Saturday, June 24, 2006

Czech Republic v Italy, BBC1

Ray Stubbs introduces what the BBC website has just revealed will be the first of 11 consecutive live games on the BBC. Aah, blessed relief from Budweiser and EDF Energy until Sunday night. We're assured than Messrs Shearer, Desailly and O'Neill are "right up to speed on all the different qualification permutations this afternoon". Martin points out to Marcel in that slow, deliberate way he always employs when talking to non-British pundits that the Ghanaian coach has kept Samuel Kuffour out of the starting line-up, going against Desailly's previously stated wish to see Kuffour returned to the team after his mistake against Italy. "Martin, Marcel phoned him up and sorted it out!" is Ray's rather weak segue into the split, as BBCi viewers disappear off to watch the Ghana-USA game and the rest of us are left in the hands of Mark Bright and John Motson.

Motson welcomes us by explaining that an announcement is forthcoming back in Italy about the corruption scandal currently rocking Serie A, and explains that this could lead to four clubs being relegated (he doesn't actually mention Juventus, Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio by name, but this is the new and non-technical BBC, after all). In true understating Motson fashion, he states non-categorically that "I don't recall a World Cup match starting in that kind of atmosphere before!" Motson recalls attending the Italy v Czechoslovakia game at Italy 1990 where both teams made it through the group, and wonders if that's to be an omen for today. Mark Bright has always liked it when the last group game can lead to "somebody falling out..." (the image of Pavel Nedved and his Juventus teammates in the Italian team having a childish squabble and refusing to talk to each other springs to mind).
"There's going to be a contrast in the welcomes here, because Mark and I have been in the city today and we think there's more enthusiasm from the Czech Republic fans than there is from the Italians!" A fine theory John, but since the two teams arrive on the pitch side-by-side, it's rather difficult to ascertain any difference on television in the welcomes afforded by the two sets of fans. Mark Bright offers the opinion that Italians "don't travel" - unlike the Swedes, Swiss and Mexicans - and that the Czech fans probably outnumber the Italians in the stadium today. "Mind you, there'll be a few people in the Italian restaurants across Europe [chuckle] who'll be following this very closely, so we'd better be strictly neutral here!" Is Motson on some kind of crusade to slip some kind of food reference into every commentary these days? I anticipate the first pasta, pizza or spaghetti pun with dread.
"Just can't get used to Totti with his hair so short! [chuckle]" is John's first comment immediately following the anthems. "It's the fashion now, John, it's the fashion!" explains Bright, sounding for all the world like your Grandma explaining the state of young people nowadays to her elderly neighbour after you turn up on her doorstep with a mohican and your nose pierced. We then see the Czech bench, causing Motson to identify the coach: "Karel Bruckner, 66 years old - the Methuselah of football coaches in the World Cup. Not quite fair on him, Methuselah was several hundred years old if you know your Bible!"

Discussion turns to the Czech team's fitness as the game gets underway, and Bright questions how long the returning Baros can last. Having commented on how Plasil has moved to Nedved's left, Bright points out that Poborsky is playing on the right wing as usual. "He never moves, does he?" observes Motson. "Well he moves [chuckle], but not his starting position! Doing well to keep moving, Poborsky - he's 34!" Baros has the game's first chance, but his "rustiness" causes his first touch to let the ball run away. Meanwhile, Totti puts the ball out of play for an unidentified player to receive treatment. Bright eventually spots that Poborsky is the man receiving treatment on the near side of the pitch, and explains "the reason we couldn't see that is because there's 10 cameras in front of us so we can't see the near touchline." "Yeah, a bit like Cannavaro, we get our excuses in early, Brighty!"
Nedved has a shot from 25 yards which Buffon comfortably gets down to save. "Equal to the save, Buffon. Wasn't a real test for him..." "They must test each other every day in training at Juventus, I would think!" Minutes later Nedved has another go from similar range, but this time Buffon can only palm the ball away towards the oncoming Jankulovski only for the Italian keeper to scramble to his feet and block the second shot as well. Motson's view on the above? "Nedved...and he'll have to be quick, Buffon here - ooh-hoo!"
Nesta is struggling and Materazzi is waiting on the sidelines to replace him. However, Nesta takes so long to slowly meander across from the far side of the pitch that the referee decides to play on without allowing the substitution, much to Bright's delight. "The referee went over and asked him, but he was just borrowing time to get the sub warmed up!"
"Of course, the other intriguing thing about this group is that whoever finishes second, chances are you'll play Brazil in the next round!" "[chuckle]" "That's Mark Bright chuckling, not me!"
"There's big news coming from the other game," teases John before commentating on the action here for several more seconds. "The news coming in is that Ghana have scored against the United States to go 1-0 up there, and if Ghana win they qualify at the expense of one of these, so the drama has already started in this group! It's changed things a little bit because if Ghana were to win they're through!"

Italy win a corner even though the ball seems to come off Gilardino's shin. "Oh, Materazzi! It's a goal and he's got it! Only minutes after coming on! And the Czech Republic here are in deep difficulties! Not only are Ghana in front, the Czech Republic are behind!" Bright isn't impressed with the defending: "You always look for men on the posts and there is none today!" "Good point!""So not the table says Italy are top, Ghana are second, and the Czech Republic are still coming from behind in more ways than one!" (fnar) "Nothing against the Czech Republic here Mark, but if an African team did get through it would be a reward for some of the football the Africans have played."
"You can't get away from the fact we're getting a lot of goals from corners in this World Cup, Mark?" asks John, as an aside. Mark agrees, but is unimpressed with the lack of marking on Materazzi for the goal. John attempts to excuse the Czech defence: "When a substitution's made they have to re-educate the defenders who to mark on corners, eh? Presumably whoever would have picked up Nesta...but then, he didn't always go up..." Bright's having none of it: "Well, the way we've always done it is, it's on a whiteboard before you go out - your name with who your man is, who you mark. The first thing you do when you come back for the corner is look for your man and engage him straight away!" "That's if it's man to man, and not zonal? We're getting a bit technical, aren't we? [chuckle]"
"Look at that flick by Totti, this is Perrotta, and Totti again - you saw a flash of the real Totti there!" Another Italian corner, and "they're marking zonal," warns Mark. It comes to nothing. John's not complaining that the "freak heatwave" during the earlier games has now subsided.

First inadvertent reference by Motson to Czechoslovakia instead of Czech Republic: 1 minute into first half stoppage time

An as-yet-unnamed Czech player slides in and catches Totti's ankle. Motson predicts a yellow card, only for Bright to suggest it will be a second yellow and thus a red. "Oh it is, it's...it's number 19 - he's got to go, he's got to go." Furious stalling from Motson as he tries to remember who the number 19 is. "It's Polak! Red card, two yellows - what a desperate day for the Czech Republic! But there's better news for them from somewhere else because the United States have equalised against Ghana..." We end the half just in time to switch to Simon Brotherton commentate on the penalty that sees Ghana go 2-1 up. It's quite interesting to hear Brotherton bring us BBC1 viewers up to speed without specifically acknowledging our arrival in the traditional BBC Radio fashion ("and we welcome listeners to BBC World Service...").

Marcel is happy with the Ghana scoreline and gives a detailed analysis of that game so far even though we're supposed to be reviewing the other game first. "You can see which game you've been watching!" quips O'Neill. "He's got vision, you remember when he used to play, he's got vision, he's watching everything this afternoon!" excuses Stubbs. "You'd have a word with a player if he did that and got sent off, wouldn't you?" asks Ray to Martin about Polak. "Well, you wouldn't let him into the dressing room to be perfectly honest! I don't know whether to feel sorry for the Czechs or go out and give them the biggest shaking of their lives!" Sounds like O'Neill had the Czechs in the office sweepstake. We briefly review the Ghana penalty, which seems harsh in even Marcel's opinion. Martin says it best: "It's a poor decision. We might be cheering Ghana on, perhaps - because of you [looking at Desailly] - but deep down it's a terrible decision. We're talking about the referees, I don't really want to go into it but I think they should have a word with themselves, have a look at themselves." "You feel really disappointed with that penalty kick incident?" asks Marcel. "No I don't, because I like Ghana a lot..." explains O'Neill, "In the course of life it won't make a great deal of difference..." Marcel compares the poor decision to France's disallowed goal versus South Korea, Martin agrees and Ray sums up by pointing out that these things happen.

