Thursday, July 13, 2006

Finals Fantasy end of tournament round-up thing - part 3

What did you make of it, then?

Before the tournament, I was more keyed up than I’d been since 1990, when I was flush with the exuberance of youth. There were moments of genius, moments of tedium (which every competition needs for the contrast) and some genuinely bizarre diversions within the coverage. Found myself getting very tense within neutral games, which is always a good sign.

Not the best ever perhaps. but certainly an excellent competition that looked brilliant in terms of the organisation. When we stage it again, lets do it like the Germans. Big tellys in the river, all that.

Best defensive player

Take your pick from the Italians, able to nullify the threat of any irresistible force placed in their way.

Best attacking player

The temptation is to say Zidane, thanks to his inventive, “just mind my face” heart-stopping buller but, as has been noted elsewhere, a single performance already won him the writer’s best player gong above several more deserving Italian types.

Otherwise I liked Carlos Tevez for showing some incredibly neat touches whilst looking like a Sunday morning council-pitch dogger who’s recently suffered retribution for pushing crack on someone else’s patch.

Biggest letdown

Being an underdog kind of guy, would have been nice to see one or two unexpected names in the quarters but the good will out, I guess.

Sepp Blatter still being unable to offer no comment on anything he is ever asked about.

Item you'd track down for the National Football Museum

Dress up 3 mannequins in Otto Pfister’s pub crooner, salmon melt and yacht club touchline get ups.

Carlos Tevez’s head from the shoulders up. Possibly in a big jar.

The soggy digestive found whilst dismantling the BBC’s Berlin studio set. Inside several thickly paned cases, of course.

Best pundit

Yup, it’s got to be Martin O’Neill. Despite the fact he goes down as many blind alleys and explores as much cringeworthy territory as David Pleat with his only-child-that-collects-stamps-and-gets-picked-on-at-school banter, I can’t wait to hear what he’ll come up with next.

Best commentator

I’m in agreement in Ben, Simon Brotherton and Steve Wilson were excellent in the supporting roles. The game Brotherton did with Gavin Peacock early on in the tournament was easily the most impressive pairing in the box.

Worst pundit

Look, a barrel with loads of fish in it. For this and the next section, the ITV crew is far too easy a target, so I shall focus on the few times the Beeb let me down.

The unintentionally funniest, but also revealingly worst punditry moment, it has to be Alan Shearer’s “last 16, it doesn’t get any better than that.” I was just thinking how he was growing into the role when he fires off a reflex cliché without thinking it through.

Also Hansen saying the third place play-off first half was great then changing his mind once O’Neill had grumpily poo-poo’ed the entire affair. The leader has become a follower.

Got a bit bored with Marcel Desailly as the tournament went on too.

Worst commentator

Like I say, I can’t warm to any of the ITV team. On the BBC, Jonathan Pearce yowls out his pre-anthems crib sheet like a wounded seal. Aside from that, I've been fairly happy.

Main lesson learned over the last month

That Willkommen zum Fussball is such a complex German phrase it needs instant translation.

It's been fun, this, hasn't it?

Too right, thanks to my FF colleagues and especially to Simon for putting it together. Writing for this thing certainly allowed me to really delve into the action and, more specifically, the broadcasting of said action, which keeps you attentive as, to be fair, my attention span struggles with televised football. Nothing beats the real thing. Do I ever wish my application for tickets had been one of the lucky ones.

So, Austria-Switzerland 2008, what are we doing? No sleep ‘til the Wankdorf.

Finals Fantasy end of tournament round-up thing - part 2

What did you make of it, then?

Pace. Power. Precision. Technique. Oh, sorry, just came over all Alan Hansen there...

Well, it was marvellous, wasn't it? In fact, so marvellous that every use of the past tense is making me wince - the World Cup wallchart is staying Blutaked to the fridge for a while yet, at least until I can accept the fact that it really is over.

The consensus amongst pundits and journalists seems to be that (to adapt the tired old cliche) it was a tournament of two halves: the group stages were thrilling, but after that it became as dull as a Southgate co-commentary. There's some truth in that, but knockout games like Argentina v Mexico, Portugal v Holland and the Germany v Italy semi-final were among the very best, while England and France's first two group games were absolutely dire.

Best defensive player

It was a cakewalk for Fabio Cannavaro to claim that title. The Italian skipper was magnificent from first whistle to last, and no-one more deserved to lift the trophy than him. If he does end up following his former manager at Juve Fabio Cappello to the Bernabeu, as is rumoured, then Real Madrid might once again be a force to be reckoned with.

