of La Volpe's appeal - "What do you make of his tie, Jim?" "I couldn't quite get a good enough look at it, Jon..." Champion's other favourite is the character of Angolan striker Fabrice Akwa, as after a shot from halfway he notes "his ego is such that he'd quite like to be compared to Pele", and somehow proof of this is that he "drives a canary yellow Hummer".

"We saw the coach writing in his diary, and here's something to put in yours if it's not there already..." might be the most shameless piece of England trailing you'll ever see but at least it briefly stops Champion from going on about La Volpe ("maybe we'll see an explosion from their coach before too long" - nope) or the two "unemployed" Angolans. We go straight to Gabriel and Gerrard at half time, inevitably, before Rosenthal takes one look at the shot of two women and mentions there's "plenty of distractions - we'll hope for some tasty action on the pitch". Back at the game Jon takes delight in Beglin's room having "Mexicans on one side, cardboard walls and Angolans on the other side", but he can't keep his mind off the side of the pitch for too long - "there he is, Captain Blackbeard. If it carries on like this he'll be more like Captain Pugwash." Jon is rightly impressed with Angola's effort, although perhaps in a live commentary context "(Mexican keeper) Sanchez is 36, but average life expectancy in Angola is 38" is not the right way to express it, no more than "anguish for Mexico - if you've recovered from the anguish of England yesterday..." is an acceptable way to link to a trail. Angola's "fairly Herculean defensive effort" proves to Jim that "there are no more Zaires or El Salvadors or Honduras in World Cups these days", on the very day a team lost 6-0. Apparently the key to hanging on is "they have to treat the ball as a friend" - shades of Goleo there - while Jon notes how "the John Cleese of the touchline takes a deep breath and tries to rein in more emotion". Eh? Angola creep closer - "imagine that, Angola versus the might of Argentina!" - while Jon panics at everything - "here comes the keeper, what's he doing? That looked like handball as well". But it's good enough...

Rather unsportingly, Jim declares "it's not quite the shock we thought we might have got tonight", as if a point is no reason for anyone to look up, despite the fact his colleague then comments "Mexico are being booed off, Angola are being cheered to the very rafters". Back in the studio Stuart is impressed, if not syntax friendly, enough to comment "if you wrote a book that said there was a goalkeeper going to the biggest competition in the world who hadn't played a game this season you'd say it was too far-fetched". No, imagine if England had etc. So, how will Rosenthal finish a day that featured one of the great World Cup attacking performances and a surprise result? "Whatever you do, don't write off the Dutch". I mean, really.

What we've learned: this day will take a lot of topping; Angola aren't proving any pushovers and at least nobody's referred to them "making friends" yet; Mexico are blowing horribly hot and cold; La Volpe, with lots of actions and attention drawn to himself but not much else, is nobody so much as the Mexican Barry Fry

Argentina v Serbia & Montenegro, BBC1

At domestic level, local unions are often a financial necessity, as with my own dear club - Havant & Waterlooville (no shoe-horning opportunity left untaken!), but it is the fractious, territorial nature of global politics that ensures that ampersands are not often found within the World Cup team ranks.

However this year, we have not just one, but two; the seemingly quite blissful Trinidad & Tobago union, of course, as well as Serbia & Montenegro, whose affair doesn’t appear to be going so well, considering they are about to split. Musical differences, I believe. So this tournament is indeed the first and last hurrah of the two becoming one on the big stage, before Montenegro secedes, probably into sporting obscurity when you consider only one Montenegrin takes their place in the current unified squad.

Today’s BBC broadcast opens predictably with yesterdays England goals, although Gary Lineker shimmies this neatly into a discussion as to who from this encounter will be joining “the usual suspects [who] are going through; England, Germany…Ecuador.” They play their cards early in the VT, showing scenes of Argentinean delight and Serbian dismay from the first round of games. Following this, it is a matter of seconds before Alan Hansen, knowing that Lineker has been up all night writing bondage jokes appropriate to an afternoon audience with little success, tries to reintroduce the S&M gag from the last time out. Al, like an embarrassing Dad, reminds us that Ian Wright didn’t get it first time round. “Yeah I did” protests Ian, seemingly about to add, ‘and…and…I was joking too, ahhhhh.’

Leonardo then goes all around the houses discussing the merits of the Argentinean side, his hesitations buzzing like an overegged Bruce Forsyth impression. They then chat about Maradona being in the crowd at all the Argentina games, at which point Ian reveals that he prefers Maradona to Pele. Hansen reacts with disdainful ‘WHAT!’ while Gary says “you’re allowed you’re opinion” in that way which is usually accompanied by the wheeling of a finger next to your temple. Neither does Gary vibrate a digit against his lips, sadly.

The initial talk in the commentary box is pretty defeatist from a Serbia & Montenegro perspective as well, Mick McCarthy opining that they were, in their first game, “dreadful”. Furthermore he reveals, from his chat with an unnamed, possibly fictional, journalist that the Serbian side don’t believe they can win this game. There seems some credibility in this theory when we cut to Serbian gaffer Ilija Petkovic on the bench letting out a big sigh from his terrified looking mush.

Within two minutes of the start, Argentina force two corners, and seem keen to camp out in the Serbian half. Doesn’t bode well for this game as a contest and, indeed, it takes only six minutes for Argentina to take a lead, Javier Saviola jinking a ball to Maximiliano Rodriguez who calmly ignores the amassing Serbs to easily poke the ball from the top of his boot to the left of keeper Dragoslav Jedric who never looks confident about his chances of blocking the shot.

Like with the first game, they show a shot of Maradona in the crowd celebrating the goal in slow-motion, gurning in a manner not seen since he charged down an American cameraman twelve years ago. Now, I know he’s done a lot of work, or had a lot of work done, to get himself back into shape recently, but I wouldn’t be so confident as to contradict suggestions that he has been replaced for public appearances by his own waxwork. Particularly as he often appears to be being held up by both wrists like a baby chimp.

Not wishing to be totally humiliated, the Serbs push up and create half a chance, Predrag Djordjevic sending a speculative shot wide. After Mateja Kezman fails to reach a long pass though, Jonathan Pearce asks, searching for that McCarthy insight, “why didn’t it work for him in England?” “Who? Kezman? No idea” says Mick, before eventually hazarding a few guesses. Later when Kezman goes down easily under a challenge Mick delves into Geoff Boycott’s bag of homespun derogatory quips, “I’d like to think ee’d put up more of a fight if ee were trying to nick ‘is wallet.” He really is in grumpy mood too, “In four years time we’ll be at a World Cup with no physical contact at all” moans ‘Clogger’ McCarthy as another soft free-kick is awarded.

After a period of decent-ish but blunt Serbian progression, Argentina steal away possession and work through 20-odd passes to dictate and cast a spell over the midfield, the ball finally getting into the final third with Saviola down the left flank. He then sweeps a pass across the pitch to Esteban Cambiasso on the opposite corner of the box, who flicks through a quick one-two with Hernan Crespo before hammering the ball into the roof. This has cheered Clogger up no end, “there’ll be better strikes from outside the box, but that’s the best [team] goal of the World Cup…if any kids are watching, that’s a real lesson”. Hard to argue with that, it must be said. We’ll be seeing a lot of that goal in the coming decades, for sure.

Ten minutes later Saviola, now on the right, harries defender Mladen Krstajic, wins the ball and dribbles into the box, his weak shot is saved but the ball spins out to Rodriguez who decides to trick-shot it in off the inside of the post to avoid the defensive leg sliding in. It flies along the line but so quickly that Goran Gavrancic gets caught in his own laces and the ball squeezes behind him. 3-0 at half-time then, everything the Serbs apparently feared.

Hansen’s appraisal once again begins with those one-word sentences he loves. “Quality. Possession. Passing.” adding in a display of face-spiting nasal mutilation, “if I see a better goal than that I’m going home.” Gary then wheels out his best Christmas Cracker effort, with regards Argentinean coach Jose Peckerman, “did you know he used to be a taxi driver?” “Really” says Alan, like he’s just been told they’re all going to the zoo after. “Yeah” says Gary, scarcely able to believe his feeder-line has flowed so well, “he gives his team-talks with his back to the dressing room”. I swear I can hear a distant gong being repeatedly hit.

“Such a good game, it seems a shame we have to move on, so lets reflect on England’s performance yesterday,” he goes on. Tut tut, but at least they discussed today’s game first and for more than a derisory 60 seconds. Really though, considering the interactive options, the BBC3 re-run and the highlights on both channels, is there anyone in the country who hasn’t seen this stuff before?

Steven Gerrard is our England man in conversation today, his grimace possibly being due to the sun, or it may just be his way of dealing with being caught in Garth Crooks’ headlights. The pundits then compare England’s performance to that of Argentina’s today. If you’re going to be Anglo-centric, and I guess you have to be while we’re still in it, then this does seem the better way to go about it. BBC coverage just seems to flow so much better and we are soon back to what we can expect of the second half.