"This referee is pedantic on some things but remarkably unconcerned about others!" points out John after some rather pointless fouls are awarded at the start of the second half. Baros is flagged offside though the replay suggests he might have been level. "Oh, d'you know what, I'd give that, let him play on!" suggests Mark. Motson suggests this is a prime opportunity for Totti to prove himself. "Martin O'Neill feels he underachieves an awful lot of the time..."
Motson's impressed by Italy's composure - "bear in mind that they lost Nesta quite early on, didn't they?" "Didn't disrupt them much," agrees Bright. "Well, not really, the sus-stis-tute scored the goal!" concludes John. "We've heard no more from the other match so we assume Ghana are still leading, so it doesn't get any better for the Czechs!"
Rosicky kicks Gatusso on the shin, causing the Italian to stay down as play continues momentarily. Motson is still wondering whether the Czechs should play the ball out a good couple of seconds after the referee has stopped play to check on the stricken Italian. "Is it Pirlo?" asks Bright, before a close-up of excessive stubble identifies it as Gatusso. "Collision of knees there, two players knock knees together. We were talking about this before, if a player goes down and it's not a head injury, should you kick the ball out? Oh, it's not - it's a kick on the shin..."
"Still 2-1 to Ghana I'm now informed, so that means that the Czech Republic are really...unless we see a turnaround the like of which we haven't seen in this World Cup, the Czechs are going out!" A turnaround like, say, Australia v Japan, John? 15 minutes left, and things seem desperate for the Czechs (John suggests they need to either score themselves or hope the US do - even though the latter would be useless without the former). Bright wonders if Bruckner will go for broke and throw Koller on. Motson is adamant (for the first time in about a decade) in predicting he won't appear, expecting Marek Heinz instead. "Just soundbites in the press conferences? Obviously you know otherwise!" suggests Mark of the pre-match speculation that Koller might be used if necessary. "Well, no I don't - it's just they do want to use a bit of kidology sometimes. I think if he was fit enough they'd have used him earlier, that's just the point I'm trying to make!"
Totti scuffs a shot a long way wide. "Go on, talk about Totti!" encourages Motson. "Well, I'm not a great fan! He looks overweight, he's lost that yard or two..." Brighty's definitely not impressed.
Motson's earlier prediction turns out to be correct as Heinz is ready to come on. "Last throw of the dice isn't it?" asks Bright. "Absolutely. Then again you never know." Ah, there's the indecisive Motson we know and tolerate.
"It's Totti again!" Cue a feeble attempted chip that floats gently into Cech's arms. "Tch, tch, tch, tch, tch," Bright tuts. "There's woes and all sorts of whistles from the Italian crowd round the back of the goal. That's woeful!"
"A player who expected to play no part in this match may have won it," observes John, as the Italians march up the pitch looking for a second. Pirlo waltzes through a series of desperate tackles from the knackered Czech defence before flicking the ball up to an unmarked Inzaghi 8 yards out. "Pirlo...still Pirlo... Inzaghi!" Nope, he's headed it wide with almost the entire goal unguarded as Cech was guarding the opposite post anticipating a Pirlo shot. "That Pirlo run reminded me of Ricky Villa in the FA Cup years ago!" notes Mark. "I think Toni will be back for the next game, don't you?" asks Motty.
"You could say, John, that Italy have played with 10 men!" smirks Mark as the ball once again passes by Totti, who's still being whistled by his own fans. "You could say that! It's a point that may well be taken up in the studio if I'm not mistaken!"
"I have to confess I was one of those who thought the Czech Republic could be one of the outsiders in this World Cup," admits John, "but I think when Koller went off it changed everything. Here's Totti, who hasn't changed very much!" The commentators' curse comes into immediate effect as Totti is involved in a quick breakaway as the ball is threaded through to Inzaghi with the entire Czech defence pushed up to the half way line, and it's 2-0. "He timed his run right, didn't he?" asks the uncertain Motson even though Inzaghi was a yard inside his own half when the ball was played.
A replay shows Lippi on the Italian bench as the goal is scored, only to be rudely interrupted by a bizarre celebration by Gatusso. "Look at that! Gatusso's grabbed the coach around the neck! He didn't like that much, did he Lippi?" "I'm sure that's playful?" suggests a clearly amused Bright. "That's got to be one of the enduring images of the World Cup!" "If that's what he does when he's playful, what does he do when he's angry?"
"They've carried Totti for a lot of this game," is Bright's concluding opinion of a conclusive Italian performance. "I was tempted to say for all of it!" remarks Motson. "This isn't about Totti-bashing," concedes Mark, "he's a decent player coming back from injury, but how long do you persist with him at this stage because his productivity's been nil!"

The final whistle blows and we again switch over for the closing minutes of the Ghana-USA match. It appears that Brotherton has no co-commentator, which seems odd considering the BBC's resources. That match also ends, and the Ghanaians have been pluckiest of all the plucky underdogs. We later see Marcel's reaction at the final whistle, a sigh of relief whilst holding one hand up in a victory salute and leaning so far back into his chair that all we can see is his chin. "We thought you were going to fall off the balcony!" laughs Ray. We rush through a brief analysis of the two games - even Martin stops himself mid-sentence with a quick glance to the floor manager - "I can see you're in a hurry!" It's been a bit of a manic afternoon all round, really.

What we've learned: the Czechs are one-trick ponies and will need to either adapt to playing without Koller or start cloning him; Italy can comfortably numb other sides into submission with their patient possession game; and Totti is going to challenge Ronaldo as the media's chosen "has-been" of the tournament.

Togo v France, BBC1
Switzerland v South Korea, BBC3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 23, 2006

Iran v Angola, ITV2

And so we reach this World Cup's supposed battle of the minnows - the game most quoted by non-obsessives as justification for moving the tournament away from BBC1 and ITV1 onto minor channels. Such as, for example ITV2, where we are today, but never mind, eh? We see only fleeting glimpses of the now-infamous framed carpet that serves as Iran's pennant, as we're frustratingly at an advert break during the coin toss, but its solitary appearance is during the anthems when it almost completely obscures the mascot tasked to hold onto it.

For the first time in the tournament, there are obviously masses of empty seats - indeed your correspondent was on the FIFA website just 24 hours earlier, idly pondering whether to pay £400 for a ticket and last-minute flight to Leipzig. Common sense, laziness and an unrelated culinary mishap soon put that thought out of my mind, so instead I sit here in the company of Peter Brackley and Clive Allen.

Mehdi Mahdavikia gets his first touch, allowing Peter to remind us of Iran's finest hour. "He enjoys iconic status back in Iran after scoring against the USA. Six years ago to the day, that 2-1 win over the Americans in France '98. Never to be forgotten." Brackley might not have forgotten the game, but he clearly has forgotten what year this is (clue: "six years ago to the day" was slap bang in the middle of Euro 2000, not World Cup 1998).

"There isn't a high tempo to the game at the moment," is Clive's early assessment as the camera switches to the dancing Angola fans. "There seems to be more tempo on the terraces!" "They are so keen to promote their once war-ravaged country aren't they, the Angolans?" suggests Brackley, perhaps underestimating the resources of the Angolan tourist board.

Discussion turns to the record-breaking exploits of Ali Daei, whose 109-goal international record beats Clive's "by 108", according to Brackley. Actually by 109, but it's rather cruel to remind Allen of his brief England career.

Peter informs us of Portugal's goal against Mexico, "which is of course bad news for the Angolans." Exceptionally good news, actually, but Clive doesn't dare correct him. "It's the other way round, isn't it?" he eventually deduces. "Good news for them! Sorry, I was getting confused there for a second!"

First reference to Angola's goalkeeper being without a club: 13th minute.

"He can be a bit of an enigmatic character, Akwa," suggests Peter as the Angolan forward is flagged offside. "He has a playboy reputation - he's the Clive Allen of Angolan football!"

Two Angolans injure themselves within the space of a couple of minutes, as first Mateus and then Loco require the stretcher. Little sympathy is shown towards the latter, as Clive instead opt to pass judgement on Loco's bizarre bald-except-for-a-few-dreadlocks-at-the-front hairstyle. "You should commentate with Ray Wilkins, he'd spend all day doing his hair, then leave the flipping thing at home!" advises Brackley.
No news on whether there is more than one stretcher per venue or whether Mateus was unceremoniously dumped on the sidelines once the second injury occurred.

"An oil tycoon has promised a £100,000 house for the first man who does score for Angola!" reveals Peter, as the gloriously-named Love - on as a sub for Mateus - scuffs a shot weakly into the keeper's arms. What, including an own goal?

Loco is back on the pitch, but looks distinctly uncomfortable as the ball deflects off him for an Iranian corner. Clive reckons the coach will want him to stay on until half time if he can. "His hairdresser will too, think of the sponsorship!" chuckles Peter. "That's what it was, a free haircut, was it?" realises Clive.The corner comes in and is unwittingly cleared off the line by Mendonca, who barely seems to react as the ball rebounds off his stomach and clear.

Angola get four corners in a row, which must be some kind of record, and even their fourth attempt is deflected behind only for the referee to miss it and give a goal kick.

"Love going nowhere," observes Peter as the Angolan sub runs into a posse of Iranian defenders. "Is that a song, Peter?" asks Clive. "Felt like one! Can't say one was coming on..." is the reply.

"In injury time we have another injury!" comments Peter as Iranian keeper Mirzapour gets clattered when reaching up to collect the ball. Sure enough, the first half doesn't end until the 51st minute.

Into the second half, and Peter reports on Mexico's missed penalty and red card. "It's all happening in that match," he says enviously. "Not a lot in this one at the moment, I'm afraid." Ze Kalanga throws himself to the floor inside the area, one of the more blatant dives seen in the tournament so far. No booking though, much to Clive Allen's annoyance. Ze Kalanga's next touch is to swing in a cross to the unmarked Flavio, who heads the ball home. "Now! Now there is hope! It's a long shot but they have a fighting chance!"

Peter notes that Flavio was the only Angolan in the box when he scored the goal, with fellow striker Love further back. "As the Supremes would say, you can't hurry Love!" "Boom boom!" "I can't believe I just said that but I did!"

Angolan captain Figueiredo comes off, and struggles to remove his armband in the process. On comes Rui Marques ("the Hull City player who was reluctant to play for Angola, until they got to the World Cup!"). Meanwhile, that cumbersome captain's armband is causing Jamba some difficulties as well, and in a clip that will surely be replayed in video montages for years to come, he is assisted in putting it on by Iran's Rasoul Khatibi.

Mahdavikia swings over a corner for Iran. "Oh, and it's there! And it's Bakhtiarizadeh! The man with the unpronounceable name has come up with the equaliser! Bakhtiarizadeh - it's some name, and that was some header! Just about the hardest name I've ever had to pronounce!"

Iran spend the final ten minutes looking for a winner, whilst Angola seem to have given up hope and are trying to settle for a draw. A rare Angolan free-kick in stoppage time is tapped weakly by Mendonca straight to the keeper. "It's not going to happen for them now, Angola, but they will treasure the part they've played in this World Cup group," says Brackley. "It's finished in Leipzig, Iran 0...er, Iran 1, I should say, Angola 1!"

What we've learned: erm...some of the Angolan players have got funny names? No, hang on, I can do better than that - er, Loco's got a funny haircut? Hmm, nope. Just about nothing to be learned from this game, sorry.

