Portugal 0-1 France
I strongly suspect that I’m going to be in a minority of one on this subject, but I was disheartened by the BBC’s coverage of this match. Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer nailed their flags to the mast in a quite literal sense, barely able to conceal their desire to see the Portuguese vanquished by the French. They may well have tapped into the national mood, but then again they could have done that by saying, “well, Alan, I’ve in favour of hanging all rapists”. It does the BBC no favours to go into matches with what looks very much to me like an editorial agenda, and whilst it’s very easy to blame that dreadful Ronaldo for England’s elimination from the tournament (and I’m no fan of his myself), it doesn’t reflect on them terribly well that they’re still carping on about it four days after it happened.
After Tuesday night’s extravaganza, this always felt to me like it was going to be something of a let-down. Portugal had been fairly woeful thus far, and the French, for all the idolatry surrounding the strangely rejuvenated Zinedine Zidane, had largely built their team around a defensive midfield formation that wasn’t going to get the football purists gushing. For the want of a better word, France last night were “professional”, though I’d have been struggling to justify using that phrase twenty minutes in, by which time they’d allowed enough gaps at the back to force Barthez into having to pull off a couple of decent saves.
But then Portugal allowed their own interpretation of the word “professionalism” to creep into the match. Ronaldo threw himself across the penalty area when he missed a cross, and watching the slow-motion replays of a number of tackles that Scolari seemed to think were absolute set in stone penalties. It was curious also to watch the persistant booing of Ronaldo every time he got the ball. It made me wonder… were there really that many English people in the crowd, or has the international sporting community (or at least have the Germans) got sick of the constant gamesmanship that has blighted this World Cup? Obviously, the French were more than happy to join in, but it’s certainly food for thought, if nothing else.
We have a couple of days respite before the final pair of matches, one of which is the most important match in any football competition of the year, the other of which is probably the least important match of the tournament (although it’s worth pointing out that it isn’t a FIFA marketing scam – the third place play-off has been around as long as the World Cup has). I’ll try and squeeze in my thoughts on this pair of matches before Saturday afternoon, but I will say this much – even if Germany 2006 hasn’t been the greatest World Cup of all time, we can console ourselves with the knowledge that both of the teams that have reached it’s final have, in their own idiosyncratic ways, deserved it.