Leonardo suggests, with the look of a man who’s about to inform his kids that a fox has done for the family rabbit, that if Serbia don’t get it together in the face of this Argentinean display that “it’ll be hard.” “S&M are going to get a good whipping” says Wrighty, overplaying the ‘see, I do get it’ card. At the end of the game, no doubt, we’ll see 'The Story of O' and several back-issues of ‘Boudoir Noir’ piled up on his side of the set’s coffee table.

Argentina start the second half as they finished the first trying out neat flicks and rapid passes around the edge of the Serbian area. “It’s a carnival” says Mick McCarthy, desperate for a toffee apple. Mirroring the greeting received by Rooney last night, Lionel Messi’s arrival brings the large contingent of blue and white clad supporters to their feet. He makes an immediate impact, earning a free kick from which he receives the ball, sliding it across the six yard box for Crespo to slot easily home. 4-0. They’ve done quite well to keep them out for the first thirty minutes of the second half, but down to ten men (Kezman having been tunnelled just after the hour), it now looks as though the floodgates will open.

The nightmare continues six minutes later as substitute Carlos Tevez beats two defenders and slots the ball into the far corner. It doesn’t finish their either, ickle Lionel scoring a sixth after easily manoeuvring the ball through the Serbian defenders that now look on the verge of tears. At least they had anticipated it, which may take the some of the sting away. Devastating stuff from Argentina though. “The biggest rout of these World Cup finals thus far” exclaims Pearce, growling the word “rout” in such a way as to suggest spirit possession by Mark E. Smith.

“What a pleasant way to spend an afternoon” says Anthony Cecil Farquar-Hansen. “If you’ve just come in, you’ve had a nightmare” says Gary smugly. “Where have you been?” mocks Alan, forgetting that some people (although not me apparently) have to do proper work for a living between 2 and 4 on a Friday afternoon.

To highlight the precedent for Argentina’s multi-pass first half goal, they dig out the Brazil 1970 goal. Leonardo quips “I’m not sure why that goal seems so much better”. He continues in ‘but seriously’ style, suggesting the standard has been set and that Brazil now need to show something more. Wrighty also aligns himself with Argentina “I’m the Don King of pundits. I’m always in the favourite’s corner”.

Lineker closes the show by discussing the rankings: “According to FIFA, Argentina are the 9th best team in the competition, behind Mexico and the USA...FIFA need to watch more football.”


Pee Wee's Playhouse secret word: Masterclass

Referee (Roberto Rosetti, Italy): I was under the impression that Rob Lee was at Wycombe these days.

These things I believe: Serbia & Montenegro's Albert Nadj comes to this competition having spent the last 2 decades playing bass with the Chilli Peppers -- Argentina look quite good then, showing exactly how to send a message to the other big contenders when playing ‘lesser’ names -- Are we sure Maradona’s clean? -- Hansen can’t get enough of the sadomasochism gags, or rather than the same sadomasochism gag over and over again.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Oh dear

Fuck me that was incredible. On that evidence everyone else might just as well hand Argentina the trophy and pack their bags. How the hell did we manage to beat that side last November?!

England v Trinidad & Tobago, ITV1

"It could be a romp, it could be a rout, it could be the greatest day in the short history of Caribbean football" is Steve's list of proposed outcomes for the match at hand, before cueing to a video featureon the saga of Wayne Rooney, intercut with a mass of voiceovers from around the world on Our Wayne's progress over the past 6 weeks. Gabriel Clarke brings us the teams, making a point of Rooney's presence on the bench but neglecting to mention that the entire squad will be there as well since you don't have to nominate specific substitutes any more, but never mind these details, eh?

Messrs Pearce, Allardyce and Venables are asked which out of Owen or Crouch will be most under threat from Rooney's imminent return, whilst in the background the German tannoy announcer sings along with Three Lions.

Back from the break, and a quick look at the footballers' wives: "England unchanged in the expensive seats - Posh, Sheryl and Colleen!" By way of contrast, we then cut to a rather portly Trinidadian lady - you see, the implication is that the Plucky Trinidadians are such minnows that they've probably all got fat girlfriends or something - leading neatly into a feature onto today's opponents. Yorke, Birchall and the increasingly frustrated Leo Beenhakker all feature, as expected. Steve asks how England can wipe the smile off of Dwight Yorke's face today. Then we're back to Rooney, and whether the Trinidadians will target the fragile ankle, given half a chance?

Outside to Jim Rosenthal and Gareth Southgate, who offers the insight that Sven is very quiet inside the dressing room prior to kick-off and that Rooney will probably appear at some point today, and little else of interest as the tannoy once again blares away in the background. Time to plug the competition for Sweden tickets again, followed by a clip of Sven and Leo sharing a joke out on the pitch.

Gareth Southgate now takes the time to go through the England starting line-up in more detail (revealing such fascinating exclusives as "John Terry is a threat at set pieces"), using the very latest in computer technology to show squad profiles on the pitch in a barely readable font. Following this is a quick interview with Sven and Frank Lampard, where they promise not to underestimate their opponents.

"No-one loves [entertainment] more than me," states Venables when asked if the performance is more important than the result today, to the shock of Palace and Middlesbrough fans. "I think the fact that Trinidad played so well in that first game was a wake up call for us before we needed a wake up call," suggests Stuart. Time for Steve's to build up the tension some more, "Well in World Cups down the years,

England have had bad days, they've had tense days, they've had frustrating days - well, if everything goes to plan it should be none of those in Nuremberg here tonight, let's hope it's the kind of performance that every England fan enjoys..."

A video compilation of all the usual suspects of England in World Cups past into the break, then the England players introduce themselves and their positions to camera on the other side. All are relatively straight faced and moody, but Beckham does a cheeky shake of his head in slow-motion before announcing himself as just "captain", without any mention of the fact he's a midfielder as well. Steve hands us over to Clive, who admits that he's "well aware that not *everybody* watching wants England to win," reassuring us that "that's OK!" Well, that's a relief for any Scottish, Welsh, or even Trinidadian viewers. "By 11 o'clock tonight, England could even be confirmed as group winners for the first time in a major tournament since a fella called Venables was in charge!"

Our first reference to 1966 is whilst the players are still in the tunnel waiting to come out. That the current class will become wealthy heroes if they emulate the feat is Clive's rather capitalist viewpoint, but there you go. Trinidad apparently had a more exotic qualifying route than England, "not that Belfast and Cardiff aren't exotic!"

God Save The Queen ends with a close-up of Paul Robinson's arm on Beckham's shoulder, which is peculiar considering the large Nike logo emblazoned on Robinson's glove. Good way to offend the official partners... We see the host broadcasters' team line-up caption for a brief moment before ITV switch to a wide camera in order to overlay their own graphics. Tyldesley points out the British base of most of the Trinidad squad, in particular the appropriately named substitute Jason Scotland. Today's referee enjoys cycling and reading, "hopefully not at the same time!" Ho ho.

And we're off: "It's lunchtime in Port-of-Spain, 5000 miles away, it's teatime in England, 500 miles away, it's match time in Nuremberg - take the rest of the day off!"

Clive soon observes that the pitch today isn't quite as dry as on Saturday. "They'd liked to have seen some water on the pitch...they'd liked to have seen some water full stop in that first game!"
"Big Dennis Lawrence of Wrexham, inch-for-inch a match for Peter Crouch!" notes Clive as Trinidad's defensive giant makes his first clearance. "It'd be interesting to see them back to back! Crouch might just have half an inch on him! Air traffic control have cancelled traffic over the stadium until those two have gone!"

"Dwight Yorke must have made more tackles [against Sweden] than he would in a year!" points out Southgate. Meanwhile, Otto Beenhakker has apparently enjoyed himself so far. "His press conference yesterday was a stand-up act! He says he wants Rooney to play. Yeah, yeah!" Sounds like Clive's unconvinced.

David Beckham stands over a free kick just outside the area. "For all the service that David Beckham has provided from free kicks in recent games, he hasn't scored from a free kick for England for over three years," Clive tells us. That record won't change at this stage, as his shot goes straight into the wall. Less than a minute later England win another free kick as Gerrard is brought down. Beckham tries to pass it quickly to Gerrard but the referee's not impressed. The retake is floated over to Peter Crouch, who's marked by Dennis Lawrence and Clive gets his wish for an impromptu height test. For the record, Lawrence jumped higher but fractionally too soon and Crouch still managed to head the ball wide.

Rio Ferdinand attempts a pass towards Joe Cole, who can barely jump high enough to reach it. "To feet, please - that's the message!" is Clive's optimistic lip read of Cole's response. Carragher then crosses to Crouch who is controversially flagged offside. Gareth's not impressed but Clive attempts to mediate: "If you have a part of your body with which you can play the ball beyond the last defender, you're offside - and I think his left shoulder probably was!" Oh, do be quiet.

Quarter of the way through the game, and England are lacking inspiration. Tyldesley has a cunning plan: "I think I might get the number nine just to go and warm up for a while. That might just raise the volume inside the stadium!" Gareth has an idea how things are going to pan out: "If it stays 0-0 after about an hour, you know what's going to happen Clive, don't you?" "Theo Walcott's going to come on and score!"