Portugal v Mexico, ITV1

(Yes, late again. Apologies everyone!)

After Tuesday's four-part build up to the England game, Wednesday's quadruple-header on ITV will be a review of last night's action (although if they spend more than a cursory glance during the Holland-Argentina game, there'll be trouble). Michael Owen is out of the World Cup, Jim is sad to inform us as we see the super slow-mo camera angle of his knee twist yet again - not ideal viewing for viewers with queasy stomachs, believe me. Ally McCoist "not having" Sam Allardyce's opinion that Joe Cole's goal is the best of the tournament so far - "the Argies have still got it for me!"

"I've just been handed a very sad bit of news," suggests Jim in his best Neville Chamberlain impression as we return from the break. "Michael Owen has ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament." A rather insipid VT piece about Scolari leads onto discussion of today's teams, and Jim is "delighted for everybody watching" that Figo has come out of international retirement. Oh, now we're all chuckling at Mexico's excessive number of friendlies played in preparation for the cup, and we're told they're aiming to reach the semi-finals. "If they do, I'm sure one or two sombreros will be going in the air!" suggests Rosenthal, apparently rather aggrieved at the number of rowdy Mexican fans in the ITV hotel last night.

"So what's it to be - the devil or the deep blue sea?" suggests Clive Tyldesley - today's surprising choice of commentator for the lesser of two groups - in reference to the prospective 2nd round opponents facing Group D's qualifiers. "It does look like the group of doom! The benefits of winning this section might be fringe benefits!" We're in Gelsenkirchen, and Clive still hasn't got over the novelty of a retractable roof. "Slightly eerie to be watching a match indoors. They also have a sliding pitch, let's hope that doesn't start to move during the game!"

"It is a match between two of the top 7 teams in world football - official! The FIFA rankings, the hit parade of the international game place Portugal at number 7 and Mexico at 4!" Clive's diatribe is luckily interrupted by the anthems, and the increasingly annoying trend of mascots to jump and wave to try to appear in shot as the camera pans along the teams (luckily the Mexican trait of placing their outstretched hands parallel to their hearts seems to act as a ceiling to the more boisterous kids). "A draw will suit both teams," points out Clive. "Let's hope the handshakes that follow now aren't too friendly!" One rather enthusiastic Mexican singing along looked rather like Sinbad from Brookside, incidentally.

Kick-off, and the ball immediately finds its way back to the Portuguese keeper, who sells a dummy to the onrushing striker. "Very calmly done by Ricardo, but then England know all about his footwork, don't they Gareth Southgate - it was his penalty that beat us in the end?" "Sadly it was, he's a very confident guy as we can see there, it takes some, er, it takes some balls to do that in the first couple of minutes!" You can't say that on daytime TV!

"Ooh, slid back in towards Maniche, beautifully worked. Portugal take the lead, Maniche has got the goal! Delightfully set up by Simao and joyously celebrated by the man whose goal took Portugal to the European finals two years ago!" Gareth develops a temporary stutter, telling us it was a "really worked worked goal".

Bravo volleys the ball just wide for Mexico. "I just wonder if he might have been better throwing himself there with his head?" suggests Gareth. "There speaks a central defender!"

"He is a World Cup winner, La Volpe," Clive points out as the camera shows the Mexican coach. "He was Argentina's third-choice goalkeeper at the 1978 finals. He didn't play, but he did sit on the bench - ironically behind a chain-smoking coach, Cesar Luis Menotti. Maybe that's where he got the habit!"

Gareth is somewhat unimpressed with Marquez being moved up from defence to midfield, and spends much of the first half pointing out that he should know as a central defender himself. Look, we know you haven't developed a co-commentary 'style' yet, but please don't become some kind of Geoffrey Boycott-esque know-all.

"Yellow card for Perez," announces Clive just as a caption appears stating that Rodriguez was in fact booked for a foul on Maniche. The free kick is deflected behind for a corner. "Simao trying to make a nuisance of himself," comments Clive as he and Pineda practically hold hands on the goal line whilst jostling for position. "Ooh, there's a hand up there, you know. It's a penalty, thought so! Marquez had a raised arm and just palmed the ball away. He claims he was pushed in the back, oh I don't think so. I think he knew what he was doing, don't you?" "He knew what he was doing, but what he was doing was ridiculous really! It's incredible how many times we see that - a player, almost an involuntary movement of the hand..."

The resulting penalty sees Sanchez try to be clever by standing (well, actually weaving from side to side) off-centre within his goal. Unfortunately for him, Simao is only too happy to blast it into the resulting gap. "That's so off-putting, when a goalkeeper's going through all that routine!" suggests Gareth. "Celebrity poker, that!" notes Clive, desperately attempting to shill ITV's forthcoming series.

Perez raises his foot too high when challenging for the ball and the referee reaches for his pocket. Tyldesley is expecting the worst: "I thought he'd picked up the card before?" It's just a yellow, and Clive is confused, leaving Gareth to fill for a few moments: "The Mexicans need a foothold in the game, cos the way it's going they're going out of the tournament. If Angola score, Mexico have got it all to do!" "They're going to score again here if they're not careful!" warns Clive as Portugal break again. "Well, they're just running rings around them and it's the midfield area where Portugal are killing them!"

"It was the tall defender Rodriguez who picked up the first yellow card, so no mistake by the official," admits Clive after someone whispers in his ear. In the meantime, a Mexican free kick reaches Bravo at the far post - "and somehow Ricardo kept it out!" "He's an unorthodox keeper at the best of times but he's done extremely well to scoop that one over the bar!" compliments Gareth. We see the Portuguese number 3 Caneira hug Ricardo for perhaps a little too long for comfort after the save. "His left-back was very very grateful, wasn't he? Not sure the save was quite that good!" "Bonus must be good!" agrees Southgate.Sadly for Ricardo and his homoerotic celebrating friends, Fonseca heads the ball home from the Mexican corner that follows. "It's almost a carbon copy of the goal England let in last night," notes Gareth.

Controversy, as Pardo has a shot from distance which Ricardo palms away. However, Bravo - who had been hunched over in an offside position seemingly catching his breath - suddenly realises the ball is headed his way, causing Caneira to rush back and boot the ball out. "He didn't seem to make an effort for it," offers Clive by way of excuse for the non-decision, but Gareth's having none of it. "He has to be offside, they've conceded a corner that he's had a big influence in. He's blocking the view of the goalkeeper!" "Unless you touch it under the current ruling, there's every chance you're not going to be flagged!"

The corner comes in, Maniche brings Mendez down on the edge of the area ("waved away, the appeals"), then the ball is swung in only for Fonseca to kick the keeper instead of the ball and Marquez to be surprised when the ball deflects up onto his chin. "How didn't they score there?" wonders Clive and the entire population of Mexico. "Goalkeeper is in the back of the net injured..." "I tell you what, the goalie didn't fancy that one at all!" relishes a rather bitter Southgate. "That all came from that corner decision - a player's stood right in front of the goalkeeper, he has to be gaining an advantage!" Clive's reading of the official FIFA notes issued prior to the tournament suggest that unless a player touches the ball, he won't be offside ("he could even step over the ball without being flagged!")

"Marquez has had a change of tyres during that pit-stop!" That'll be a change of boots, then?

"Mexico go in two goals to the good," begins Rosenthal during half-time before immediately correcting himself. "A lot of you have been asking about our opening titles music," says Jim, segueing neatly from the expensive analysis into the moneyspinning corporate promotion. "You can get it as a digital download!" Er, no thanks. Onto talk of England, and "Let me repeat the sad news that Michael Owen's World Cup is over!" The England report overruns and Rosenthal hands back to Tyldesley barely in time. "Thanks Jim, bang on cue!" observes Clive as the second half kicks off.

Zinha comes on at half time, allowing Clive to remind us all that he's a naturalised Brazilian and one of two 'foreign' players who've taken Mexican nationality in recent years. Unusually, he doesn't take the opportunity to work in a cricket reference when a comparison with the likes of Kevin Pietersen could justifiably be made.

After a lacklustre start to the second half, Miguel attempts a desperate lunging tackle in the area only to be wrong-footed as the ball changes direction and actually hits his arm on the ground which is cushioning his fall. It's another penalty - "bit harsh" according to Southgate, who appears not to see that Miguel's arm not only touches the ball but also trips Perez."Two down inside 25 minutes, and now a chance for Omar Bravo to bring Mexico on terms... Oh, he's smashed it high over the bar! What a let-off for Portugal!" "A big let-off," agrees Southgate. "You're not going to find me telling people how to take penalties, by the way!" "More Waddle than Southgate, wasn't it?" offers Clive. "Yeah, you've got to hit the target!" La Volpe seems unimpressed by the miss: "Now, it's no accident that there's nobody sitting very close to the rather volatile coach of Mexico right now - they've all sort of edged away from him for a bit, let him calm down..."

An unidentified Mexican bundles into the referee in an attempt to collect a loose ball, only for the ref to in turn bundle into the oncoming Portuguese player Maniche. "That's a foul by the referee!" quips Clive. "Absolutely cleaned him out!" agrees Gareth.

"Oh-and-a-chance-too-at-the-end-of-it-all-for-Mexico-and-another-penalty..." says Clive in about a quarter of a second, before composing himself. "No - he's gone the other way, he's given it for diving!" A replay shows Perez to be the apparently-guilty party, although it's slightly harsh to say he intentionally threw himself to the ground since he was under pressure from the equally culpable Miguel. Tyldesley, still confused by the mistaken identity of Mexico's first booking earlier, gets his man at last: "He's booked Perez...now, he booked him in the first half? Now he does go! It is a red card for Perez - for me, no penalty, no card. I don't think either was necessary there..."

"That's the first time he's sat down!" notes Clive as we see Scolari retire from the technical area back to the bench. "He did sit down with Brian Barwick during the last week in April..."

