I’m not sure what channel I’m watching but it’s not one of ours. The pundits sound refreshing. There’s a Scotsman who looks a bit like Hansen but uses verbs and sounds interested. In fact, it’s as if it is Hansen but he’s next to proper pundits, so he has to raise his game so as not to sound lazy and under-informed. Alongside him is a nicely understated Dutchman who is always to the point. He admires the Spanish not simply because “they’ve got Torres,” but because “there are always two options for the man with the ball… it’s not about the man with the ball if he has no options.” Simple logic. I’m not even pining for Lee Dixon, the best the Beeb has to offer. And on the end is an American fellow with a German sounding name but a broader Californian accent than even the state’s governor himself. Proper broadcast journalist, too. He has a take on Fernando Torres’s fitness because “I spoke to Torres.” Can’t imagine Alan Shearer would even try.
Unfortunately, though, whatever channel this is has had to buy in the BBC’s match coverage – journalistic budgets aren’t what they were. And so we’re soon in the company of Jonathan Pearce and Mark Lawrenson, the comedy double act with two straight men; Lawrenson possibly one of the reasons music hall died. Pearce avoids the trap of wondering why the Spanish aren’t singing their national anthem. But Cristiano Bloody Ronaldo (CBR) isn’t singing his either. Perhaps he really does think it’s about him. Spain’s David Villa looks like an amalgam of the male lead characters in Friends. Replays of his goal celebration against Chile show that he’s more balance and mobile running backwards at speed than any of the England squad. And we can see how he gets into position so quickly to fire in a couple of early shots because of something the American pundit said in the studio. A pundit enhancing the audience’s appreciation of the game? It’ll never work. Andy Townsend would be out of a job tomorrow and then where would we be?
Portugal withstand Spain’s early pressure and are soon showing up Carlos Puyol for the has-been he… er… has been for some years now. As he makes a horlicks of a defensive header, Pearce and Lawrenson debate who the main weakness is in the Spanish back line but only appear to be considering Pique (Pique!), Capdevila and Spain’s Robert Green, Iker Casillas. Puyol is getting away with it every bit as much as their old goalkeeper Zubizarreta, who wasn’t retired until he threw one in the net in the 1998 World Cup finals. And Portugal are allowing it to happen by being so “conservative” – a euphemism for “boring and clueless.” As one long punt sails over centre-forward Hugo Almeida’s head, Lawrenson declares “that’s why he’s in the team,” which sort of makes sense – I can’t come up with a better reason. CBR misfires another free-kick which Pearce describes as “by his own high standards rather tame.” But it’s rather tame by Frank Lampard’s standards.
However, like Lampard, CBR eventually gets one right and Casillas is temporarily in Jack Douglas-mode (ask your parents) as he spoons it away. He’d previously palmed a Tiago shot up in the air and although he survived being dumped into the net by Hugo Heskey, you begin to see why Real Madrid came second last year. Pearce tells us that Spain are the first team since Hungary in 1986 not to have a player booked in the group stages. It’s a dip into Motty territory but is relevant because no booked player is now going to miss a quarter-final, after which all bookings are wiped off anyway. Lawrenson is non-plussed: “What have you been doing all day?” His job, Lawrenson. You should try it sometime. Moments later, after the ageing Puyol “makes the most” of a foul, Lawrenson asks: “What’s the Spanish for Bafta…is it Bafto?” So that’s who writes Stan Boardman’s jokes.
Portugal are playing like Jose Mourinho is already their manager, but they’ve become more dangerous as the game goes on. And the lads back in the BBC studio are calling it “intriguing” without a hint of euphemism (yes, it was Seedorf, Klinsmann and a galvanised Hansen all along…what…you knew?…oh…). Klinsmann goes all-American, criticising Spain for their number of “turnovers” and saying “soccer” twice, although having the good grace to correct himself each time.
The second half is more intriguing still. Hopeless Hugo finds a burst of pace from out of nowhere and Casillas thinks his deflected cross – off Puyol’s creaking knee – is going in. Knackered after all that darting run, Hughie is subbed moments later. Lawrenson thinks he’s done all right and he’s convinced Portugal won’t score because they haven’t got a big lad up front – worth remembering when Lawrenson jumps on the “Sack Capello” bandwagon.
Torres is taken off and Spain improve. Again. Funny, that. His replacement, Fernando Llorente, is “a big lad up front.” But Torres “would have scored” the header Llorente misses within moments of coming on. It is a more difficult chance than suggested – Llorente is at full stretch and Portuguese keeper Eduardo saves it. But there’s no time to ponder this as Villa curls one just wide before a trademark tight passing move on the edge of the Portuguese box gives him space to fire a left-foot shot at Eduardo. The keeper, as per, saves it (for a team playing “blanket defence” Portugal do leave him exposed rather a lot). But Villa, with his afore-mentioned balance and mobility, right-foots home the rebound. And “attacking football has won” (Hansen). If Martin Keown had been commentating, he’d be suggesting that “Premiership managers” should “have a look” at Villa. If Villa shows this form for Barcelona, Real Madrid are coming second again… and again… and…
There’s more Eduardo saves – it’s him or the unlikely Richard Kingson of Ghana for keeper of the tournament at this rate. Portugal’s Ricardo Costa waves an arm at Capdevila and gets sent-off (Seedorf: “he was sent-off for the intention”) and CBR pings one wide, to louder-than-vuvuzela booing from the crowd. Klinsmann catches the BBC punditry disease before the end, insisting that Germany “have not been a goal down” in this tournament yet. But this doesn’t spoil a fine night. Good football, intriguing or skilful, the right result, and informative, listenable punditry. It certainly didn’t sound like one of ours.