"There he is," points out Clive as we see our first shot of Rooney on the bench. "Our Freddie Flintoff, our Johnny Wilkinson, our game-breaker. There's a piece missing from the jigsaw, and it's ready to be put in whenever Sven Goran Eriksson decides!"

Gerrard blasts a shot which catches Dwight Yorke squarely in the testicles, causing much faux sympathy from the giggling schoolboys in the commentary box. "No prizes for guessing where he got hit with that shot!" smirks Gareth as the director uses a frankly unnecessary close-up of a grimacing Yorke with his hand down his shorts. "Well stopped Dwight!" compliments Clive as we see a full-speed replay. Tyldesley spots Yorke reaching down into his shorts for a second time and remembers that this perhaps isn't typical early evening viewing: "Everybody turn away just for a second, please. I'll tell you when you can look again!" "He's good mates with Brian Lara, isn't he?" asks Southgate, "...but Brian gets a box to wear - that's the advantage!" Yorke takes a few moments to recover, pouring copious amounts of water down his shorts as he's helped off the pitch. "Hey, careful Dwight," warns Clive. "There's a drought on, you know! Don't waste it!"

The referee takes an age to remember how to restart the game after Yorke's injury, at first offering a drop ball before remembering it should be Shaka Hislop's goal kick.

"He's a relieved man when the match time comes," suggests Tyldesley as we see Sven on the bench. "No more questions about Rooney...except maybe from Rooney himself: 'Can I come on, boss?' He said he'd sleep on it, not that this is sending me to sleep, I have to say - I can't wait to see him!"

"Hot day for chain mail!" observes Clive as we see England fans in armour.

"Crouch has to go back now and mark Lawrence!" delights Clive as Trinidad win a free kick, followed by a corner. On both occasions Crouch completely fails to jump with his man, but fortunately Lawrence doesn't get close either.

Gareth tries offer some crumbs of comfort as the half progresses. "These are difficult games, I can't emphasise enough - I've been to places like Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, teams that historically we used to beat by sevens and eights, not easy games to play." "Easier than Brazil and Argentina, and that's what England face if they want to win this competition. Got to play better than this!" Sounds like Clive's not having it.

England have a series of chances late in the half, with Lampard and Crouch in particular guilty of shooting wide when they really should have at least forced a save. Clive's quite forgiving though, even as the England fans chant Rooney's name. Meanwhile, Beckham is forced to concede a corner, which is initially cleared but crossed back in only for Robinson to attempt a punch. Unfortunately he's up against the giant Lawrence (once again ineffectually marked by Crouch) who beats him and heads it to Stern John who would have scored if not for a goal-line clearance from John Terry. "England a whisker away from conceding on the stroke of half-time and but for the courage of that man they would have done!" "What a clearance that is, by the way!" applauds Southgate. "Stern John of Coventry City - so nearly rewriting the entire script for the game!"

Clive's not impressed as the half ends: "Goalless at half time, how many of you had that score down? And goalless only in the end because John Terry was able to deny Stern John his place in tomorrow morning's headlines. England are still chugging slowly through the gears at this World Cup finals and are not playing well enough...yet!"

"Well, Sweden suffered and now it's England's turn," says Steve before turning to Venables to assess the damage so far. Stuart suggests England are being too intricate and should take fewer touches. Sam thinks we've got to be careful conceding free kicks and throws in the final third because of Trinidad's physical presence. Venables offers tactical analysis with his hands, if only ITV had some kind of virtual studio to turn his hand gestures into a 3D masterpiece.

Gabriel has spoken to Leo Beenhakker at half-time, who thinks England are "predictable" and "all I expected". Gabriel tells us Leo hasn't quite got the cigar out, but suggests that "England are going to have to come up with something that's going to crack Beenhakker's code!" Shameless tie-in, there. Sam wants to see Beckham stick rigidly to the right wing, whilst Stuart would rather see Aaron Lennon introduced ahead of Rooney to offer a genuine wing option. You sometimes get the impression that the pundits don't like England games, as it's the one time during the tournament they have to talk for the entirety of half-time without a link to the England camp in order for them to have a breather.

"Only one commonwealth nation has ever beaten England at football - yes, Australia." Are the home nations not part of the Commonwealth, then? Clive goes on to claim that Australia defeat was "Sven's debut", even though it was two years into his reign.

Sven is shown with hands clasped, causing Clive to wonder "is that thought, or is that prayer?" Gareth suggests bringing on Michael Carrick to sure up the midfield, before spotting that "Ray Clemence is walking around with a piece of paper in his hand, which usually means there's going to be a substitution." Clive is unsure who is coming on and decides to practice his Vicky Pollard impression: "He's waving in the direction of Rooney and Lennon...and it's Rooney! Nope! Yep! It's Rooney!" A minute later and the cameraman finally proves it. "Here comes the cavalry..."

Realising his time is almost up, England's other injury-hit striker almost converts a Beckham free-kick. "It's Owen! It should have been!" Meanwhile, Our Wayne is adjusting his boots, causing Clive to start quoting Blake: "And did those feet..."

"Guess what, off the leash at last. It's been a very strained leash..." We see the wives. "Mrs R to be. He started to kick his own team mates in training, they couldn't keep the lid on the box any longer. It may be a slight exaggeration, but the next 35 minutes could make or break England's ultimate ambitions." Clive pauses for a moment. "I wouldn't want to be sitting next to Sir Alex Ferguson on the sofa back at home for this next 35 minutes!" "No pressure eh?" is Gareth's best offer.

Clive tells us that Birchall and family are big Liverpool fans. Gareth points out that things are "instantly much better", a mere 11 minutes after the substitutions and associated tactical changes.

Clive is surprised by the attacking changes made by both sides as Trinidad bring on a striker to replace a midfielder. "Both coaches have gone bold!" he quips. "Beenhakker did this with 10 men, so by his standards he should be throwing another up surely?" asks Southgate.

The tactical changes have immediate effect, with both sides having chances to score within moments of each other. The most interesting comes after Lennon breaks down the right wing and whips in a cross that hits Dwight Yorke's hand. No penalty, but it causes Southgate to suggest that "Lennon's got Gray on toast at the full-back position."

"It's a helter skelter game now!" suggests Clive moments later as Cornell Glen goes past Ashley Cole in yet another quick counter-attack. All of a sudden, Gareth is worried by Plucky Little Trinidad, suggesting that whilst a draw would be disappointing, defeat would be catastrophic, so maybe three at the back isn't defensive enough. "Absolutely!" Clive agrees.

Lampard has a couple more decent chances, so Gareth changes his view yet again, this time to something that doesn't quite make sense: "The goal's coming, it's just a case of if we run out of time..."

Minutes later and Mystic Southgate is proven right. "Here's Beckham. One great cross from the England skipper. One big leap from PETER CROUCH! Get ready to dance - Peter Crouch has scored again! Nine games for England, six goals for England! And Peter Crouch scoring with robotic regularity!"

Rooney attempts a volley but ends in an airshot. "Save them up son" is Gareth's fatherly advice.
Gareth tries to excuse the 1-0 scoreline by pointing out a higher margin of victory would have papered over the cracks in England's starting line-up.

Speaking of higher margins of victory, Steven Gerrard decides to score a late goal past the same keeper for the second consecutive month. "It's Steven Gerrard, oh - fantastic! That's more like it! Poor Shaka Hislop, Gerrard did it to him in Cardiff in the last minute! It was a lovely free hit - there's been almost a straitjacket around the England midfield player in this tournament so far. That's the Gerrard that wears the Liver bird every week!" Gareth changes his tune once more: "People will say it flatters us, but in actual fact the last half-an-hour we've been much the better side."

Stern John flicks the ball into the net, but it's offside. Gareth has to remind himself to patronise the Plucky Soca Warriors a little: "Just for a minute I started to feel a bit sorry for them, and I had to slap myself on the face Clive, pull myself together."

Post-match, and we see reactions to Crouch's goal from around the country, and also in the studio - Pearce and Venables are largely impassive, whilst Allardyce punches the air and is heard to say "Yes, go on

Crouchy, get in there son! Ey, you big long..."

"Y'knows" in David Beckham's post-match interview: 14

"There will be some lurid headlines written about this England performance tomorrow, but for years to come I hope they'll be writing calypsos about Trinidad and Tobago's amazing World Cup." Thanks for that, Steve. Our closing montage is set to Here Comes The Sun, and we're back to a Plucky Little Trinidad theme to finish, despite them running England close for 75 minutes.

What we've learned: Well, Our Wayne recovers quicker than Our Michael, Our Stevie can score a belter when the mood takes him, Our John can have a great defensive performance without a holding midfielder to protect him, and Our Crouchie has got a 2 in 3 goals ratio for England. Tyldesley still grates though.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ecuador v Costa Rica, ITV1

It's a triple-header of live and exclusive games on ITV1 today! But before you run for the hills, stick around awhile to see the live football presenting debut of Steve Rider, who greets us at pitchside in the Frankenstadion. That's the venue of England-Trinidad, of course, so let's not expect much build-up for the first of today's games, eh?