Angola have taken the lead against Iran, much to the apparent ignorance of the Mexican supporters, as the sudden anxious roar from the crowd that you get on the final day of the English league season is conspicuous by its absence.

Scolari gesticulates instructions furiously to the oncoming substitute Nuno Gomes. "'Now have you got the message before you go on, do you know what you're doing or would you like me to go over it again?'" observes Clive. "Nuno Gomes getting told off even before he's come on!" Gareth is suddenly possessed by the ghost of Big Ron as he chuckles through the following witticism: "I tell you what, Big Phil down there is going absolutely mad. He's throwing his hands in the air every time they give the ball away!" "I'd love to see a tussle between the two coaches of these two countries, it'd be better than the game!" admits a bloodthirsty Tyldesley. "These Mexicans don't cut easily though," comments Gareth, possibly mistaking Mexican footballers for diamonds.

Paolo Ferreira attempts a tackle from behind on Fonseca in the corner of the penalty area, but the referee chooses to ignore it and gives a corner. Clive is furious! "What on earth was he doing coming through from the back there? Oh, he didn't get anywhere near the ball! The referee was four paces away looking at him! When he made the tackle you thought 'why?', and then you thought 'well, how on earth's he got the ball from behind?', and the truth is he didn't. The referee could not have been better placed. That was a penalty!"

Portugal's second half performance has been pretty dismal, and Clive suggests that the reserve players out there today who had impressed in the first half will have "returned to the bench in the manager's mind in the last half hour".

"News from Leipzig which is music to Mexican ears." Yes, Iran have equalised against Angola, allowing the next five minutes to pass by largely without incident. "Well, they've enjoyed themselves," suggests Clive as we see the Mexican supporters react a little more obviously to news of the second goal in the other match. "Enjoyed themselves outside my hotel room at 2 o'clock this morning!" "Breakfast was quite lively as well, wasn't it?" reminds Southgate. "One or two came straight in from wherever they were... And we're at the same hotel tonight, so come on Portugal! I don't think it matters to the Mexicans whether they qualify - 'we will not sleep!'" (That last bit was delivered in a mock-Mexican accent that sounded more like an Allo-Allo-esque German tone, but nobody ever suggested Clive is a master impressionist).

"Wasn't a very good fall, was it?" opines Clive as Franco tumbles over in the area much more theatrically than Perez, yet doesn't even pick up a yellow card. The comedy never stops as Sanchez in the Mexican goal tries to quickly release the ball with a two-handed underarm bowl that gets caught in Marquez's feet, allowing Tiago to quickly try a 30-yard lob over the stranded keeper that sails over the bar whilst an embarrassed Sanchez dives Superman-style into the back of his own net whilst tracking the ball. "It's all going on!" announces Southgate whilst attempting to summarise the above manic 15 second spell.

"I was just wondering if there's anyone on the field who hasn't had a yellow card? How many is that now?" ponders Southgate as Boa Morte becomes the latest recipient of a yellow card. "Seven, I think is the answer to your question," answers Clive after a short delay. "Good effort by the ref - keeps his averages up!" bemoans Gareth. "The ref's still got a couple of minutes to get another yellow as well!"

"Last of the 90, with two more minutes to come," announces Clive, shortly before the fourth official indicates 3 extra minutes, not 2. "Might get to 50 fouls before the end," he continues as a caption shows Portugal to be 28-18 up on that count. Make that 29-18 as Nuno Gomes collects the game's 8th yellow. Gareth is like a kid at Christmas, giggling at the referee living up to his expectations: "He did it! He got it in!"

The game ends with Portugal certain of topping the group and Mexico waiting for news of the unfinished other match, but ITV can't stick around to cover that and we're off for a break. Ally's "not having" Bravo's skied penalty, "not having" the sending off, and thought the referee had a shocker ("I can't remember a bad tackle!"). Jim wraps things up: "Our final thoughts have to be with Michael Owen, whose World Cup is sadly over."

What we've learned: Portugal's reserves are better than Mexico's best team; Ally's not having much today; and Jim is sad to say that Michael Owen sadly is sadly out of the Sad World Cup. Sadly.

Japan v Brazil, BBC1

"Welcome to this largely irrelevant Group F fixture" says Gary. "Honestly, if only we'd not had this one listed in the Radio Times we could have shown you Croatia v Australia instead, which is probably going to end up as the most extraordinary game of the tournament, but we did and so we're not." All right, so he didn't say that. Look, I was on a train and missed the build-up and the first 23 minutes of the match. You could tell me that anything had happened during this time - Hansen had stopped pretending to be grumpy, one of Lineker's puns had been amusing, Leonardo had said something slightly interesting, anything at all - and I'd believe you. (I'm guessing that none of this happened as otherwise Skif would have mentioned it, but we can but hope.) As it is, I've got nothing. Well, Brazil looked quite good in the couple of minutes I saw while waiting in the chip shop (yeah, I know, but if you’re going to be late you may as well be slightly later and not hungry), but that's not really the sort of comprehensive analysis you're looking for.

I can tell you about the high spots of the first half hour, because they showed them at half time - Robinho dancing through the defence and shooting narrowly over; Juninho's rasping shot from Ronaldo's astute knockback being brilliantly tipped over by Kawaguchi. And I can say that in the first five minutes or so that I actually managed to see, Brazil were finally beginning to look half-decent - Robinho popping up all over the place, Cicinho bombing up and down the right flank, Ronaldinho skipping gaily through clumps of defenders as if he hadn't a care in the world. Even Ronaldo broke into a trot at one point, with a smart turn and shot narrowly wide inspiring Steve Wilson into an ill-advised simile comparing him to "a postcard of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; you recognise it but it's a pale imitation of the real thing". Lawrenson doesn't resist the obvious rejoinder. We shall.

Naturally, then, Japan score, Inamoto setting (cue oft-mentioned fact of the match) the Brazilian-born Alex away, Alex supplying a most un-Japanese astute pass in the last third of the pitch, Tamada slipping the leaden-footed Lucio and managing an equally un-Japanese like finish. Japan have been possibly the single most frustrating team in the tournament. They'd be tremendous fun to watch - resolute in defence, accurate and quick with their passing, speedy on the break - but for, with this one glorious exception, their utter ineptitude in the last third of the pitch. If they'd had a decent forward this could have been a Holland v Argentina-esque facile kickaround and Graham Poll would have had a quiet evening and a second round match to look forward to. Really.

Lawro suggests that Brazil can only get better; Steve points out that we've been waiting for them to do so all World Cup. Even though they have the ball for the remainder of the half, it's still a bit of a surprise when they equalise right at the end of the added-on minute, Cicinho's excellent header back across goal leaving Ronaldo a fairly simple finish. The finger-wagging celebration doesn't look nearly so impressive given his current girth; he looks less like a great player and, particularly given the white shorts Brazil are wearing for this fixture, more like the nappy-wearing bloke on the posters for Jerry Springer: The Opera.

Half time. Hansen isn't happy:

"They're playing without a centre forward."
"He's just scored!"
"He can't run!"

Hansen then slightly contradicts himself by suggesting that Ronaldo runs like a penguin. Curiously, he then feels the need to explain to Leonardo what a penguin is. I know it's not native to Brazil, but surely the penguin isn't such an obscure animal that a cultured chap like Leonardo wouldn't know what one is? Surely he must have at least seen that episode of Pingu with all the weeing, or been curious as to what that bloke in Batman was supposed to be? (Ronaldo's running style reminds me more of sometime Charlton player turned lardbucket Ryman League figure of scorn Peter Garland, but that's obscure even for this blog.) There's a compilation of Ronaldo's good and bad moments, supposedly to show how poor he's been, but surely picking anyone's four worst moments of any half could suggest that they're the biggest duffer in the tournament? (There should be a name for this sort of thing; "Hargreaves' Paradigm", perhaps.) There's much cooing over Srna's free kick for Croatia and Martin O'Neil points out that Zeljko Kalac was at Leicester when he arrived: "he's reserve keeper at Milan now, I wouldn't have expected that". Ho ho. Before he gets the chance to mention the play-off final or the Italian corruption scandal it's off for the second half. "I wouldn't say Ronaldo is off and running" says Steve, the wag.

Japan, now needing two goals, start the second half by piling men behind the ball and letting Brazil do as they like. As astute tactical moves go, this is up with Poland trying to hang on for 0-0 against Germany and Angola taking off all of their forwards when 1-0 down to Portugal, and when Juninho's shot swerves through Kawaguchi's hands it's all that they deserve. "Portsmouth fans will have memories flooding back" says Steve of the keeper's horrible flap at the ball; Lawro laughs for slightly too long. Gilberto (the reserve left-back, not to be confused with Gilberto Silva) slots home the third after being allowed to wander up the pitch as he likes. It's a good evening for all of the Brazilian players brought in for the night, Cicinho and Robinho in particular looking more impressive than the players they replaced. The team for the next match is going to be very interesting.

Japan completely fall apart at this point. The hapless Maki, apparently unable to time a run to stay onside, is replaced by Takahara, who hobbles off injured within five minutes. Many of their breaks forward are thwarted by Gilberto Silva (the reserve holding midfielder, not to be confused with Gilberto), leading to Lawro trumping Steve for ill-advised similes by referring to him as being "like the boy in the dyke". Because he plugs holes, you see. Yes. Ronaldo thumps home the fourth to tie Gerd Muller’s record - mind you, given the way that Japan are defending at this point, Gerd probably could have come on and notched a couple as well - and briefly changing channels while the tubby one celebrates reveals that something ridiculous might be about to happen on BBC3, which is where I stay for the next ten minutes. (In the name of thoroughness - yeah, better late than never, I know - I taped the rest of the match that I was supposed to be reporting on and watched it later. Nothing much happened.) So that's a match report based on about 58 minutes of football then. Finals Fantasy - we're nothing if not comprehensive.