Mention should also be made of Cannavaro's team-mate Gianluca Zambrotta, as adventurous and influential going forwards as he was solid at the back, but the side whose defence collectively most impressed me was Mexico. Matt singled out their captain Rafael Marquez, and certainly his ability to drift effortlessly into midfield and drive his team forward was impressive - but he was only able to do so because Ricardo Osorio is such an accomplished sweeper. He was superb, never flustered or hurried and even himself able to play as a right winger towards the frantic conclusion of the match against Argentina.

Best attacking player

The pundit's / journalist's consensus is right on this one: there were very few attacking players who grasped the opportunity and really shone.

The hyperbole about Zidane before his sending-off in the final was as ludicrous as the debate about whether young Master Rooney deliberately set out to squash Ricardo Carvalho's tomatoes - he might have taken Brazil apart almost single-handedly in the quarter-final, but he was ineffective if not plain rubbish in the first two group games and was suspended for the third. People have short memories. There's no way he should have been named the tournament's best player above Cannavaro, and indeed there were many others more deserving.

So, at the risk of offending Sun readers everywhere, I'll say Cristiano Ronaldo. He might be a whining, preening, diving little winker, but he was by far the most dangerous player on the pitch in the games against England and France.

Biggest letdown

What, other than England's inevitable quarter-final exit on penalties?

It would have to be Argentina. How on earth, with that squad and after that exquisite demolition of Serbia & Montenegro, they didn't walk it is beyond me.

Item you'd track down for the National Football Museum

The collection of splinters gathered from benches in Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Cologne, Stuttgart and Gelsenkirchen by Theo Walcott’s bottom. Or the pause between a Garth Crooks statement-of-supposed-fact and a supposedly-hard-hitting-question. Rather more difficult to lay your hands on, I imagine, would be Frank Lampard's ability to hit a cow's arse with a banjo.

Best pundit

Oh the agony of choice...

Martin O'Neill, hands down. Possibly my favourite moment of the whole tournament was when, after footage of Leonardo showing off his ball skills, Ray Stubbs asked O'Neill if he wanted to join the "Leo love-in". The Irishman responded with a long tongue-in-cheek whinge about him being a very talented and good-looking chap and being "a bit sick of it all", before adding: "He's not the sort of boy you'd want to go to a disco with".

Best commentator

Slim pickings again.

The BBC's lesser lights probably have it - Simon Brotherton and Steve Wilson. Mainly for being informative without being annoyingly obtrusive or grasping with a spectacular lack of dignity for the "clever thing to say".

Worst pundit

Where to start?

Well, the BBC very definitely won this one. Even Ian Wright - a children's TV presenter in another life - failed to grate anywhere near as much as I'd imagined he would, and, having written Leonardo off in the first week, I have to concede he was half-decent. (That said, Mark Lawrenson's off-mic guffaws were increasingly irritating.)

ITV, on the other hand, seemed to have picked wrong 'un after wrong 'un. Jay-Jay Okocha was pretty much comatose, Ally McCoist insisted on prefacing everything he said with "What I like about him is..." and Gareth Southgate could have bored the trousers off Eugene from last year's 'Big Brother' (Don't remember him? It doesn't matter).

David Pleat was obviously in a league of his own when it came to pronunciation and the profligate use of adjectives.

But the award has to go to Sir Terence of Venables, shortly to be on the England staff once again (if rumours are to be believed) in a bid to relive the glory days of 1966 1996. His ability to talk nonsense, even when accompanied by demonstrative hand gestures, was impressive. He seemed to have been taking his cue from the one and only Sir Bobby Robson, managing to lose track of what he was saying not only within a sentence but within a clause.

Worst commentator

Jon Champion proved himself the master of overstatement (and thereby fully justified Des Lynam's criticism of him), while Jonathan Pearce disappointed by repeatedly grasping for the crutch of endless statistics and even Motty appeared to have lost the plot, continually getting players' names wrong and, in the France v Portugal semi-final, covering up comments about Ronaldo's diving and Carvalho's being "involved in the Rooney incident" (yes, as the bloke who got his stotts stood on) with a pathetically apologetic "if you think this is just sour grapes from an Englishman...".

Clive Tyldesley did well to be the worst of the lot, then, didn't he? A round of (sarcastic) applause.

Main lesson learned about the game over the last month

Steven Gerrard, Francesco Totti and Roberto Carlos advertising Pringles? Pele advertising Puma? Michael Owen advertising Asda and Dominos Pizza? That everyone can be bought, everyone's for sale (to bastardise the Manic Street Preachers' lyrics).

