ITV 1 gives twenty minutes introduction time to this 12.30 kick-off. But its 12.26 before the actual game it self is addressed, the rest being about England, who aren’t playing for another 55 hours. Honduran kids, we are told, have to learn all seven verses of their national anthem. If that was the case in Britain we’d all know the bit about “rebellious Scots to crush” – which would double the Scottish National Party’s vote in one single history lesson.
Jon Champion promises that we’ll get an abridged version. But the Chilean anthem appears to be cut off halfway through a verse, as the crowd and players sing on regardless for about three lines after the music stops. If they really have had to cut it short for an ad break, I might give up on ITV altogether – bar Adrian Chiles who has lived up to and surpassed all the hype. Remember Steve Rider? Exactly.
Chile have predicted that they can make the semi-finals, at which Champion expresses incredulity. But, as he informs us, they finished second in the South American qualifying group and were top scorers. So why not? The game itself backs up Chile’s case rather than Champion’s. It’s a relief and a delight in equal measure that we have two teams whose first instinct is to attack. It’s just a pity that only Chile are any good at it.
The “number of seconds before the first Winston Palacios foul” sweepstake is won by the holder of ticket number 68. We are soon informed that there are now three Palacios brothers in the Honduran squad. What’s the betting that Wilson was known as “the nice one” of the family. Alongside the third in a series of about seven stopovers from Alexis Sanchez, we are told he is a Real Madrid target. “This doesn’t make him unique,” adds Champion, correctly. But Sanchez looks worth the attention. He can even dive better than Ronaldo. And Champion has to find about fourteen different ways to say so, before settling on “he doesn’t take much encouragement to go down.” Sanchez is closer to the referee’s assistant than any defender when he buys one free-kick early on.
The referee is Eddie Maillet. He’s from the Seychelles, so there’s the inevitable question mark over whether he should be in charge at all. But co-commentator Craig Burley – fast becoming the next best thing to Chiles on ITV – is at least basing this purely on decisions and not nationality. One particularly surreal exchange starts with Honduras’s Maynor Figueroa not conceding a free-kick for blocking Sanchez with a headbutt to his nether regions before Roger Espinoza wins the ball cleanly from Sanchez, does concede a free-kick and looks on from a distance as Maillet books the innocent-for-once Palacios. Maillet, however, does point to nine different areas of the pitch as he takes Palacios’s name, “he’s being booked for persistent fouling,” notes Champion, understating hugely. So Maillet has got to one right decision amidst the chaos.
Chile are terrific and should be ahead long before they are. Nominal right-back Mauricio Isla, who is flagged offside at least seven times during the match, crosses for unfortunate Honduran defender Sergio Mendoza to clear the ball against Jean Beausejour’s backside and watch it rebound into the net. Beausejour looks too much like O.J. Simpson for his, or anyone else’s, peace of mind. Honduras, meanwhile, have a Guevara in their ranks, although you wouldn’t know it from listening to Champion, who determinedly pronounces his name “Givarro.” And one of their bigger defenders scares Burley so much that “If he says it’s Friday, it’s Friday, as far as I’m concerned.” “Even if it’s Wednesday?” asks a momentarily gormless Champion.
Two minutes of the half-time break are devoted to the fine first-half. The rest is adverts and “news from the England camp” which is that Gareth Barry will play against Algeria and…er…that’s it. Chiles admits to having bunked off school to watch lunchtime World Cup matches in the past, which could only be Spain in 1982, unless he was still at school in 2002 and all those Sundays on the “Match of the Day 2” sofa opposite Martin Keown have taken their toll. Champion attempts to excuse any errant watching schoolkids by suggesting that “given the two teams in this match, this would count as Latin homework.” Because Ancient Rome is being so well-represented.
Chile sort of take the foot off the pedal in the second half but still create chances at will. A diving header from very close range by the Waldo Ponce (correctly, but I’d venture not frequently, pronounced “Pon-chay”) is saved fantastically by Honduran keeper Noel Valladares. But no-one seems prepared to give Valladares credit, suggesting instead that Ponce had “allowed him to make the save,” which was true, in the same way that Pele “allowed” Gordon Banks to make that save in 1970. You certainly wouldn’t hear anyone saying that an attacker had “allowed Robert Green to make the save,” although there might be more than one reason for that.
Failed Rafa Benitez signing number 57, Mark Gonzalez, comes on in the 87th minute. But this is still time enough for him to have more shots on goal than Algeria, Japan and Uruguay combined. Gonzalez misses the target with every one. Champion rightly admires the perma-lively Sanchez, suggesting to Burley that he would “pay to see him.” “Well, being a Scotsman, I wouldn’t go that far,” Burley replies. Champion gets the joke this time. Sanchez is voted man-of-the-match – a decision not met by disbelieving silence from the commentary box on this occasion. I’d have voted for Burley.
Chile are so good that Chiles is quick to mention that their game against Spain is live on ITV. But it will end up being a boring 0-0 draw, I’m thinking, because both sides will have won both their matches by then and will already be through. It’s about 900 words too late to say “shows you what I know about football”, isn’t it?