What we've learned: Brazil are back, possibly, although in truth it's difficult to tell with such easily-deflated opposition; if you're going to throw a sick day for any match in the tournament, it should probably be Brazil v Ghana; if you're a very fat woman with a very loud voice and absolutely no sense of tact whatsoever, you shouldn't go to visit anyone in hospital as you're bound to offend someone sooner or later (probably sooner).

Adwatch

Carling v Carlsberg

Carling and Carlsberg - both cooking lager, but who comes out on top in the advertising stakes?

Carling have simply revived their shirts v skins street football match advert from months ago, but accompanied it with a second, shorter ad in which Andy Gray gets to rewind the tape, get his big white pen out and talk us through exactly how the goal is scored. Unsurprisingly it's as enlightening and amusing as his co-commentary on Sky (ie not at all), and as forced in its animated delivery style as his commentary contributions to countless computer games (ie very).

Carlsberg too have opted for a spot of recycling, digging out the "best flatmates in the world" ad for another hurrah simply because it concludes with the prospective tenant being shown onto a balcony overlooking a football stadium.

But they've also come up with a new, very long advert featuring England heroes of the past playing in a team centred on the pub The Old Lion (see what they've done there?). Sir Bobby Robson is the manager, and there are also appearances from Peter Beardsley, Alan Ball, the Charlton brothers, Chris Waddle, Terry Butcher, Peter Reid, Bryan Robson, John Barnes, Des Walker, Stuart Pearce and Peter Shilton.

Of course, the laughs are forced, and who wants to contemplate the type of underwear worn by Monkey's Heed? But the incredulity with which Jack Charlton receives his booking for shirt pulling still raises a smile and as a whole it's almost enough to pierce my cynicism.

I say "almost" because, although the ad knocks Carling's efforts into a cocked hat, it nevertheless reminds me of Carlsberg's status as "the official beer of the England team" - somewhat bizarre, given the company's insistence in their ads for Carlsberg Export upon the lager's Danish origins. Patriotism my arse. It's all a load of commercial nonsense. Don't be sucked in.

Croatia v Australia, BBC3

Fuck you BBC, my Radio Times promised me pub landlord Ray Stubbs building up to this game in his own strand. Instead BBC1 and 3 share a build up, which largely centres on the Brazil game. Tight gits. Eventually, after all the guff about Brazil, Lineker leads us into the split, with us Freeview jockeys the first to leave, joining Guy Mowbray and Gavin Peacock. “It’s all down to how these two do tonight,” says our commentator, marvelling at the Australian support, “Going walkabout in Europe, absolutely thousands of them.” Is it me, or was that a sly Aussie bar chain pun in there? He later adds a little perspective, “52,000 Croatian born people in Australia, 20,000 Australians inside this stadium.”

They discuss Guus Hiddink’s surprise decision to drop Mark Schwarzer in favour of Hammer Horror butler Zeljko Kalac who, despite being 6’ 8”, still isn’t tall enough to stop Darijo Srna’s second minute free-kick from curling into the top corner. A blistering start, “fans in Croatia will be glad Graham Poll didn’t play that advantage” says Guy. Australia seem a little edgy after this, “the Socceroos have to settle down” instructs Guy, like a detached playschool teacher amidst a food fight. However once they do get going, they have a good shout for a penalty when Viduka is brought down. Poll ignores him.

Already, on the bench, the Croatian gaffer is getting very excitable, his frenzied gestures looking like an opera ham finally giving in at a cast party to requests that he ‘do that David Brent dance thing you do, Martin.’ “Cat on a hot tin roof…or the Croatian equivalent” is Guy’s offer. (mačka na naljut limenka krov, I’m led to believe). On the other bench, Guus Hiddink is seen manipulating his fingers in a Ted Rogers’ homage.

On the half hour, Tim Cahill races between defenders but pushes his header straight at Stipe Pletikosa. Within 30 seconds, Harry Kewell brings a diving save from the keeper with a rasping drive. Australia knowing they need to score are pressing harder now, running at the defenders and trying their luck from distance whilst Viduka niggles away inside the box. Not long after, Stjepan Tomas leaps over Tim Cahill in the box with his fist flailing high above his head. The ball brushes off the back of his hand and the penalty is awarded. Craig Moore, spotting Pletikosa making an early move to his left, plumbs it straight down the middle. As the euphoria dies down, Guy dusts off the crib sheet he nicked out the pocket of Motty’s sheepy; apparently Scott Chipperfield, “when he was playing semi-professionally in Australia, supplemented his income by driving a bus.” You live, you learn.

Five minutes before half-time and Australia see a chilling vision of things to come, the colossal Kalac dropping an easy catch under no pressure and there is a slight panic as he and the defenders tried to shepherd it away from the goal-line. We go into half-time with the scores level and, it turns out, we will get our own BBC3 family away from Leonardo banging on about Brazil. Manish ‘yeah, I’m still ‘ere’ Bhasin has been annexed to the Berlin studio balcony with Adrian Chiles, in ‘expert’ rather than anchor mode (by virtue of his mum being Croatian). Lee Dixon takes the Aussie perspective, “we’ll call you Bruce” today says Manish. “The key incident [was when] Mark Viduka was rugby tackled, and no penalty. Excellent decision by Graham Poll” quips Adrian. The three of them, feeling a little brushed aside and wishing they’d remembered to bring a jacket out with them, do make the best of the fact that they have no replay clips to punctuate their slightly embarrassed banter.

In full partisan mode, Chiles remains upbeat, “if one things give me hope, it’s Kalac, he’s fluffing everything, I’m not sure he’s not Serbian actually” he says, in what is either a point of order, or a racial slur. There are then brief highlights of Brazil’s game, showing Ronaldo’s right-on-half-time equaliser. “I tipped him to be the top scorer, but he’s got some catching up to do” says Lee, buck-bucking like a rooster. Who cares about Brazil though, this game, particularly due to the finely balanced goal difference, is excellent ebbing and flowing stuff, like a Going for Gold end game. One for you 80’s telly quiz fans there.

Croatia, as you might expect, start the second half the stronger, going close with a couple of long-range shots. Srna wins a free kick and tries to get his assailant booked by waving a card-mime hand. “I think you should be booked yourself if you do that” says Guy, with a retired colonel humph. On 56 minutes, Nico Kovac tries a shot from just outside the box, obviously heeding Adrian Chiles suggestion that Croatia should test Kalac at every opportunity. It should be meat and drink to him, but he spills it over his own felled tree-trunk of a body and it trickles into the net. Hiddink is captured, face like thunder. In the back of my head, I hear Henry Kelly whispering politely “Now. Australia. You’re playing catch up.”

There is a shot of Schwarzer, “what’s he thinking?” asks Gavin Peacock. “How he must wish he was between those posts, how Australia must wish…” says Guy, catching the scent of blood. “The goalkeeper who’s nickname is the spider…you’d want to wash him down the sink,” he adds, with a homicidal zeal. On comes Marco Bresciano as sub, “Italian father, Croatian mother, he’s on to ruin mum’s night.” As we know, the only motivation a player needs in the World Cup is to engineer an argument earlier in the day about the cleanliness of his bedroom.

After 70 minutes, the ball drops to Kewell who belts from point blank range, only for a reflex save from Pletikosa. A minute later there is a bundle on the Croatian line. Pletikosa leaps on top of the ball but this doesn’t stop Mark Viduka trying to drag it in with the keeper still attached, but to no avail. Scott Kennedy comes on, all 6’5” of him, to add more height to the attack. With his first motion, he is about to meet a free kick at the far post, but once again, Tomas’ fist is pointing skywards and gets a heavier touch than for the first half penalty, but this time he gets away with it. “Australia say that a hand was used” spots Guy. “Just the one” says Gavin, promoting an intriguing rule change. Not long after, the ball is again launched into the box by Bresciano, gets a flick off Aloisi’s head, and at the back post Kewell flicks it up with his left boot, and places it home with his right. 2-2.

With Australia back in pole position, and Croatia now chasers of the game, it is in the last ten minutes that the games descends into the most bonkers farce of the tournament thus far. Dario Simic earns a second yellow, but as he attempts to reach for the red, Darijo Srna grabs Graham Poll’s arm to try and prevent the inevitable. The ref’s eyelids disappear as he snorts like a wound-up toreo bull. Srna escapes punishment, but it is clear Poll will not be a man you should cross for the remainder of the game. As if to prove it, he dismisses Brett Emerton for a second yellow handball offence moments later.

Australia are already dropping back looking to protect their lead but are living dangerously, a goal-line clearance required in the 86th. Poll then books Josip Simunic. Mowbray is adamant that Simunic has been booked already, but Poll neglects to show the red card. “I’m certain, I’m certain” gasps Guy, as though he’s at the climax of a particularly tense pub-quiz, and there’s a tankard full of pound coins riding on his ability to name Lieutenant Pigeon’s follow-up single to ‘Mouldy Old Dough.’

“Black mark for the English referee. If Croatia were to score now, it’d be one of the greatest controversies the World cup has seen.” Poll is having a real ‘mare, blowing the final whistle, Clive Thomas style it appears, as Mark Viduka is about to unleash a shot that, indeed, ends up in the back of the net. With Australia through regardless, Viduka seems unperturbed, embracing the ref in such a wide-armed way as to suggest he is honkin’ badly. Certainly Poll’s shirt retains moisture even more dramatically than Otto Pfister’s little pink number. Simunic, not knowing when he’s on to a good thing, berates Poll, earning himself his third yellow card and, finally, a red. With everyone going down the tunnel now anyway, though, he decides simply to lay down on the pitch.

