After all the pre-match hype - "a genuine world cup classic", "what could be one of the matches of the tournament" - it was perhaps inevitable that this game would play itself out as a pedestrian exercise in squad preservation. The supposed 'hook' for the average domestic armchair fan watching this particular pot of paint dry is the likelihood (assuming of course that England can rouse themselves to triumph over plucky Ecuador in the first knockout stage) that one of these two teams will (barring a sudden and unlikely rule change that enables Sven Goran Ericksson to field double the normal allocation of players) steamroller England towards their customary quarter final exit.
It's one of the few remaining privileges of being English that one can turn on the England team at some point in the tournament - mid-game, often - and start cheering on the opposition because we are being so clueless without suffering so much as a pang of guilt or disloyalty. Well, it's what we do best - knocking things, being cynical. Far preferable to the uber alles school of nationalism. Although, to be fair, the Germans have been - cliche alert - the most perfect hosts. Indeed, this time you can almost imagine them exiting the tournament without actually winning it and not minding too much - so much do they seem to be revelling in their unaccustomed role as the good guys.
The extent to which the hosts have embraced their guests from all corners of the globe was evident in ITV's pre-match build up. They'd assembled two rival groups of fans, each respectively (and painstakingly) daubed from head to toe in sonic blue & white or orange body paint, to help stoke up the atmosphere ahead of the game. "Are you the best team in the tournament?" asked the hapless ITV hack as the Pale Blue and White Man Group jigged up and down before him in unison bellowing "VEE ARE CHERMANS, VEE ARE CHERMANS!!" Could vee ever do something like that in this country?"
Still the paucity of action on the pitch did at least allow me to analyse the commentary team of Peter Drury and David Pleat in quite some depth. The latter is that rare thing - a football analyst who bears all the hallmarks of someone who is actually watching the game and piecing together an overview of it based on the evidence laid out before him. "The game's pendulum appears to be swinging slightly in favour of the Holland team", he opined in a voice that bought anoraks to the mind as the Dutch hogged the ball on the edge of the Argentine box for several minutes. Only one case of foot in mouth from Pleaty last night. "Both these sides favour a patient build up, probing for openings, looking for the right final pass. You won't see either of these two sides playing too many hopeful long balls", tailing off as a misplaced 40 yard Argentine punt upfield rolled harmlessly into touch.
The odd Colemanball aside, Pleat is far better than Mick "Ooo Wee Baby" McCarthy - surely the last man on earth anyone would want to watch a game of footie with. We call him that, incidentally, because of the striking similarity between his speaking voice and that of Sea Cruise star and Cabaret vocaliste Jane MacDonald. They do, as S. pointed out (she's the funny one) sound remarkably alike - although Mick's range starts perhaps an octave or two higher than Jane's. "Ooo wee, ooo wee baby. Ooo wee, ooo wee baby. Ooo wee, ooo wee baby - won't you let me tek you on a sea cuise....??" We sing out in a dour Yorkshire monotone whenever Eminem is in the commentary box, before encouraging the TV screen to "stick it up yer bollocks, you English cunt...."
I'm coming 'round to Drury though, having previously despised him. Although ex-Beeb man John Champion is wasted on the early afternoon k.o graveyard shift and must be wondering who he's upset in the world of broadcasting to have languished for so long in the shadows at both networks. The Matt le Tissier of TV sports commentary. Perhaps he's taking the patient Argentinian route? Or maybe he's still waiting to hear back from Sky? The Drury style, heavily influenced by that stalwart of 70s sports commentating, Hugh "One-Nothing" Johns, favours the straightforward explication of on field events (when he's not indulging in those odd circumlocutions of his - "Live up to the glorious traditions of their respective footballing cultures, can these players??")
Otherwise, it's straightforward name calling:
Then, when something noteworthy eventually happens, Drury is all two touch simplicity: the first delicately cushions the name before the second applies the devastating power finish at great velocity:
With the game dribbling away, I even start to analyse the players. Ayala (Al Pacino in The Scent of a Woman). Cambiasso (Billy Mitchell, only thinner on top). Riquelme (I can't decide whether he's a permanently perplexed Peter Gabriel or a permanently perplexed Jose Feliciano without the shades...) On the Dutch side, Robin van Persie shapes to take a trademark freekick and does that rat thing with his teeth that psycho kids at school used to do when they were winding themselves up for some gratuitous act of extreme violence. To safeguard him from the indignity of a second yellow card for perpetrating yet another gratuitous act of extreme violence, he is substituted by Marco van Basten well before the final whistle.
All in all, disappointing. Drury put the mockers on it, as usual:
Argentina have been unrelentingly good...
I'm sure he does it on purpose.
© 2006 Swipe Enterprises