Sure enough, after a quick recap of England and Trinidad's first games, Steve has popped up to a studio overlooking the left-side goal, and admits that "we don't want to appear too eager, but Terry Venables, Stuart Pearce, Sam Allardyce and myself were just about the first into the stadium at Nuremberg!" Gabriel Clarke is quickly on hand to report from the team hotel, with footage from celebrating Germans partying into the wee small hours. However, unlike World Cups of old, the noise doesn't seem to have disturbed the players' sleep patterns too badly. Steve can bring us the first confirmed details of the sainted Rooney - "in the last few minutes, the FA have formally confirmed that Rooney is fit and available." Cue further debate on whether he should play or not.

After our first break we're back to extracts from Robbie Earle's trip to Trinidad and vox pops with plucky Trinidadians. Steve reckons their fans are being a little too optimistic for his liking, so links us the Nuremberg fan park to see what the England fans are up to. Ned Boulting is on hand to tell us there are an estimated 70,000 England fans in the area - 20,000 with match tickets, 20,000 due at the fan park, leaving 30,000 "who somehow have got to get themselves in front of a telly!" He then introduces a chap called Graham, who for no apparent reason is holding a framed portrait of Wayne Rooney. "How's your foot?" is Ned's best line before moving swiftly onto Chris Birchall's scouse parents. Ned firstly goes for a Cilla-esque heartstring-tugging moment by showing a clip of Chris saying "hello Mum and Dad", before trying to stir up some family rivalries by asking Mr Birchall (English) whether he has mixed loyalties. The fact that both parents are wearing Trinidad shirts should give some clue on that front, but there you go.

Back to the studio for a brief word on plucky little Trinidad, where Stuart Pearce takes a moment to controversially suggest they will actually be going out to win rather than just being here for a good time. Rider sounds stunned by this development and asks Sam Allardyce whether this can possibly be true - and if the plucky underdogs should somehow win, what will Dwight Yorke be like to be around? Sam suggests that Yorke is under special instruction from Alex Ferguson to beat the English, as if Dwight somehow needed telling by his old boss what he's there for.

Another 1966 flashback feature, this time looking at Brazil's elimination by Portugal, references to the tournament in contemporary Coronation Street, and the glamorous side of swinging 60s London. Venables is asked who impressed him most at the time, "Pele, Eusebio, Brigitte Bardot?" "Yeah, you've got it in the wrong order! There was no doubt they were two of the greatest ever...strikers I've seen." "I wondered what you were going to say there for a moment!" "I changed my mind at the last minute!"
In the meantime, the big screen seen over Venables' shoulder shows the Ecuador players lined up for their national anthem, so it's good to see ITV have their priorities right.

Just time to reiterate that Rooney is officially fit to play before we eventually join Jon Champion in Hamburg moments before kick-off (too late to actually see the Ecuador team caption), and the first trivial point of note is that ITV's score display incorrectly has Costa Rica wearing red today. Place your bets on how long it takes them to change the colour indicator thingy below the team name to the correct white.

Jim Beglin's opening thought is that "Costa Rica and clean sheets don't easily go together". "Do they ever happen?" asks Jon. "They are susceptible in the air, they usually concede, they are generally defensively suspect - and because of that, they are excellent to watch!" Looks like Plucky Trinidad aren't the only side being patronised today then. Mind you, Ecuador aren't exactly being given much respect either, as Champion tells us with tongue firmly in cheek that they have a team witch doctor, who has been out on the pitch earlier today "to purge any evil spirits".

Onto more general stats, and Champion is keen to tell us that the two players called Tenorio in Ecuador's squad are not related, and furthermore there are seven players named Tenorio in that country's league. Costa Rica's coach was a player in the 1990 World Cup ("when they beat Sweden and Scotland"), and that Ecuador didn't play an away game until the mid 1970s (because of the altitude, don't you know), and that this is only their fourth game in Europe.

"I wonder, is this to be the greatest day in Ecuador's sporting history?" enquires Jon as Carlos Tenorio puts his side into a 7th minute lead. For those of us OCD sufferers who care about these things, it should be noted that ITV sneakily update Costa Rica's caption colour as the goal goes in. "Tenorio plays for a club with the unfortunate name of 'Al Saad'".

A few moments later Tenorio is fouled and spasms round on the floor, causing the Costa Rican number 3 Luis Marin to pick up a booking. A caption erroneously tells us that the Ecuadorian number 3 Ivan Hurtado has received the card and will miss the next match, although Champion is quick to berate the host broadcaster: "Ignore that caption, by the way - I think you've been misled by our German director."

We're returning to Friday night's altitude discussions, as Champion informs us that, whilst the Ecuadorian national stadium in Quito is 2 miles above sea level, the AOL Arena (FIFA World Cup Stadion Hamburg, surely?) is a mere 6 metres up. I expect some kind of visual representation of this fact at half time, presuming the panel can drag themselves away from England build-up for a few seconds.

A brief shot of a Mexican wave with 18 minutes gone, allowing Champion to wistfully point out that the two sets of supporters are happily intermingled around the stadium. "It's a very colourful stadium today, includes flags from places as outlandish as Shrewsbury, Brighton, Crewe, Leyton Orient, and Crystal Palace I can see are represented here too."

The game begins to falter a little late in the first half, allowing time for Jon to point out to us that "Costa Rica tend to play their football as they live their lives - a fairly carefree and relaxed way. Surprised therefore to read about one notorious incident in the domestic Costa Rican league this season where the president of one of the leading clubs ran onto the pitch during a game and thumped the referee! Knocked him out!"

Half time, and straight back to Gabriel Clarke - now sat in the Frankenstadion dugout - for an England update. Rider then repeats his pre-match question of Venables about whether it's worth risking Rooney today, only for Terry to inadvertently mention Costa Rica in his answer instead of Plucky Trinidad - shame on you Tel! This is no time to mention the two teams we've just been watching!

"I don't know whether that was - discreet judgement to lose the sound there - it's often a wise thing!" quips Steve as Ned Boulting's OB with England fans at the fan park is rudely interrupted almost immediately, so instead we're handed back to Jon and Jim for the second half without so much as a moment's analysis of the match in progress.

Former Crystal Palace striker Ivan Kaviedies comes on at half time, leading Jon to point out an Ecuadorian strikeforce of ex-Premiership misfits.

"Playing number 10 for a country like Costa Rica carries an awful lot of responsibility with it," observes Jon. "It's not just a number, it's a comment on the player that wears it." Quite how this only applies to 'countries like Costa Rica' is never explained.

Ulises de la Cruz is booked for timewasting as he pontificates on a throw in. Villa fans would probably say in his defence that he's naturally that slow. Jon Champion takes the opportunity to apologise to the Villa faithful: "I somehow feel personally responsible for De La Cruz's arrival in English football, having spent the last World Cup with Graham Taylor as my co-commentator, who spent more time waiting in hotel lobbies to meet De La Cruz's agent than watching matches - still remain to be convinced that it was worth it!"

Speaking of English failures, Ecuador go 2-0 up: "Oh I say! Agustin Delgado with the sort of finish that Southampton thought they were going to see but never got a glimpse of!"

Champion and Beglin aren't impressed as the referee - a "38 year old Maritime inspector from Benin" - fails to spot Centeno's stamp on Kaviedies.

"If it is England next for Ecuador, I think Valencia is the player to watch," is Beglin's assessment, conveniently forgetting that it's actually Germany next for Ecuador. Luis Valencia has been impressive down the right wing however, and is given a rousing send-off as he's subbed with quarter of an hour to go. Confusingly, Valencia plays for Villarreal, although he's on loan at Recreativo. Sounds like a trivia question right up there with the old 'Sunderland did it in 1979, Villa in 1981...'

We're back to altitude trivia from Champion, who tells us that they went 35 years without winning an away game up until the year 2000. How does that add up with the earlier fact of them not playing away until the mid-seventies?

Costa Rica break down the left wing: "Gomez...held off by Guagua who nearly decapitates a steward with that clearance! Not very nice is it, you volunteer to come from any area of the world to help out as an unpaid volunteer at the World Cup and you're decapitated by an Ecuadorean defender!"

We see Delgado signal to the Ecuador bench that he wants to be subbed off, although Beglin is quick to spot a flaw in that plan: "I think there's a problem, they've made three [substitutions], haven't they?" Champion agrees, and points out that the coaching staff are passing that message on. A few minutes on and Delgado has barely made any effort. "Gordon Strachan could probably relate to that!" notes Champion wryly.

"Hernandez - 'Bazooka' they call him because of his shot!"

In stoppage time, Mendes swings a cross over for Kaviedies to volley it home, who produces some kind of yellow mask from his shorts and promptly wears it for a few moments. It seems to be a full head mask, putting Facundo Sava's old Lone Ranger effort to shame.