Back on the suicide ledge, Chiles is making the best of it, “I was feeling desperate but the refereeing farce has livened us up.” Lee Dixon adds, caustically, “it’s absolutely ludicrous, but that’s Graham Poll I suppose.” It looks as though Adrian will cope, “I’m used to being on the telly when my team lose” says the put upon Baggie. Still, despite all the mayhem and suggestions of offside for Harry Kewell’s goal (“the game should be declared null and void” says a grumpy Chiles during the later BBC1 highlights programme), what a tremendous game. After covering the disappointing Holland/Argentina game last night, I was delighted to be on shift again tonight for this one, which certainly lived up to its billing as, essentially, a play-off for second spot.

Just prior to the start of the second half, Guy Mowbray had re-iterated the cliché about Graham Poll being the only Englishman who didn’t want England to win the World Cup. Think he can probably get behind his country’s national side now. As Alan Shearer put it later on the highlights, “What have Croatia and Graham Poll got in common? Neither are going into the last sixteen.”

Pee Wee’s Playhouse secret word: and it was all "yellow"

Referee (Graham Poll, England): Keystone Kop.

These things I believe: Is Mark Viduka getting chunkier by the hour? – It’s a daft reflex thing (Baddiel & Skinner podcast listeners will be familiar with the concept of football tourettes), but whenever I hear Vince Grella referred to by his surname, I expect to look up and see him picking bits of grass out of his team-mates body hair or beating his chest -- Did Dado Prso’s parents set up his swing too near the garden wall? -- Bauhaus were wrong, Bela Lugosi isn’t dead, he’s waving them in between the Australian sticks -- Graham Poll: home before the Togo?

USA vs. Ghana, ESPN

Pre-pregame coverage begins with a gentle tongue-bath for Kasey Keller-- a whole slow-mo minifeature, accompanied by acoustic guitars, featuring Keller in various tragic USA kit. The line “A career most players would be more than satisfied with…but Keller’s dream hasn’t yet come true” is accompanied by still, black-and-white shots of Kasey peering forlornly through his goal netting, imprisoned in his own private tragedy: male pattern baldness.

Oddly enough, the spot, in its earnest attempt to establish an underdog, is actually fairly honest about the three main aspects of Kasey: undeniably great, inconsistent and fading. I'm taken aback by this moment of realism on ESPN's part, but not for long.

...I’m watching this on tape, and just stopped it to report on the Keller thing. In doing so I caught Reese Davis’ assessment of Brazil vs. Japan:

“I’ve observed it very carefully: Ronaldo is phat. With a p-h!”

Can you beat that, morning studio team? Can you? Well, maybe, because I think you're the same people: Davis, plus Julie Foudy and Eric Wynalda. They weigh in after a brief, inexplicable Bruce Arena montage: Foudy claims the USA have the depth to compensate for the red cards; Wynalda is worse at disguising his obvious despair, finally telling us that if the USA can somehow get out from under their idiotic 4-5-1, they might be able to pull something out of this match.

More baseball.

We return to find Dave O’Brien summarizing the most recent matches (“Honk if you love Group D!”) and and then seguing back into baseball. I am fascinated by O’Brien’s accent- he lays his nationality aggressively over any name he encounters which is not of Anglophone origin, and I suspect he does this on purpose. He's the man who puts the "Ronald" in "Ronaldinho."

Your commentating team today will be O’Brien and Marcelo Balboa. Marcelo is working his usual magic on the composition of a shot: he stares out at you uncomfortably, somehow holding your eye contact and making it difficult to glance away at the pleasant, generic O'Brien, who is lurking in the lower left-hand corner. You see, Dave symbolizes American optimism for this match: well-spoken and influentially placed, but viscerally outpowered by the biker-bearded gloom of reali-

Foudy and Wynalda are playing foosball.

A moment for nationalism: Dave tells us that before the game, Arena gathered the team and they all looked at photos of a Marine unit in Iraq; when it's anthem time, the mics pick up vast roars of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” while the Ghanaian anthem remains mysteriously instrumental.

Bruce sits and frets.

The game coverage itself isn’t actually that bad. Dave (a baseball commentator, primarily, by profession) has settled into an inoffensively vacuous persona, his only flaw a sudden mastery of the art of patronizing Africans; Marcelo, after years of practice, is finally getting the hang of this talking thing. There is some dithering (“That’s not a foul…that’s a fou-if you want to call that a foul, fine!”) but when your competition is Tommy Smyth, you can get away with that kind of crap.

Halftime. The pundits summarize the Italy/Czechs game. Julie and Eric, concerned that they aren't offending enough people, briefly employ Super Mario accents.

Ghana look like a letdown after their performance against the Czechs, Dave says. Set pieces are a weakness for Ghana, Dave says. A Ghanaian defender disposessing an American is “a swing and a miss,” Dave says. Dave lies!

A tragedy (avoidable, but not today) ensues and we’re back to the pundits. Julie and Eric seem almost relieved to be able to admit what went wrong; they rightly and intelligently criticize the U.S. offense, in a move guaranteed to infuriate me, as I am late and exhausted and desperately seeking cheap material. Reese jumps in with an oddly telling Americanism, remarking that “We cannot undersell the importance of this to the people of Ghana.”

Pundits: Eric and Marcelo want the head of Bruce Arena. Julie blames both the formation and the players, but stops short of decapitation requests. Tommy Smyth pronounces “Ghanaians” two different ways in one sentence.

More pundits: Allen Hopkins and Janusz Michallik dance a deadly tango. Allen: Bruce doesn’t have any better offers. Janusz: the USA doesn’t have any better coaches.

Tommy getting dangerously wacky now; Bruce has been brought out…and…yes, that’s the point of diminishing returns. This has been your coverage of ESPN’s coverage of USA’s exit from the 2006 World Cup. And...

What we've learned: Tommy Smyth looks nothing like you'd think. ...Well, seriously-- Ghana are pretty damn devastating; the USA are overrated, scattered, poorly managed and choke-prone. We were aware. If Bruce had made some different decisions earlier in the tournament, this group might not have ended this way, but he didn't, and it did.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ivory Coast v Serbia & Montenegro, BBC 5 Live Sports Extra

"So what if it's a dead rubber? For the football aficionados among you, you'll know this could be a cracker." Strange games, these, where everyone knows nothing rests on them but the duty is to cover them anyway. We don't even catch the name of the presenter who has to introduce an audio compilation of Didier Drogba clips after telling us he's suspended tonight. Your team is Alistair Bruce-Ball, Chris Waddle and to kick off David Oates, who reminds us "there's nothing on this game, but in a funny kind of way it could be more interesting". After a preview of the 5 Live game, when surely everyone who wanted to hear that match is already listening to the station as us over here have made the conscious decision to take this game in instead, we find Oates also going on about the weather, although "after 12 dry, warm and mainly sunny days we can hardly complain". "There are plenty of people here, if not from the Ivory Coast, then certainly supporting the Ivory Coast, and I've just noticed the rain is absolutely bucketing down" is a classy non-sequitur, as if the two were somehow related. Oates then gets in his information on possibly the final ever play of the Serbia & Montenegro anthem: "their anthem is called Hey Slavs, it was written in 1844 by a Slovak priest". You wouldn't imagine that sort of thing would go down well in the post-Yugoslavia era.

It's evident that the commentary team are taking this as languidly as we listeners are, wondering if S&M will "play Peter Crouch style" and at one point referring to "one of their balding players". Nice to have the extra perception of the action, but we could have lived without that. Luckily there's an early goal to settle us all in - "goalkeeper's lost his bearings - it's a walk-in! What were the Ivory Coast defenders doing there, and what was the goalkeeper doing there?" The action continues apace, even when it shouldn't, Oates going ballistic with a "how did that miss?" at one point before noticing "linesman has flagged for offside, in fact..." Waddle spots on the monitor, we're led to assume, "a shot of Henri Michel just close his eyes and shake his head". Indeed it seems all up for the Ivory Coast when "the defence was all at sea again, and Sasa Ilic has made them pay again". Just good to hear that name out of presumed context, of course. "They're a shambles at the back" is Oates' immediate diagnosis.

I'm not the first to point this out, but Chris Waddle can only refer to spot kicks as a "pelanty", and Ivory Coast getting one seems to be the catalyst for the rest of the game to be littered with such awards and claims, so fun for all ahead. "If it goes through his hands you've got to say well done" is his curious perception of the award. Dindane, a name right out of a list read by Danny Kelly, scores but there's encroachment, a decision which Alistair nearly dismisses because it's the same referee as in England's first game. Luckily the second attempt is also scored, and "this time it counts", and apparently "the neutrals will start swaying now". Towards the Ivorians, presumably, not just swaying for the fun of it. Dindane then gets booked for diving, Alistair having found his theme and ready to stick to it. "A fair few contentious decisions being made" he declares, only seconds later to state "our Mexican referee has got that spot on". Casually winding down at last towards the end of the half he almost doesn't notice his next decision, spurred suddenly into action by "...oh, and Nadj is being sent off". Waddle finally gets to pronounce "he's got one right, he's got one wrong". Oddly, Bruce-Ball begins his half time wrap-up "and here is the story of the game...", which isn't something you get from most commentators.

Our man in London declares this "an absolutely stonking match", predicting "I doubt it'll be the same score at full time" like an unwise man. "We'll be back with more...in a sec" he then tells us in a very un-BBC way. The rest of half time is spent talking about England in any case, the mantra for the coverage being "5 Live is the only station with a presence in the English team hotel". That's good.