Or, to be less cynical, that a watertight defence is what every great team is founded upon. Take note Glenn Roeder.

And that football can be predictable at times ie that, after thrashing S&M 6-0 and beating Ivory Coast 2-1 in a brilliant game, Argentina and Holland respectively would serve up a dull game while the last ten minutes of Tunisia v Saudi Arabia would be among the most thrilling of the entire tournament.

It's been fun, this, hasn't it?

Indeed it has (apart from the Pleat matches I had to report on). I'd do it again in an instant. It's going to be painful going back to the relative mundanity of Black & White & Read All Over and the meagre fare of Newcastle's Intertoto campaign, which kicks off on Saturday. Thanks to Simon for setting up the blog and subsequently organising things, and to my fellow contributors for their always enjoyable reports.

I guess if I was going to really go out in style I ought to headbutt you in the chest, but you'd have to call my mother a terrorist whore first.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

France v Italy, BBC1

Inevitably, Gary starts outside, promising "the last chapter of a tale that began a month ago" by a statue of a pile of books to the usual dramatic choral music. "They came from all over the world to take part and we've ended with two nations who popped in from next door" is how he sums up the finale, even if you can then guess where his big "they said they were over the hill..." spiel is going - Shearer, Hansen and O'Neill. The focus of the build-up is whether "ageing legs" can get through at least ninety minutes, as if they're all going to collapse at about the 55 mark if they're lucky. Gary senses "pangs of history" in the venue alone, which is an interesting choice of words given what it was built for, as the other mainspring of the hour's build-up, Zidane, comes into play, Hansen reckoning "if he doesn't play that well tonight he'll be remembered for sentimental reasons". As opposed to? The more pragmatic O'Neill reveals "Gattuso - he's become my hero".

Damien Johnson is fronting our first report on a bridge a long way away from the camera in a Hanover castle where France have been based, having "been like aristocrats" just to fit the mood. Why do BBC Sport voiceover translators always sound so weedy? Seemingly jolted into action unexpectedly Gary assures us "the French team is, er, largely as expected." Garth gets Italy and wastes it by asking Lippi about Manchester Utd, getting the expected response from someone who'd be more at home talking up the possibilities of what Gary refers to as "their firth...fourth win". Ray's on gantry duty today with a shouting Desailly wearing his actual signed final shirt over his actual shirt. He hopes France have "much more sprint, much more all the final wins", as he is wont to do. He also reveals Aime Jacquet didn't go in for team talks, which Gary picks up on: "The key to great management - say nothing!" After Leonardo has met Gianluca Vialli with little consequence it's, hurrah, the moments of the tournament! Hansen, Strachan and McCarthy are agreed on Argentina's multi-pass eventual Goal Of The Tournament, Shearer and Crooks plump for Joe Cole, Hansen, Strachan and McCarthy Arg 2nd v S&M; Shearer, Crooks J Cole; Dixon, Bhasin and Peacock for Maxi Rodriguez, Mowbray and Wright go for Graham Poll - literally - Chiles talks about Brazil-Croatia ("I just had goose flesh all over me"), Celina Hinchcliffe promotes that nebulous concept, 'atmosphere', Desailly and Pearce go for Germany v Costa Rica, Dowie mentions Fernando Torres, Leonardo salutes Ronaldo's record, Brotherton nominates Totti's penalty, only Mark Bright names Italy v Germany, Johnson, Stubbs and O'Neill salute Zidane again and Motson, often first to the oddest selection, mentions the "emotional" Zidane and Figo swapping shirts. We also get reminded by Iain Dowie of his own phone faux pas and Lawrenson reminds us of the pundits around a pub table during Mexico v Iran. No Wilson, oddly. Gary then reminds us anyway of "the quality of the punditry" just so they can laugh at Hansen. "Get your money on France quick!" seems to be the punchline.

After a chat between Chiles and Noel Gallagher that's very nice for both but goes nowhere Ray returns with Leonardo explaining why he wants Italy to win. We're not entire sure what he was getting at. Then you start to really wonder whether maybe this started a little early as a profile of the actual stadium involves Adrian having to read a poem from its perspective and have the good grace not to sound too embarrassed. "The Brummie bard at his brilliant best" Gary covers. Oh look, another Zidane tribute, and this one in slo-mo. Everyone hopes he'll come good but as O'Neill, who seems to have a theme building, pricks our collective conscious "Gattuso doesn't do sentiment, does he?" Shearer tries manfully to talk clips of Henry up, "Wiltord should break his neck to get there" a particular highlight. He's predicting penalties while Martin wonders about the keepers, "one brilliant, one bold". Gary sends us off with some stats that bode both ways and hands to Motson, who decides to read off the clubs of the whole French starting eleven and seems disappointed that there will be players from the tournament not in the final. That's how the cookie crumbles, John.