Jon Champion is suddenly aware of the fact that Ecuador's superior goal difference means that a draw against Germany will see them top the group. He's slightly premature in stating that this would result in England playing Germany in the second round, before clarifying that England have yet to actually qualify, let along top their group.

Just time to see the England players arrive at the ground, including the "officially available" Wayne Rooney. Terry doesn't want to meet Germany in the second round, Stuart believes Ecuador have been impressive so far, and Sam wants a convincing England performance today. "The big match is almost upon us," declares Steve, as we all go for a quick drinks break.

What we've learned: Valencia looks a bit useful, Rooney is *officially* fit, ITV aren't even prepared to pay lip service to a live game when there's an England game coming up later. And Steve Rider made it through his first match unscathed.

Sweden v Paraguay, ITV1

Goal of the match: Not a great deal of choice, really. A good deep cross from Johan Elmander found the head of his fellow substitute Marcus Allback, whose nod back across goal was headed in expertly by Arsenal's Freddie Ljungberg.

Shot of the match: Kim Kallstrom, who had replaced former Saint Anders Svensson in the starting line-up, hit a cracker in the first half.

Save of the match: Aldo Bobadilla's tip-over from that Kallstrom shot was top drawer, as was his push wide from Ljungberg's shot in injury time, but it has to go to right back Denis Caniza who raced back valiantly to hook Allback's lob off the line.

Pass of the match: Henrik Larsson's first half through-ball to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was subsequently - and wrongly - ruled offside.

Miss of the match: Allback, who was too busy preparing to celebrate scoring with that lob to realise that Caniza was going to get there before it crossed the line. They talk about players losing none of their sharpness - well, since Allback left Villa he's clearly lost none of his bluntness.

Man of the match: Probably Kallstrom, who caused lots of problems with his powerful shooting and flitting movement behind the front two.

He was playing?!: Ibrahimovic and Roque Santa Cruz were equally disappointing, the former substituted at the break and the latter not that long into the second half.

We didn't need to see that: Ibrahimovic juggling his bollocks on the way off the pitch at the break. The sight of Dwight Yorke with his hand rummaging around down his shorts earlier was quite enough.

The Gary Neville Award For The Shittest Goatee: Nelson Valdez.

Player whom I always sign when playing 'Championship Manager' but whom I had never really seen playing in the flesh: Teddy Lucic.

Number of Limahl fans playing: 1 (Christian Wilhelmsson).

Manager who would, had it not been for Ljungberg's winner, have been saying "I love it when a plan comes together" while chomping on a big fat cigar: Anibal Ruiz.

Face in the crowd: Surprisingly avoiding the Swedish beauties, the camera instead focused before kick-off on one chap who was belting out the Swedish national anthem while wearing an orange wig with wonky pigtails.

Stat attack: Prior to this game, Sweden hadn't won a single game since qualifying for the tournament in October. A stat so good Peter Drury reminded us of it twice.

Minutes elapsed before Drury mentions the Ljungberg / Mellberg spat: 2.

Minutes elapsed before Ibrahimovic throws a tantrum: 10 (though it was with himself).

The David Pleat Award For Idiosyncratic Pronunciation: Pleat, of course, who didn't let me down on the first ITV1 coverage I've reported on. FYI, David, "Rennes" has a silent 's'.

Famous first words: "England are through" - Gabby Logan introduces live coverage of Sweden v Paraguay.

Understatement Corner: Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink comes up with a gem, in perfectly imperfect English, about England's first half performance - "Nothing nice happened for them".

Learning the lingo: Drury refers to "an elongated penalty shoot-out" - what's that, exactly? From 30 yards rather than 12?

The soft sell: Drury - "Flick over to ITV4 for a spot of World Cup frivolity". He was referring to 'World Cuppa', the show presented by Christian O'Connell and incorporating a feature called 'Warren Barton: Travel Agent'. Not seen it yet, and to be honest Drury's done nothing to persuade me to tune in.

You what?!: Drury's comment on the hordes of Sweden fans packing out the stadium - "It does look like a herd of giraffes". When was the last time you went on safari, then, Peter? But even then he won't let it lie, referring to "the yellow herd". And Pleat's comment that "that deep ball seems to hang effortlessly in the air" deserves a mention too. How exactly can an inanimate object do something WITH effort?

What we learned: Sweden are uninspiring but will keep on plugging away until they get that goal; Paraguay lack ambition; Pleat needs shooting in the head. Actually, sorry, we knew that last bit already.

Sweet relief

Well, we're through. But the only people who will have been worried / scared by that display is Sven, his staff and his players. And us.

Wednesday's amazing multimedia roundup

Whilst I'm cluttering the blog up with vaguely relevant images of events that have already been suitably described in text, here's the moment the lights went out on Andy Townsend during Tunisia-Saudi Arabia:
Sadly they came back on shortly afterwards

The same pre-match build up featured the second exciting instalment of ITV's 1966-and-all-that feature, in which we saw the channel's typical attention to detail. As if using the dreaded Comic Sans font for captions wasn't bad enough, it appears that Sir Alf was in fact a feeding trough:
Alf Ramsey - England Manger

Tunisia v Saudi Arabia, ITV1

Having signed off from covering Spain v Ukraine a mere half hour before, a screen has been brought down behind Gabby and the boys to disguise the fact that they have been locked in the now empty Leipzig Zentralstadion for the duration. That said, this gambit does at least ensure that rogue members of the punditry team aren’t seen wandering around, investigating their nostrils outside the window. Score 1 for ITV there.

The pretence doesn’t, however, stretch to the team changing their outfits, the boys appearing to have unwittingly co-ordinated their outfits to a cooling pastel blue. Smilin’ Ruud Gullit goes for the sporty polo, but the other two really do appear to have forgotten to text each other before heading out for the night. Still, it's just nice to see ‘Chunks’ Townsend out of his barely-containing doorman-a-gram suit and into some feathery shirt-sleeves.

After the merest of discussions about African football and the performance of the 5 qualifiers in this years tournament, we’re immediately onto their 1966 mini-series, all disjointed and irrelevant black and white filler material. After the first instalment of this, before an earlier game, Andy Townsend described the VT as “great, we all love to see stuff like that” as though he had a gun to his head. Today, we get Martin Luther King, the Playboy mansion and Billy Graham all appearing before we get to the World Cup tournament that we apparently did quite well in that year. Meanwhile 31 other nations decided to compete in this year’s tournament.

After a quick sojourn to the Trinibago gaffer Mr Beenhakker’s press conference, Gabby then discusses the pronunciation of ‘Leo’ with Dutch legend Gullit, on which they disagree, “you say tomato…” giggles Gabby. The uproarious, competitive laughter that then bellows out of both the ex-Kilmarnock striker and the former Welling United dogger suggests that we are in a twin broadcast with MTV's ‘Dismissed’. Mrs. Logan, the choice is yours. Hypothetically, readers, who would YOU rather take home to your mother?

After a break, they cross to Ned Boulting who’s boasting about indulging in a matey chat with Brian Barwick who apparently responded by putting on his dark glasses and saying nothing. Not really sure whether Ned, Brian or we viewers gain the most from that, but we’re soon treated to the sight of John Terry entering England’s Nuremburg hotel without a top on, which he can apparently do “because he’s John Terry.” Back to the studio box, and Ally is baffling everyone with talk of crab sauce and omlettes. Then, while Andy is telling us what Sven WILL do tomorrow and why he shouldn’t, the lights go about above the pundits, Gabby suggesting that the affable Swede was exacting some revenge. Personally, I reckon it was the aesthetes amongst the viewing public trying to tone down the smug amongst our book-ending regulars. Mind you, Moody Ruudi in the middle ain’t too shabby to look at, so that might be throwing the baby out with bath water somewhat. Eh, chaps?

With Spain and Ukraine the favourites for the group, it might be easy to cast this as an early wooden-spoon decider, particular when one remembers Saudi Arabia’s 8-0 gubbing at the hands of the Germans last time out, and Jon Champion suggests just that, although also noting that Ukraine’s result will give great encouragement to both.

“This fixture represents the very essence of the World Cup” says Champion after the anthems, meaning of course that ‘this is one of those games that don’t involve European or South American star names so we know you don’t really care about it’ and promptly leads us into a break so we can make an early escape should we wish to. He also says that both sides are “playing for something tangible, by no means just the makeweights,” as he and Jim Beglin work out the permutations that would see them qualify from the group ahead of Ukraine. Without that heavy defeat earlier in the afternoon, I imagine Champion would sound a lot more bored than he already does. We then catch sight of long-time Saudi #1 keeper Mohammed Al-Daeyea, recently disposed after 181 caps and who, prior to today, had played in every Saudi World Cup game. “Wonder what he’s thinking” Jon asks us. I think I can hazard a guess.

Our man on the mic then sniffily asks a keen Impy Jim whether he expects goals. “Yes, actually” says Jim, stamping on the cynicism. “You’ve put your head on the block” says Jon, from inside a black hood.