"Both teams and the referee are all unpredictable" Chris, in no way picking at a nit, sums up what we have to look forward to, Oates joining in after the team rundown with a hearty "the referee is from Mexico, and he's not very good, to be honest". "With this fella you can lose track of the yellow cards, can't you?" he will shortly ponder, to which Chris, perhaps expecting something less, agrees "I don't think it was a foul...er, sorry, it was a foul". What Chris sees as "like a practice match, on the training ground" actually sounds quite entertaining, especially when the Ivory Coast hit back: "That's a good ball in - oh, and it's in from Dindane!" Chris, like a dad should do, sees "they're having a little celebration, obviously a rehearsed one if they did score". Not that the referee, who Waddle reckons looks like Ray Reardon, is going to be left out of play for too long, giving another penalty/pelanty which forces Oates to admit "I can't say I saw which defender it was who gave away the handball..." There's plenty of pre-take shenanigans, Oates waspishly remarking "the referee now looks like he's going to play in goal", before Kalou nets and "they do the team dance", something not elaborated on. The conceding defender turns out to be the same man as before, in which case he apparently "should hang his head in shame".

As "a crazy, crazy dead rubber" comes to a close Bruce-Ball gets to see a second late in the half red card, by which he seems unsurprised as "it's been a crazy game and a few crazy decisions from the referee" before getting completely flummoxed by the concept of the end of the game. Curiously, the presenter's immediate tack is to ask Waddle "how do you compare Cameroon to this Ivory Coast side?", like it matters, before winding up with "if that's a dead rubber, bring the rest on, frankly". He'll get some practice.

What we've learned: the Ivory Coast might well have qualified from another group (first team to win a finals game after being two down since England-West Germany 1970, apparently); Marco Rodriguez will probably get the final after all that; even in these circumstances 'other' group ending games with nothing riding on them are curious, cold places.

Quote of the day yesterday

"You're a good looking fellow and you can speak five languages. You're going to need them here." - Martin O'Neil begins his hijacking of last night's highlights by introducing himself to Leonardo, shortly before steering discussion of Portugal v Mexico to a tale about Vitor Baia wasting 4 and a half minutes in the UEFA Cup final. He could have been the next England manager, you know.

Costa Rica v Poland, ITV2

(With apologies for the delay)

Matt Smith is back in the ITV Highlights studio alongside Alan Curbishley and Jay-Jay Okocha ("resplendent in a canary yellow shirt"). Plenty of references to pride being at stake today, as we see images of Polish and Costa Rican fans determined to a) have a good time, and b) get themselves a TV close-up - Matt notes in particular one woman wearing ridiculous Elton John-style novelty glasses.

Over to Ned Boulting at the fan park in Cologne with an oversized microphone that wouldn't have looked out of place in Blankety Blank. A German fan points at the three stars on his replica shirt, at which point I did half-expect Ned to burst into "two World Wars and one World Cup, doo dah", but luckily he showed some restraint. Oh dear, he's now found some English fans on a stag do wearing Rudi Voeller-esque mullet wigs. "Are England going to win tonight?" he asks the groom. "Totally, of course!" is the rather bleary response. "That is what I call punditry!" Thanks for that, Ned.

ITV's fourth-choice commentary duo finally get their live debut as Peter Brackley and Clive Allen welcome us to Hanover to see "two teams who'll be checking out of their respective heartbreak hotels in the very near future," apparently. Stereotypical Teutonic efficiency is for once overlooked as we kick off 15 seconds ahead of the other game.

It seems that Brackley and Allen are in a party mood, knowing that this is practically their only chance to broadcast to a live audience (albeit an audience of a few thousand Polish and Costa Rican ex-pats). "They have just about the most unpronounceable names in the whole tournament, the Poles!" announces Brackley. "I'll be checking you later on, Clive, on one or two of those!" "I was gonna say, easy for you to say Peter!" "He's written nothing down..." But you didn't ask Clive to write anything down, Peter...

"What about Paolo Wanchope?" suggests Brackley to his co-commentator, as the Costa Rican feebly tests Artur Boruc with the first attempted shot of the match. "He says he wants to play in the Premiership again, might Tottenham be interested?" "He's had his time in England, perhaps somewhere else on the continent will be his next port-of-call..." "I'll take that as a 'no', then? Tottenham haven't signed a new player now since, ooh - what time is it?" "A few minutes ago! Not telling you who it is though!"

"Is that good for England, Peter?" asks Clive as news of Germany's opening goal filters through. He clearly doesn't understand that the co-commentator is meant to express opinion, not enquire it. Meanwhile, Costa Rica win a free kick at least 40 yards out, but that doesn't stop Ronald Gomez from taking about 30 steps back and blasting the ball past the rather ineffective wall and sneaking a corner. "It was a fast bowler's run up!" chuckles Brackley. "They call him the bullet, cos he's always getting fired from clubs!"

First reference to Costa Rica's leading club side Deportivo Saprissa playing Liverpool in last year's Club World Championship: a surprising 9 minutes in. Good job Ladbrokes didn't offer odds, else I'd have lost a small fortune.

Someone has clearly told Brackley that the Costa Rican team is nicknamed "The Ticos", as he manages to sneak the reference in no less than 3 times in the opening ten minutes.

"Morale will be low of course, now that the bitter reality of those first two matches has sunk in for these teams. But they will have their pride, and you never know - with the pressure off they might just provide us with an entertaining finale!" Who are you trying to convince, Peter? Anyone who's persevered with this match until now is clearly prepared to stick it out until the end regardless of whether it's a 0-0 bore draw. Which at the moment it is, with the Polish fans in particular beginning to whistle the negative defensive play.

Peter defends a rather nasty slide tackle from behind by Arkadiusz Radomski on Mauricio Solis by suggesting that "at least it shows commitment for what is ostensibly a dead rubber!" Soon after, Poland win a corner and Jose Porras in the Costa Rican goal comes a long way out of his area only to get a rather unconvincing punch on the ball. Fortunately, on this occasion he's bailed out by his defenders.

Wanchope attempts a one-two, only for the returned pass to be misplaced towards the Polish defender Marcin Baszczynski. Unfortunately for the latter, his attempted clearance ends up being an air shot, and it's only Wanchope's surprise that allows the defender to get back into position and put the ball out of play at the second attempt.

The amusingly-pronounced Jacek Bak fouls Wanchope on the edge of the area, allowing the amusingly-nicknamed Gomez to have another go. "Does he go up and over the wall, or does go power straight the way through?" wonders Clive, clearly not remembering the 40-yard blast in the opening 10 minutes. "He's gonna blast it!" spots Brackley, as the Costa Ricans in the wall move out of the way and the ball nutmegs a shocked Boruc. "Ooh, and it's in!" "Pure power, Peter!" "We have a goal! See, I told you it'd be good!"

Michal Zewlakow picks up the fourth yellow card of the game so far for kneeing Bolanos up the jacksie. "No-one's told him it's a dead rubber!" says Brackley. Is this going to be a recurring excuse for bad tackles?

Costa Rica are all over Poland, and with half an hour gone Gomez tries the fancy flick-forwards-using-the-heel-of-the-opposite-foot that doesn't seem to have a name but can best be described as 'the thing that David Dunn tried to do when he fell on his arse'. "Hehe, different!" chuckles Brackley as the pass completely bamboozles a stunned Polish defence and reaches Wanchope on the right wing, only for the resulting cross to seemingly nutmeg Gomez who'd run into the area and the ball is cleared. Clive is transfixed: "Peter, 'different'? It could have been absolutely fantastic. Gomez's - what would you call it? - reverse pass out to the right..." "'That's my job, I do the tricks!'" suggests Brackley of Wanchope.

Another Polish corner, and another rush of blood from the keeper, this time with more severe consequences. "Oh, the keeper lost it - lost it completely!" exclaims Brackley as Bartosz Bosacki accepts the gift. "But I think it's been ruled out has it, no it has been given!"
"Baszczynski, the man with 5 zeds in his surname...Clive's now counting them!" [Clive goes quiet for the next 30 seconds, failing to pass comment on a chance for Poland that Jervis Drummond almost toe-pokes past his own keeper] "I make it two!" announces Clive triumphantly. "What - the 'Z's? You have been counting them? Watch the game! It was only a joke!" "I can't spell, though..."

Peter plugs the website ("Not now Clive, do it later!"), and then informs us of Germany's second goal as we see the group table as it stands. "Surely now nothing is going to stop them from taking Pole position - excuse the pun!"

Gomez blasts another shot having received the ball from a free kick, only for a Polish player to get his head in the way of the ball. "I tell you what, that was travelling!" "I think it hit Zewlakow as it comes through..." "Has he no sense of feeling, that man? Nearly took his head off!" Bizarrely, the massive deflection is missed by the referee, who gives a goal kick.

"He needed to get closer to Klose!" suggests Matt as we watch first-half Germany v Ecuador highlights, becoming only the fifty-seventh British presenter to do so. "You've put your Ecuador shirt on, should have put your Germany shirt on!" accuses Matt of yellow-clad Jay-Jay. "You've picked the wrong team today son, backed the wrong horse!" "I'm neutral..." protests a bemused Okocha. "Yesterday he was an England fan, today he's an Ecuador fan, I dunno what he's gonna do tomorrow, boys and girls!"

In the second half, Brackley reminds us of Poland's warm-up game against Columbia where "they were booed off by their own fans and the same supporters were cheering the opposition!" "It's only England that get all this stick and unrest from supporters and press!" suggests Clive. "It's not me - it's you pundits!" protests Peter.

"Almost came over to keep Paolo Wanchope company," is Brackley's sole assessment of Mauricio Solis' brief spell at Derby.

First mention of Costa Rica beating Scotland at Italy 1990: Not until the 53rd minute. It's a really good job Ladbrokes etc etc...

"Baszczynski, who has so many letters in his name that you can hardly get them on the shirt!" chuckles Peter (let's hope he never sees Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink's shirt). "But two 'Z's!" reminds Clive proudly.

Gonzalez blasts a shot over with his weaker right foot. "I always remember you being two-footed," Peter says to Clive. "Sometimes I thought you had three feet!" Clive opts not to reply. "He's not going to respond now, he's gone into a sulk!"