First half:
- "This match needs to kick off at 8pm local time exactly. Mark Lawrenson, can you fill thirty seconds for me?"
- "Well, perhaps there is drama in the first minute" as Henry goes down briefly. Lawrenson helpfully adds "there's always that element of doubt, you're really waiting for the player to tell you".
- Motson on yellows: "If they get a second card...well, if you get two tonight it's different..."
- "This is Malouda - oh, Malouda goes down! Penalty!" Both seem non-commital about the call, but not about "a war of nerves between one of the world's great players and one of the world's best goalkeepers" "Oh, it's hit the underside of the bar and is it over the line? Goal has been given! Goal has been given!" Mark: "I'm not quite sure whether the penalty was cool enough, were you?"
- "From a neutral perspective, is that not the best thing that can happen?"
- "Musn't overwhelm you with these things..." Motson admits after reeling off a load of stats
- The Lawrenson thesaurus is back out - "he doesn't know whether to stick or twist, does he, Barthez?"
- "Marcello Lippi - biting his lip, and not surprisingly".
- "Referee's had to sort out a bit of nonsense there. Materazzi climbing - and it's the equaliser!" All happening, all told. "Would you believe that?" Lawrenson declares of the towering header that "he was head and shoulders above everybody".
- Lawro sets Motson a question about defenders scoring "it's so rhetorical I don't expect you to answer it. Actually, I probably do."
- Motson on Makelele: "it's like ironing a shirt, isn't he? He irons out all the wrinkles for France." Lawro: "yeah, he's never pressed, is he?" Then Mark refers to "Rivery".
- Ashton-under-Lyme gets its obligatory mention 32 minutes in, Motson reeling off his family history before admitting "that's absolutely all I know about him!"
- "Materazzi is there yet again - and yet again!"
- "It's still sweltering here in the commentary box...oh, that's a better picture, isn't it?" as a woman comes into view. Yeah, cheers.

At half time Gary compares it to the 1974 final, more in hope than anything, admitting "tactically it's fascinating". A double edged verbal sword if ever there was one. We get shots of Rome and Milan, Shearer commenting "great scenes" for both. Apparently "we've had emails" about whether the corner for Italy's goal went out of play, everyone judging on the slo-mo that it probably didn't quite. Ray has the two foreign pundits with him and they're as comfortable with the surroundings and language as ever, Leonardo referring to "a big demonstration of how they are inside the match" while Marcel starts with a camp "ooooh!". Ray manages to silence both by suggesting they might be required should it go much longer. The thought of attacking options is all the filip they need in the studio, Alan filling brief dead air by wondering "how good would it be to lift that trophy?" Gary brings him back down with a "It's not gonna happen for us!"

Second half:
- "Mark Lawrenson?" "France have only got ten players out...oh, Zidane." Motson actually timed the length of the break.
- Motson works in "indefatigable" re Grosso. That takes some doing.
- Our director somehow manages to play live coverage and a replay on screen simultaneously.
- "Since he had the knock on the head he's become a different player" is Lawrenson's charitable view as Malouda heads down the wing and nearly crosses onto Ribery's head.
- Vieira goes off to much confusion, especially as neither can understand Perrotta moving right.
- "What's going to happen down there, Mark?" He doesn't quite know but sees De Rossi and Iaquinta. "Be interesting to see if Totti stays on" he ponders, and indeed up his number goes. "Don't think he wants to know, he's walking away with his back - oh, he's seen it now."
- Out of nothing, "Toni closes in!" "Offside, John!" "There was a flag! There was a flag!" "It's a correct decision by the official on the far side, I think." Minutes later, "we've not had a replay of the disallowed goal, have we?" Well, what did you just get a second comment on from then, John? "Having just seen it the once, it might have just been offside against Toni" he eventually concedes.
- "He's just checking to see...oh, Zidane's off!" He's struggling with his shoulder, and as Lawro says "if that's dislocated it's the most painful experience ever". A couple of minutes' worry later, "In fact, he's coming back on!"
- "A lot of promise but not a lot of fulfilment" is how Motson describes it at the end of 90 minutes, the pundits trying not to sound too down. Lawrenson points out of the French team "they got themselves in a circle and did their own team talk - Domenech was two or three yards away from the incident".