Tunisia make the early running, with some fine passing, a little trickery and a decent penalty shout, while their supporters percussive encouragement in the stands sounding uncannily like distant rolling stock. When the ref splits up some handbags in the box, Jon tells us “you can hear the broad Queensland tones of the man from Fortitude Valley” in an attempt to flex his trivia muscle with possibly the most unnecessary piece of advanced research ever undertaken. Somewhere John Motson was reddening at a worrying rate, and not because he’d forgotten to take his sheepy off under the German sun, either.

However Champion is not so well informed in all matters. He describes the Saudi Arabian domestic football league as an “insular world”, and confesses that he doesn’t know much about it (well, “WE don’t know”), an astonishing admission for a man keen to shoehorn fascinating facts in at every opportunity. “Not even Arsene Wenger’s souped-up satellite dish could pick up the Saudi league,” he says by way of excuse. Beglin concurs that to perform better in World Cups they need more continuity in their coaching (i.e. ‘stop having a faster revolving door than Millwall, chaps’), and should try to play European opposition on a more regular basis which, in fairness, does seem a reasonable suggestion, particularly as they are constantly chasing the game in the first half, Tunisia scoring the opener in the 23rd minute, Ziad Jazari making the most of a defensive clearance that hits the back of a team-mates head, scything the ball with an athletic volley into the top corner.

In a rare ‘chance’, Nawaf Al-Temyat strikes one wide from 40 yards, and we cut to the members of the footy-bankrollin’ Saudi royal family, whose eyes roll in unison. Beglin starts to think better of his earlier claim at a goal-fest, “not the most compelling half. If we’re going to see more goals it looks like they’ll be from set-pieces”. Saudi get awarded one in first half injury time, but take so long over it, the ref blows for half-time in exasperation. Champs admonishes their lackadaisicality, “pretty indefensible really to waste that opportunity” adding “that’s their business though I guess” like a kindly, unflappable neighbour catching sight of gimp masks on next door’s washing line.

Into the half-time show. “I hope you’re enjoying this game, but I guess tomorrow’s is more important to you” says Gabby as they cut as fast as their little legs can carry them to more England hype and, in a revolutionary move, have a little natter about Rooney’s fitness. Then suddenly Gabby remembers there’s a game on today by way of sending us into another break. Seems today’s football is merely an elongated sponsors break-bumper for a very short programme that tells us nothing new about England. Good work.

After said break, they give 90 seconds of their time to discussing the game at hand but they clearly can’t wait to get stuck into tomorrow so we return to the commentary box. After 56 minutes, the Saudis equalise, finally getting some sharpness in their attacking play. Their first open play WC goal since 1994 we’re told. It’s a surprising goal on many levels though as the Saudis, despite their forward motion, looked incapable of really penetrating until Noor slid a quality ball to the near post for Al Khatani to meet it crisply and tweak it in the slight gap between the Tunisian goalkeeper, Adam Sandler apparently, and the post.

The game then hits a lull as both teams efforts to garner a vital victory cancel each other out, so much so that the director decides that Saudi keeper Mabrouk Zaid being treated for a knock is of such relative excitement as to warrant a slow-mo replay of the moment when the physio squirts cold water onto his ankle like vinegar on a plate of crinkle-cuts.

As the game appears as though it will peter out in this way, Saudi Arabia spark into life, wrinkly striker Sami Al-Jabar meeting a through-ball that leaves him one on one with Ali Boumnijel, and he completes a fine strike into the far corner that is both composed and a little stumbly. It is also less than a couple of minutes after he stepped off the bench.

With the tempo increased, Tunisia go all out to rescue a point. As we enter injury time, Beglin suggests, having noticed that tall defender Radhi Jaidi has moved up front, that Tunisia need to just “launch it” and they do just that. The ball drops in the Arabian box, Jaziri supplying a deft scooped cross for Jaidi to head an equaliser beneath Zaid’s dive. An astonishing end to the game, but as Jon Champion regrets to remind us, a point is hardly ideal for either side, letting the bruised Ukraine side off the hook somewhat.

Back in the box, the lights are out on the pundits once again, possibly the stadium janitor trying to get the pesky ITV kids to stop hiding in his utility cupboard. Gabby appears quite relieved however that her 2-game “marathon” is over. The cut to Andy and Ally decked out in matching pastel blue Wee Willie Winkie night-caps is sadly not forthcoming.

Pee-Wee’s Playhouse secret word: Rooney (sigh)

Referee (Mark Shield, Australia): Just out of the shower in time.

These things I believe: Tunisian skipper Bouazizi has the most AOR haircut at the World Cup -- German TV directors can be a little too obsessive –- Ukraine still favourites to qualify with Spain, but there are twists to come in this group, I reckons.

(Slightly controversial) recommendation of the day

It's a commonly held belief that Frank Skinner and David Baddiel have never really been any good ever since they did a 'Morecambe & Wise' and left the comforting bosom of the BBC for ITV ten years ago. With their TV partnership now apparently behind them, they've instead been commissioned by The Times to do a series of (hnngh) podcasts on the World Cup, and in my humble opinion, it's a welcome return to form.

As Skinner himself notes in Tuesday's edition, the audio-only format means less of a reliance on tired visual gags such as lookalikes and comedy hairstyles that bogged down the latter series of Fantasy Football; and there's remarkably little filler material considering they're producing a 40 minute show three times a week. There is a nagging thought that Baker and Kelly should have been given this gig instead, but this is so much better than ITV4's excruciating World Cuppa show that I heartily recommend it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Germany v Poland, BBC1

For best results, accompany this and many of our other recaps with The Colourbox Official World Cup Theme

Gary's setting himself up for a fall, or at least a fool, very early on, starting with the claim that the German reliability on being "disciplined, efficient and organised" has become "carefree, attack minded play". We'll be the judges of that. Hansen and Strachan are in with Shearer, wearing a shirt which makes him look even more like a bloke in a pub, Gary getting in a line about Scots in the first round that never palls. For some. He also seems surprised by Germans singing Three Lions, which means he can't have been concentrating too hard at the grounds he's been at. Reminiscence turns to 1974, Hansen getting into the swing of it only to be interrupted by Shearer's "I wasn't 32, I was only four". The England feature, early for your entertainment, features a lengthy spiel of Sven quoting statistics, which even Garth isn't sure about. Meanwhile Celina is in Poland interviewing women in jester's hats in the street, which is as fraught with danger as you'd expect. We never see her again.

Noting "a massive invasion of Polish fans into Germany - some sort of irony there somewhere" isn't the half of it yet, as after Steve Wilson has told us that "with apologies to those in Group H...this is the match of the day" he refers again to the war. "I've got to mention it, but like Basil Fawlty I think I got away with it". Um, yeah. He and Mick McCarthy pore over the idea of German TV devoting much of their discussion to Oliver Kahn close-ups in case Jens Lehmann makes a mistake, "looking for the merest hint of a smile". "That's the loudest shout we'll hear" Mick states, bluffly, at one appeal, as he continues to find it difficult to deal with the idea of an injured player. Right at the end of the half, in a portent of things to come, we get Podolski's miss, rightly pointed up as the "best chance of the first half by a country mile, that". "Gordon, enjoyed it?" "Huh!" Sounds fair enough, especially when he knowingly dubs Poland "functional". After everything said before there's plenty of time spent on how deep the Germans are now defending, Hansen being visibly surprised when his package of clips is cut one short. "Think Klinsmann's been listening to Hansen at all?" Shearer humourlessly interjects, as usual. The filler feature this time, as well as Chris Birchall's show nothing diary, is Ivan round the house of a sticker book collector. Say, what if he just points to 1966 World Cup shots and pictures of the pundits when they looked slightly different for three minutes?

As Mick gets to moan about the rule regarding coming back onto the pitch and declares apropos of little "I don't like that Schweinsteiger" Germany turn the screw very slowly, eventually breaking out into a set of marvellous Wilson expositions - "Off the bar! And off the bar! Neuville! No! Ballack! Offside!" McCarthy helpfully reiterates it all for us immediately, but before everybody's really settled down Wilson's going almost as mad at Neuville's goal as the fans are.

While nobody directly claims you can't write the Germans off afterwards there's a lot of praise for the way they took the upper hand, Gordon interjecting at the end with the thought "I don't think Germany are a threat at the moment". His argument doesn't make that much sense in light, unfortunately, and instead we get to see Jurgen leap about, Hansen marvelling "that's a major celebration - he's actually won the World Cup!". Shearer admits Klose "had an absolute shocker" and gets ribbed for 'his' choice mercilessly before we're reminded Artur Boruc is "Gordon's goalie", Shearer proving he does his own background work by admitting "I said to him (Gordon) in the car here, what's he like", although I wonder what sort of response he expected. Hansen takes it up: "Did you buy him, Gordon?" "I did. I used Celtic's money...", later retorted with "so you've made one decent signing, then". A goals of the tournament so far compilation breaks the tone briefly before Gary startles us with his closing statement that "it needed a late, late goal from Neuville to break their duck". Neuville/Orville, sir?

