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Monday, 3 July 2006

England 0, Portugal 0 (Portugal win 3-1 on Penalties)/ Brazil 0, France 1...

"...and England sad, sad, sadly are out..."

(I know, I know - that was Brian Moore in '98, not Motty in '06. I just didn't make notes for this game so it's all a bit hazy.) Of course the signs were all there. The Ramones' 'Glad to see you go' comes up on God-is-in-the-i-pod, just as I'm nearing A. Radiographer's place. Mrs. Radiographer tells us that the two lovely Radiographer daughters previewed the game on their magnetic, shove ha'penny style football board game. Portugal won. The Beeb's latest graphic - a flash timelapse CGI reconstruction that literally puts the flesh on the bone of the leg with which Wayne Rooney will ultimately decide the contest, reduces A. Radiographer to an even more stupefied state than normal. "Is that what you do all day at work when you should be saving lives?" demands Mrs. R., quite rightly donning her irate taxpayer's hat as she notes the envious schoolboy grin spreading over his face at this piece of radiographic wizardry. "They won't let me", he broods. Only we're not to know then that Wayne - or Wan, as Sven prefers to pronounce it at his valedictorey press conference (who says his English lacks nuance and descriptive power?) - will use the most lovingly nurtured metatarsal in Christendom to stab a stud deep into Ricardo Carvalho's prone gonad. Laudable though that may be, it's best done in the privacy of the changing room rather than directly beneath the gaze of the referee (George Peppard).

It all plays out rather dully for an hour, indeed England seem to have the better of it before Wan (Phil Mitchell) has his set to with Carvalho (Andy Kaufmann). Portuguese coach 'Big Phil' Scolari (James Finlayson, without the squint) is the more animated of the two coaches. At the time, A. Radiographer and I speculate as to whether the downcast Beckham had been ordered by Sven (he really is Mr. Burns, isn't he?) to limp off after 5 minutes of the second half as a way of saving face - disguising the tactical switch the entire nation has been baying for since the tournament began. On reflection, he looks genuinely gutted - even more so at the press gathering where he will falteringly (and quite movingly) read out his decision to step down as England captain, like a shy schoolboy reading his what-I-did-in-the-holidays essay out loud in front of the school.

England immediately improve as Beckham's replacement, Aaron Lennon (Sam Cooke), starts to run at the Portuguese defence, creating several chances that England can't convert. Hargreaves (Robert Downey Jr. as Chaplin) is everywhere, winning over the England fans who had cruelly pilloried the poor fellow just because he looks German and sounds like a frat boy. (Alright, they had every reason to, but he is playing superbly...)And then, on the hour, Wan Rooney sees the red mist, stamping down in frustration at one of the two Portuguese players who've been hanging off his shirt for the past minute. Christiano Ronaldo (Elian Gonzalez) appears to be pressing the referee to take action. Incensed, Wan gives his alleged Man Utd. colleague a pathetic little push (well, he has to put up with him every day in training - we only see him on the telly where it's impossible to give the little runt the slap that even the otherwise Christian and law-abiding Mrs. R. feels his smug little cherub face deserves) Whether for this or the earlier bollock piercing, Rooney is despatched to take his early bath and with him go England's hopes, straight down the plughole.

So, the game grinds on. Joe Cole (Ian Dury) is replaced by Peter Crouch (an elongated Martin Chivers), who does well and we start to ponder the many what ifs. What if we'd had another manager. Who'd thought it prudent to have a couple of strkers in the squad. Or we'd been born in Lisbon. Still, England seem better with 10 men, perhaps an indication of their discomfort with the straightjacketing, midfielder-heavy system they've been playing for most of the tournament in order to accomodate their star players.

And so, with Portugal saving themselves for a last minute flourish against the thoroughly exhausted and outmanned English, the game drifts towards the inevitable ignominy of the "shoe doubt" (TM J. Klinsmann, 2006) It will fall on one of the 'keepers, Paul Robinson (a shaven headed Tony Selby) or Ricardo (Rock Hudson) to be the hero of the day. The result is already known, deep down in most English hearts. Will the players be able to resist coming to the same conclusion - especially in the knowledge that even if they do get through this, they will face the even strerner tests ahead without two of their best players, the suspended Wan Rooney and John Terry (a thin, male Kathy Burke)? The two Radiographer girls hide behind their mother. (I have this effect on young children for some reason - especially when proferring a bag of boiled sweets/a photo of cute puppies/ponies etc.)

Up they step:

Simao (Richard Dreyfuss) - scores.

Lampard (Tony Hadley) - misses.

Viano (Robert Lindsay) - misses.

Hargreaves - scores.

Petit (Robbie from Eastenders) - misses.

Gerrard (The Streets) - misses.

Postiga (Dhani Harrison) - scores.

Carragher (Dick York) - scores. Retakes. Misses. Elaborately.

It's left to everyone's favourite exponent of the step-over, Christiano Ronaldo (Elian Gonzales playing Hannibal Lector) to grimace, gurn, kiss the ball, compose himself, gulp, sneer, scamper, hesitate, before blasting the ball high into the net past the hapless Robinson.

Walking home, I'm struck by the angry, set faces of the red and white shirted England fans as they trudge back from boozer and barbeque, their dreams of glory fizzled out for another four years. I used to take it that seriously but I can't anymore. It's such a daft time to be playing football, the summer, isn't it? Like playing cricket in a monsoon.

Fortunately, the sublime Zidane is on hand to provide one of the greatest World Cup performances I can recall seeing. His touch is on song today and he ghosts and slaloms past three Brazilians in the first minute as a startling signal of intent. Brazil never really recover, it's like they've seen a ghost. Perhaps they have. He is virtually faultless on the night, everything he does is productive, and he looks like someone savouring a delicious meal, each sublime piece of skill like a joyful, affirmative burp, full of pleasure, ease - grace even. Each game could be his last and it seems to be bringing out such truly great form in him. The narrative seems clear - can Zizou supply this wonderful tournament with the ultimate fairy tale ending and go on to lift the trophy? He's the icing on the cake of the most potent midfield in the tournament - Vieira, Makelele and Ribery, with Zizou they're a sort of footballing equivalent of Booker T & the MGs - white and black, grooving in harmony. And then there's Thierry Henry. They will take some stopping, I fancy. Allez les bleus!

S. wakes me up at 2:40 am. I'm sprawled out on the sofa.

© 2006 Swipe Enterprises

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