Extra time:
- "He's through the legs of Cannavaro!" Really?
- "It's almost walking football, isn't it?" Well, it's you who's been talking about what they've got in their legs all evening. Motson has a plan: "So few goals get scored after extra time I'm wondering if they should start to take penalties after 90 minutes."
- "Ribery....Ribery...Ribery! He should have scored!" "He's gone to pass it..." Lawro says, followed by an indecipherable noise that may well have disguised swearing. Ribery immediately gets subbed.
- ", Zambrotta with the throw" Er... Lawrenson's not helping much, analysing "they've sat deeper and deeper and deeper like they're looking for penalties". Motson somewhat disturbingly reckons "he (Barthez) might be the centre of attraction and attention", before remarking "pity, I thought the golden goal was a great idea but FIFA didn't".
- Motson and Lawrenson respectively: "This is interesting, this is Trezeguet, is it?" "Trezeguet, with Materazzi?" "I think it's Zidane, Mark, I think a head may have gone in there" "If the referee has seen that..." "He's off" "The Italians must be saying to the referee that you and your assistants have missed that" "You cannot give something on someone's say-so..." "Lippi has come down the line and been restrained by the fourth official...and the assistant referee has said something, and he's reaching for his card, and he's off!" "As long as they have seen it you can't argue with that." "Zidane's career ends in disgrace" "You can't boo the referee!" "The man who dismissed Rooney for the stamp dismisses Zidane for the head" Motson flourishes.
- It's difficult to tell who's keeping the tighter grip on their emotions, Zinedine or John. "It's chaos here now!" the latter declares before adding "bedlam in Berlin!" It might have seen worse times, John. He's getting frustrated with the lack of attacking, at one point scowling "Toni and Iaquinta would have appreciated a pass there".
- "There's bad blood in the air" John remarks, predicting trouble on the final whistle. There isn't any, and so to penalties, and a noticeable cut back to the box sound

"We've seen it all now" is Alan's curt remark as Gary wonderws before forgetting whether video evidence was covertly used. Everyone agrees that's pretty much all worthy of comment in extra time, so back we go...

- "They're tossing up, clearly". Yeah, alright.
- "Is this the way to World Cup glory?" as the tannoy apparently plays Amarillo. Oh, don't you start, rest of Europe.
- "Materazzi's done just about everything else in this game"
- "Juventus against Juventus - what does Buffon know? He's hit the bar!" "Trezeguet's looking at the referee...", but the grand return of the in-goal camera reveals it didn't cross the line.
- "The next kick can win the World Cup" "Luca Toni?" "Grosso!"
- "He's done it! Italy win the World Cup for the fourth time!"

As Motson overtly declares of Italy "overall you could say they lifted the straightjacket of negativity and donned the cloak of adventure..." we head back to the studio where much is made of Italy coming from a very low place, Alan declaring "any other nation in the world would have struggled with those problems". Much more, obviously, is made of Zidane now they've got time, Leonardo back on the gantry calling him "a symbol of the last generation" while O'Neill ends the speculation on whether Materazzi said anything with "that only happens every 15 seconds in a game". Back to the commentators for the trophy presentation, where they're busy debating the fourth official's role before Lawrenson finds time to spare a thought for Saha, which is more than anyone watching would surely do, and curiously sums up the impending Italian domestic disharmony with "these players are saying get thee behind me, Satan!" The players are behaving very strangely ("never seen headgear like that in a ceremony" "it's some mother's headscarf!"; "Don't break it before you've got it!") with one seemingly missing for the moment - "it'd be nice if we could spot Cannavaro, wouldn't it?" Motson wonders as Materazzi puts a hat on the trophy. "It'd be best to leave that for a few minutes, wouldn't it?" John sagely counsels. Finally, "not so much Cannavaro as can you believe it? On the evening he wins his hundredth cap Italy are four time world champions...That's what they've played for all their life". Leonardo comes back just to clarify that he's only criticising Zidane for that action alone, remembering his own World Cup suspension, while Desailly still as florid around the language as usual before being cut off. Everyone agrees it's been a lovely atmosphere the teams couldn't match, Gary summing it up as "a night of drama and madness in Berlin" before the Goethe poetry over mightily dramatic Bach ends the whole shebang.