Poland win a corner after Smolarek's attempted cross is blocked by Gonzalez, who kept his arms behind his back in the process to avoid conceding a penalty. "I'm not sure I'd put my hands there, would you?" asks Peter - with good comic timing, as we see Gabriel Badilla almost molesting Smolarek in the six-yard box as they await the corner.

Porras is beginning to redeem his first-half errors with some impressive saves, including a long-range shot from Krzynowek that squeezed past several defenders that he barely saw. Sadly, he allows Bosacki to head the ball past his near post from the resulting corner, and Poland lead. Clive criticises Paolo Wanchope's lack of marking, and points out that "there was only one winner - Baszczynski!" "Or even Bosacki," corrects Peter, "but I know what you mean!" "Sorry, Mr Bosacki!" "I'll give him your phone number!"

"Zewlakow...I think I put a 'ski' on his name in the first half, but I think I got away with it Clive!". Baszczynski takes a throw right in front of the camera. "There you are - all those 'Z's, look!" points out Peter. "Two!" "It's not as bad as it looks actually, do it phonetically. If he does score, you'll never get his name on the caption!"
"I think if West Ham had followed up their interest in [Baszczynski], he would have been 'Bazza'!" chuckles Brackley. "I'm sure the East End faithful would have found some nickname for him," agrees Allen.

Gomez is substituted late on (not before one last free kick is blasted wide), and rather than making a bee-line for the fourth official, he dejectedly steps over the far touchline and wanders around the edge of the pitch, much to Peter and Clive's amusement. "I would not like to be the man who tells him he's going off! You go and have a word with him!" At the same time, Wanchope puts the ball in the net but is flagged offside.

"Costa Rica take the wooden spoon, as it were..." announces Matt as the match fizzles out. The pundits show more interest in the Germany game than this, making you wonder which match they actually watched. Curbishley picks his top 10 goals of the tournament so far (Cambiasso, surprisingly) and we end as we began with a look ahead to England-Sweden. "Be there!" demands Matt. What if we'd rather watch Trinidad-Paraguay?

What we've learned: Gomez's powerblasts and Baszczynski's surname could make them cult figures at an English league club; Peter Brackley seems to have been sponsored to say "dead rubber" as often as possible; and it's not a good idea to eat a just-past-the-sell-by-date chicken burger when you're supposed to be writing three match reports in 24 hours.

Holland v Argentina, ITV1

Since before the tournament, it is Group C that he caused the most feverish neutral excitement. Many were hoping that Serbia & Montenegro and Cote d’Ivoire would live up to their dark horse billing, but most will have expected this coming together to be group decider and so it has come to pass, with the Ivorians fairly unlucky and the Serbs pretty hapless in their attempts to come between these titans. The suggestion has been that this game could be, like their tussle eight years ago, one of the matches of the tournament. Certainly ITV has been hyping it in this way, laying down ads like trump cards.

Plenty to be excited about then, but ITV can ruin any occasion, of course. They have been to this World Cup what a Labrador drilling a stream of urine cake-wards is to a 6 year olds birthday party. Tonight, once more, it’s that man Pleat in the seat, always a threat to anyone’s candles. Still, there is indeed the game, “a classic encounter” says Steve Rider by way of an opener, and I hope he’s right.

Needless to say, mention has to be made of England, and Steve subtly squeezes one in by suggesting this group is like Englands. Argentina need only a point, while if Holland win they would top the group. All set up nicely, and the VT shows the ’78 final and Bergkamp’s ’98 classic. Out of that, Steve asks Ruud Gullit as to the nature of the Holland/Argentina rivalry? “One of respect” says Ruud, disappointing our host, his collection of hoolie-lit stashed behind his chair.

Sam Allardyce then waxes lyrical about Lionel Messi, his mind clearly ticking about how many lies he could possibly tell the young Argentinean about sunny Bolton. Steve then looks nervous attempting to pronounce ‘Dirk Kuyt’ in front of Ruud Gullit. “We’d all better learn how to say his name” says Steve, suggesting Ruud may also be struggling with the intricacies of Dutch phonetics.

“Mixed emotion in Cologne” is the ominous link as we return, and that is followed by those words that fill us all with dread, no not “Michael Owen’s World Cup is over,” I mean “Gabriel Clarke.” The wizened gnome, usually found lurking in League One car-parks, has been reporting from the England camp as though he’s stood outside a Crown Court. Gabriel is, I think, solely responsible for introducing the tide of solemnity into the England party. He speaks to a few and they all look pretty miserable and unwilling to elaborate. He asks Rio Ferdinand, “can we win the world cup without Michael Owen?” Rio, iPod ear-piece dangling: “yes.” Revealing!

As soon as you hear Steve Rider utter the word “fans”, you know what’s coming and, indeed, it’s off to Nedley, outside with some boisterous fans from either side. An Argentinean fan covered in appropriate shades of body paint shouts “Look out Germany” into the mike, as though he’s into a Robin Williams stand-up routine. The Dutch fans try to compete for volume. As he hands back, stuffy Steve says “respect between the fans, if not a great deal of dignity.” He can expect better behaviour from Ruud who is also, once again, decked out in his lucky orange shirt. “I hope we’re going to see a good day” whispers Ruud, repressing the urge to let off an air horn and belch violently.

Steve, clearing a large frog from his throat, links us through to Peter Drury who says “memories are made of this,” over a picture of the teams stood stock still in the tunnel. Aye, that will stay with me. Out in the stands we see Maradona, Argentina’s Delia Smith, this time molesting Michel Platini. During the anthems, Marco Van Basten is caught looking as though he’s just that second been impaled with a harpoon, and daren’t look down to survey the damage. “It’s a clash between two of thee football nations” says Drury before making one of his more shocking suggestions: “Enjoy David Pleat.” There may have been some punctuation in there. You’d hope.

The tempo is fairly decent but I don’t catch much of it as I am forced to look away quickly each time Carlos Tevez on the screen. “Barrel-chested, big necked, big muscles” is Drury’s description, failing to add “recently glassed” or, indeed, “barrel-faced.” I am given some relief as Holland begin to attack, Van Persie brushing the ball arrogantly down the right with his studs, eventually winning a corner and as he prepares to take it, performs some necessary adjustments to what Drury describes, with a hint of arousal, as his “undershorts.”

Holland also have the first clear chance of the night, after 17 minutes, Nicolas Burdisso getting caught in possession by Dirk Kuyt in the corner, who then dribbles into the box and unsuccessfully tries to beat Roberto Abbondanzieri at the near post despite the presence of Van Nistelrooy in the centre. Up the other end Tevez causes all sorts of trouble at the touchline, robbing defenders and eventually winning a corner, “little bull of a striker” says Drury, getting closer to the Phantom of the Opera truth.

Argentina’s best chance of the half sees a Riquelme free-kick slice through the box, deflecting off Khalid Boulahrouz onto the post. A minute later Maxi Rodriguez sends a fizzer just past a fully stretched Van Der Sar’s far right hand post, “Maxi danger” says Pleat, like a timid wrestling MC. We cut to a shot of the intense Van Basten letting his guard down a little, inspecting the little finger he has just demobbed from an inner ear investigation.

For the remainder of the half, the sides kind of neutralise each other, only a shot from Messi causing anything close to mild worry in either camp. Fearing a mass switch-off, Drury suggests the potential, “it is a major game that is on the simmer for now, but these are the sort of players who can bring it to the boil in the second half.”

After all my talk of ITV being a deliverer of birthday ruining piss, its not been a bad first half show, Drury okay and Pleat not saying much. Hazzah. In a further slap to my cynicism, they actually spend most of the interval discussing the game at hand. Thankfully order is restored early in the second half, Drury informing us once again about Michael Owen’s injury, before dictating an open letter. “and if you’re sitting, rather dolefully, in your lounge at home watching this [Michael], commiserations to you. I hope you’re living off the memory of, amongst other things, that wonderful goal you once scored against Argentina, 8 years ago”. What kind of damage can a crutch do to a brand new plasma screen, do you think?

The game doesn’t do anything to allow this nadir to be overcome either, although there are flashes; Riquelme skidding one just past the far post; Rafael Van Der Vart doggedly winning the ball in the area, the ball spinning to Phillip Cocu who forces Abbondanzieri into a near post save; Tevez firing a real stinger for Van Der Sar to keep out; and a Van Der Vart free-kick zooming past the near post. When we cut again to the bench, there is yet another shot of Marco Van Basten in that thousand-yard stare mode, which suggests his long break from football may have been due to him serving jail time for murder. To quote the comic Tony Law; “once you’ve killed you’re fourth homeless guy, it all gets a bit too easy, doesn’t it?” Any thoughts, Marco?

Despite the disappointing game, Stuart Pearce is undiminished in his love for the Argentineans, “I’ll stick my neck out, I think they’re nailed on to win the World Cup” he says, before Steve says goodnight with his final thought “Hasn’t actually been a feast tonight, but an hors d’oeuvres, that reminds us that Argentina will be pretty tasty through this tournament” which it appears he would have said even if they’d been tonked for 8.

As is always the case with these hyped things, the game, although it has its moments, cannot live up to the weight of expectation, which isn’t really its fault. In that respect, perhaps there is a similarity with England after all.

Pee Wee’s Playhouse secret word: evocative

Referee (Luis Medina Cantalejo, Spain): "But how do you and your neighbour get on about the disputed right of way?" said Mr. Jarndyce. "You are not free from the toils of the law yourself!"

These things I believe: I imagine there’s not a brisk trade in wall posters of Carlos Tevez -- Re: Esteban Cambiasso. Was ex-Reading gaffer Jimmy Quinn anywhere near South America during the latter months of 1979? -- Argentina still look pretty hot stuff, but neutralizable, so we needn’t all pack up and go home after all. -- Forgot Ruud Van Nistelrooy was playing until his substitution. -- Fabricio Coloccini. Now at Deportivo la Coruna after a stint on the road with Styx.