What we've learned: If it's not one end Germany are underwhelming at it's the other; Poland's downfall was a lack of a midfield and very much not Boruc; two games in we still can't really tell what Germany will do

Spain v Ukraine, ITV1

ITV's pre-match feature is filled with conspiratorial Spaniards and the infamous South Korea game of 2002 all over again, followed by a moody melancholy interview with Andriy Shevchenko and his American wife.

Into the studio, and Ruud offers an opinion that the Basque, Catalan and Castillan in-fighting within the camp are the cause of Spain's perennial underachievement. Andy storms in and completely fails to understand what Ruud is going on about, causing Gullit to put a reassuring hand on his knee and point out that "there are players that who don't even want to play for Spain". By way of curious comparison, Ruud points out the Americans don't always click during the Ryder Cup.

ITV are in a hurry with their pre-match ad break and only have time for two commercials before Peter Drury gets us underway by identifying the injury recoveree Shevchenko as "their Rooney, their Totti, their star". Our first abstract English reference is before kick-off, so anyone playing a drinking game might be extremely tipsy by final whistle - "the Swiss referee might send a shiver down an English spine, he was in charge in Belfast the night Northern Ireland won".

David "hello everybody" Pleat believes this is going to be a real good one, although he hopes it's not too hot for them and that the pace doesn't get too sluggish. Drury suggests it could reach 34 degrees, the hottest of them all so far.

With just 3 minutes gone, Spain break through the Ukrainian defence and almost take the lead. Our first idiosyncratic Pleat pronunciation of the day, as the Ukraine number 2 Nesmachniy is described thusly: "terrific ball inside the full back there, it caught Nes-man-cheese really, half-asleep there..."

Drury again points out that Shevchenko has only played for 30 minutes in a warm-up match against Luxembourg since getting injured a month ago, and again states it's a "Totti, Rooney, Messi story".

Ukraine fail to convert a free kick, causing Pleat to offer his tactical opinion: "You see [the defenders] all backtrack, right on top of the goalkeeper... I don't understand why the defenders sometimes don't do the bluffing and just stand still then push out as the kicker puts his head down and try to catch an offside and make the kicker think twice about the next free kick." Well, when you put it like *that*...

Pleat thinks that Shevchenko being fit to play is a massive ", lift" for the team. Drury once again reels off the Spanish sporting hall of fame in 2006 ("Barcelona, "Sevilla", "Fernando Alonso", "Rafael Nadal"), and Shevchenko is wrongly flagged offside - much to Peter's chagrin.

Marcus Senna has a shot that the Ukraine keeper ("Su-shos-soss-key"- Pleat) can only palm behind for a corner. Pleat just has time to compliment Senna's Champions League performances for Villarreal "against The Arsenal", before the corner is whipped across and bundled in for Spain's opening goal. Drury, influenced perhaps by the director's choice of camera angle, accredits the goal to "little Luis Garcia nipping in at the near post" even though the replay shows Garcia being about 2 feet below the ball as it passes over him onto the awaiting shoulder/ear of Xabi Alonso. By the third replay angle, Drury is concerned by the continued absence of Garcia in contact with ball and is prepared to concede that "the last touch might...might have been a Ukrainian touch. It may well have deflected off the centre half, Garcia got the faintest contact, there isn't too much concern about the individual to which the goal is credited..." Tell that to Motson and Lawrenson last Saturday afternoon...

A few minutes later and Ukraine concede a foul some 25 yards out. Drury, still mindful of the as-yet-inconclusive first goalscorer, is adamant this time as Villa's free kick sails into the corner of the net: "Villa - it's two! And that one is clean as a whistle! And Shovkovskiy barely moved!"With the replay yet again proving contradictory, it's up to Pleat to identify what actually happened: "I think it definitely got a refl...deflection..."Drury is unconcerned as by this point someone in VT has told him that Alonso should be credited with goal one.

ITV have got the gremlins in again, as with 19 minutes gone Peter Drury's tale of Spain having to qualify via a play-off is rudely interrupted by a test card announcing a This Morning Promo followed by the ITV1 caption. We return in time for Pleat to tell us "it's very difficult to come back from a 2-0 deficit in this heat."

A couple of minutes later and things are even scarier, as a goal kick is interrupted with an on-screen display telling us "Video Alarm Detected". Thank god we know, eh? I wouldn't have been able to sleep worrying that Video Alarm is prowling around undetected.

David Pleat identifies the trickery of Fernando Torres as Spain swing in yet another corner: "That's his movement, standing still, makes a dummy to run, stays, then goes again."

We see the omnipresent Franz Beckenbauer, alongside an unidentified couple - presumably dignitaries from one of the competing nations, although Peter Drury clearly hasn't been briefed on who exactly they are, causing a slightly lingering silence as the camera concentrates on them for what seems like minutes.

As the half draws to a close, Ukraine are flagged offside on two further occasions, prompting much accusation that it's not going to be their day. The half ends with 44:59 on the clock, although Drury and the ITV clock-stopper don't realise for a good five seconds afterwards.

Half time, and having predicted Spanish self-destruction beforehand, Townsend is now singing their collective praises. Gabby asks Ally to analyse the first goal, and specifically "which body part this came off, and whose it came off." She can't help but snigger at this apparent euphemism whilst Ally explains all.

Townsend doesn't realise what time it is, mentioning that the likes of Villa, Torres and Garcia have played well "tonight". Ally is impressed with Torres, although he oddly uses Torres' participation in all three of Spain's Euro 2004 games as evidence for Torres' inexperience.

Gabby's professional link into the advert break is spoiled by the director's use of "more pretty girl shots". Sexism and Steve Rider stealing the England games? What is a girl to do?

Just time for a quick link to Ned Boulting before the second half, who's found the double decker bus that's travelled to Germany, collecting signatures from England fans and celebrities along the way - Ned gives a cursory mention to the autographs of Tony Blair, Ricky Hatton and Rebecca Loos, picking out Noel Gallagher's "Peace, Love and Bananas" in particular. He then wanders over to the England Supporters Band, now sponsored by Pukka Pies, who can't supply Ned with any new material as we fade out to the strains of The Great Escape.

Three Lions is blaring over the tannoy as the second half begins, and Ukraine make two substitutions. Drury is at a loss as to who they're coming on for, furiously stalling in the vain hope of a caption from the host broadcaster to explain all: "it hasn't been made clear as yet which players they're replacing, we'll bring the second half.........develops."

Drury really isn't having a good day, not even able to remember Trinidad's shock non-defeat from Saturday: "Ukraine are the eighth World Cup debutants here, Trinidad & Tobago lost, and so did Angola, and so did Ivory Coast." He's still on this train of thought as Torres breaks through into the Ukraine penalty area, apparently beats his man and shoots feebly into the standing keeper's chest. However, the referee's whistle goes, the defender Vladislav Vashchuk is sent off, Spain are awarded a penalty, and poor old Peter is completely befuddled by events. "Where's the problem? Where IS the problem?" is all he can muster as even a replay fails to show any apparent offence. "Holding his pants there, just a little tug on the pants" assesses Pleat as the replay shows Vashchuk making minimal contact with Torres. "Oh David, if a penalty was awarded every time there was a little clutch like that then we'd be watching 8-all draws!" protests Peter.

"Very difficult to make early predictions, particularly as some teams have played in the cooler evening weather, and that's where we've had our better games, particularly Argentina - Ivory Coast, Brazil - Croatia." Did David Pleat see the fairly tedious spectacle of Brazil's game last night? A few minutes later he's claiming Aragones is the oldest coach at the tournament, which won't please Otto Pfister's attempts to enter the record books for anything other than his resign then re-sign saga.

Andriy Voronin shoots just wide on the volley from 20 yards out. "He's one of the pin-ups in Ukraine, the face of Coca-Cola in that country," Drury informs us. We see the aforementioned VIPs sat next to Beckenbauer grimacing and waving their hands in slow-motion, and Drury still hasn't been briefed on their identities. One quick Wikipedia search informs me that they are Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia, heir apparents to the Spanish throne.

Time for another Ukrainian substitution, and a chance for Peter Drury to make David Pleat squirm: "A man you know very well coming on David, Sergei Rebrov, you spent an awful lot of money on him."Pleat begins to get his excuses in early: "No, you'll see he's the record holder of Ukrainian caps, he had a wonderful partnership with Shevchenko, he was playing some wonderful football, we brought him to Tottenham. He needed a good start, he never got that, and I think it was a bit of a culture shock, he failed to adapt, the direct style at the time didn't really suit him, he never really integrated, and he cut a lonesome figure at times, it was very difficult for him. He was one of those players that come from abroad that make you think you've got a diamond and it doesn't quite turn out that way."

Spain have a goal disallowed as Albelda bangs heads with Timoschyuk whilst going for the ball. Sadly, Drury doesn't spot the referee's whistle as Senna rockets the ball into the net - "Senna, oh - bosh!" is his unfortunate choice of phrase, given our hosts. Guardian's play-by-play commentary describe the non-goal as a "bullet-header", which would have been impressive since the ball was lower than even Trevor Brooking circa 1980 could have dealt with.