Four year's time, then?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Finals Fantasy end of tournament round-up thing - part 1

We're still here. Well, I'm still here; I'm guessing that those of Finals Fantasy who didn't decide that moving house on the weekend of the World Cup final was a good idea are beavering away on their reports as we speak. Meanwhile, this is the first of several/some/possibly just this one, then (delete as eventually applicable) post-tournament round-up bits which may be appearing as the week progresses. Sorry, everyone.)

What did you make of it, then?

It was great. Of course all World Cups are great, and anyone who claims to like football but says otherwise should be regarded with suspicion, but I've found this World Cup hugely enjoyable, with more interesting games and less complete clunkers than any of the 20 years worth of World Cups that I recall. The pre-season friendlies, which would usually have me all of a quiver at this time of year, look rather limp and uninteresting by comparison.

Best defensive player

Rafael Marquez invariably seemed to be not just playing in at least three positions at any one time but playing brilliantly in all of them. All right, so Cannavaro was robbed for player of the tournament, but there was something ever so slightly swashbuckling about Marquez, which is always quite impressive for a central defender.

Best attacking player

Daniele De Rossi, for by far the best headbutt of the tournament. None of this headlong charging into someone's chest because he was rude about your mum nonsense for Daniele, dear me no, just an entirely motiveless attack accompanied by a shrug of inncoence and a smirk as he wandered off the pitch. Marvelous. Or possibly Asamoah Gyan for confusingly wearing squad number 3 while playing up front, even if his shooting left something to be desired. The forwards were a bit of a let down, all told.

Biggest letdown

Well, the forwards, for a start. The lack of a multiball feature for anyone hitting the screen over the centre of the pitch in Frankfurt. That would have been excellent. The England midfield were rubbish as well, but goodness knows everyone has read about that enough elsewhere.

Item you'd track down for the National Football Museum

Graham Poll's yellow card.

Best pundit

Hansen's explanation of how to defend corners after the England-Sweden highlights was a splendid example of how punditry should work - taking something that seems relatively straightforward and explaining its complexities in a way that didn't assume everybody watching was a total fatheaded idiot. However, as he didn't embark on a lengthy, not really worth the effort expanded upon it description of 70s cinema and William Goldman's Adventures In The Screen Trade at the end of the 3rd place play-off and as Martin O'Neil did, the best pundit is Martin O'Neil. Go on Martin, don't go back into management, just sit on the opposite sofa from Adrian Chiles once a week and talk about whatever you like.

Best commentator

Steve Wilson, for managing to sound wide-eyedly enthusiastic about whichever game he might be about to cover, highlights of Iran v Angola included, and even though he did come over slightly like that bloke commentating on the Hindenberg exploding during the Germany-Argentina fisticuffs (following Mick McCarthy's superb "he's nailed him! He's karate-kicked the 17 in the groin!" with a plaintive "this is awful! this is awful!" but fortunately stopping short of "oh the humanity!" and then throwing up. Unless they cut that bit out).

Worst pundit

Where to start? None of the new additions for either channel were much use, although at least ITV sent most of theirs home by the end of the group stages, and I rather enjoyed Marcel Desailly's bouts of grumpiness when things weren't going France/Ghana/whoever he was supporting's way. Ian Wright's man-in-the-street-England-fan routine is really beginning to grate now. I suspect that not even Andy Townsend understands why Andy Townsend is employed to comment knowledgably about football. In the end, for sheer persistence and the amount of faith placed in him for no earthly reason, and despite O'Neil's best efforts to get some sort of double act going, it has to be the man who can say nothing of interest in five different languages, Leonardo.

Worst commentator

I've long suspected that if you strip away the need to bang on relentlessly about England or Manchester United or to try to reduce everything to some aspect of domestic football that only an idiot would be interested in, deep down, underneath it all, Clive Tyldesley is actually quite a good commentator. This was the tournament that finally convinced me that I was wrong. Clive annoyed me even more than Jonathan Pearce's over-exagerated attempts at pronunciation which, particularly when it came to Italy and France, sounded less like an authentic accent and more like 'Allo 'Allo. And I don't really want to be reminded of 'Allo 'Allo at any stage, thanks.

Main lesson learned about the game over the last month

Trying to write a report on an England penalty defeat while slightly drunk and rather fed up isn't the ideal way to spend a Saturday night. Not strictly relevant to football as a whole, perhaps, but I offer it up as a friendly warning.

It's been fun, this, hasn't it?

I'll never think of Iain Dowie, Mark Lawrenson, Radovan Karadic, Kasey Keller, Fabian Barthez, van insurance or onanism in quite the same way again, that's for certain.