Rebrov is described by Drury as a "horse for that course" in reference to his return to Dynamo Kiev after his English adventure. Shortly afterwards, Cesc Fabregas comes on to replace Luis Garcia, and is described as "unignorable after those manly displays growing into Vieira's boots". At "just 19", he is apparently "old enough to be Theo Walcott's grandad", peculiarly.

"I've certainly thought that this Swiss referee has probably been the second most unimpressive referee in the tournament so far," opines David, without actually naming his number one. The game then pauses for Vorobey to get treatment and everyone grabs a drink. Pleat won't let it lie: "A lovely shot there of the referee taking plenty of liquid and yet only the other night they were denying the players liquid, but the referee can obviously have a drink - particularly when he's performed as well as he has - excuse me(!)"

Another shot of Spain's royal couple joining in the drinking theme, and Drury still hasn't been briefed as to who they are. "Pimms? Soon be the start of Wimbledon" is his best guess as to their VIP status.

Carlos Puyol clearly hasn't been informed that you're supposed to take it easy when you're three-nil up. An interception, a dribble, a Zidane turn, a one-two, a cushioned header down, and it's 4-0. "Look how much Puyol still wanted the ball, he teed it up for Torres, that's a magnificent goal!"Pleat clearly isn't prepared to credit the Barcelona defender for his hard work, however: "It was Torres' determination in the first place that got the ball back to Torres. It was he that enabled Puyol to recover..." That's the same Fernando Torres who simply received the one-two, stumbled, almost lost possession, then ran into the box for the finish after Puyol had made all the effort.

The final whistle blows and Drury points out that "the new kids have taken a right caning". One last shot of our still unidentified royal party and Beckenbauer, followed by a shot of fans (including one holding up a sign saying "show me on TV please"), and Drury leaves us with the advice that it's "worth watching the Spaniards".

A brief post-match analysis, with just enough time for one more mention of England v T&T before the first reference to England v Sweden as the next ITV competition prize. The pundits are unanimous that the penalty decision was harsh, the sending off was harsher, and Fernando Torres will be moving to a bigger club.

What we've learned: Ukraine aren't half the dark horses we thought they'd be, England's next two games are live and exclusive on ITV1, Peter Drury is actually worse than we thought he was, and ITV's transmission centre can be contacted on (0207) 261 8877.

Quote of the day

"Slow and weird".

Former Brazilian World Cup winner Tostao, writing in the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper, on - who else? - Ronaldo.

Incidentally, the BBC website piece about Ronaldo's non-performance last night makes mention of the fact that "to date [he] has 12 World Cup goals under his belt". Well, that might go some way to explaining his excessive girth...

Brazil v Croatia, BBC1

Mark Lawrenson is never going to be regarded as one of the great sages of our time. He may be a nice enough chap, and he does at least try to amuse us (which is more than can be said for David Pleat, unless that's the reason for his comedy attempts at pronunciation), but when it comes to cutting insight he's usually left some way behind... well, everyone. Christ, even Andy Townsend has made a couple of useful comments in the last week. And yet here, when summing up the first half of the first half, his suggestion that "nothing's happened" is probably the most accurate statement of the tournament so far. I can vouch for this, because at this stage of the game the last thing I'd scribbled on my notepad was Ian Wright's comment that he'd have liked to have been a Brazilian because he'd always wanted to have a Brazilian-style name, which, while it leads off into a potentially rich vein of comedy, doesn't really help when you're trying to write a wry-but-informative review of Brazil v Croatia.

Bad games. You wait ages for one and then two come along at once (and if I hadn't picked South Korea in the office sweepstake I probably would have found the first game of the day pretty awful as well). Except that, because you've agreed to write about it on the internet, you can't ring your mum or start on case 3 of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney or go and have a bath or something else instead on the off-chance that the greatest moment in football history occurs in the second half and you're left looking like a fool when you don't mention it. It's not as if I'm not used to bad games: I've just sat through a whole season of them, and then stumped up a ludicrous sum to pay for a season ticket to watch more. But they're my bad games. I can rationalise watching bad games between average Championship teams. Other people's bad games bewilder me in every way, particularly when we've had several days of relentlessly enjoyable games and this particular bad game features the most vaunted forward line in the world.

It had all started so well as well. We'd had the obligatory montage of great Brazilian moments - yes, Garrincha thumping one in from distance, yes, Carlos Alberto, yes, Falcao running away in triumph, yes, Bebeto rocking his invisible infant - we'd had Leonardo picking out his favourites from the Bumper Book Of Reasons Why Brazil Are Good At Football - Charles Miller and his football, happiness, style, fun, samba music (*) - and we'd had Damian Johnson providing the obligatory "look, aren't their supporters really fanatical and here's some women very nearly showing us their breasts" report. We'd even had the tantalising suggestion from Ian Wright that when he'd played against Brazil "you could hear them dancing in the dressing room", alas never expanded on. They'd even bothered to mention Croatia (which slightly knackered a joke I'd worked out about Leyton Orient, but never mind) with Adrian providing a MOTD2-style top 5 including, er, Goran Ivanisevic winning Wimbledon, and being sent to report from the stadium on the grounds of his mum being Croatian. This should be have been great, not least because Strachan was in tow and it's always good to see the chaps together, but Adrian seemed to be distracted by something off-camera, and Lineker came out of the report with an attempted pun so appalling that we shan't draw attention to it in case anyone ever tries it again. So, every cliche in place, everything running along nicely, and then the match starts and we may as well be watching France v Switzerland again for all of the pulsating excitement on display.

Oh, all right, so Kaka rocketed one in just before half time, completely out of keeping with everything that had gone before, and so the team could wax reasonably lyrical. "It was a funny first half" suggests Hansen, but then he didn't have to write a wry-but-informative commentary on it. Wright begins each of his bits of analysis by saying "the thing about it is...", which makes you wonder if that was what he wanted as his Brazilian name.

Croatia come out of their shells a bit in the second half and the game improves marginally, occasionally reaching the realms of the all right-ish but still being largely poor - even the pitch invader who comes on towards the end doesn't do anything particularly interesting and seems to leave without a struggle. I've nothing particular against Croatia - no national side has a better kit, for a start - and they're not a bad side, but there is something desperately unexciting about them in these post-Sukor/Prosinecki/etc days. They seem to be one of a strata of mid-ranking European teams - Switzerland, Serbia, England er, Poland - that you have to have in the tournament but who you forget were even there about two minutes after they lose in the 2nd round (if they get that far). It doesn't help that whenever they cut to the manager prowling about his technical area, he has a bloke who looks like Father Ted sat behind him, reminding the discerning viewer that there are many other things to do with your time. Despite all of this they still have enough of the game to get a draw, but like Japan yesterday seem to get to the edge of the area and then lose their way, Prso is particular getting into good positions and then not seeming to know quite what to do. Possibly Brazil had another gear that they could have slipped into if need be, but of the vaunted front four only Ronaldinho lives up to his pre-match billing, and they've got to get rid of Ronaldo (Motson suggests as an alternative "the lively Fred", a phrase which sounds wrong in any context other than a local newspaper report about a particularly beloved lollipop man). It'll be interesting to see if Guus Hiddink manages to find a way around them, Wily Old Fox that he is.

At the end Motson surmises that it was "a fairly undistinguished game, by Brazilian standards", when aside from the odd moment from Kaka and Ronaldinho it would have been an undistinguished game by mid-table Championship standards. Passing over the game, the panel choose to berate the "off-form" Ronaldo; Leonardo shows his value to the discussion by describing his display (or his physical condition, or possibly both) as "very, very, very, very... bad". Back in the stadium Strachan and Chiles are equally unimpressed, and sign off with an exchange that I'm still not sure I understand even though I've rewatched it about half a dozen times:

CHILES: Enjoyed the game?
STRACHAN: Enjoyed it? I enjoyed you crumpling up the team sheet and crawling away in mourning...
CHILES: (Interrupting) I 'ate it! I 'ate it in there!
STRACHAN: ... and reducing football down to the basics.

Still easily the most entertaining part of the day, mind.

What we've learned: Brazil need to improve quickly otherwise they're going to lose in the 2nd round; Croatia v Australia could be one of the more interesting of the last round of group games; Ian Wright can hear dancing from a mile away.

(*) This has been puzzling me for some time now. Granted, Ronaldinho skipping past bewildered defenders is a joy and a thing of wonder, but I've watched Strictly Come Dancing (albeit not particularly closely) and I really don't see the connection. Although I'd have no objections if all punditry was forced to incorporate analogies to some form of dancing; next time England play there could be arguments as to whether they were playing 10 Year Old Girls Working Out A Routine But Then Having An Argument And Pulling Each Others Hair Football, or Fat Indie Boy Trying To Impress A Girl With Some Frantic Frugging But Then Drinking Too Much Snakebite And Making An Arse Of Himself Football, and Ian Wright could complain that Sven doesn't understand that people want to see traditional English Morris Dancing Football. It'd be great and everything.