It was a 5-1 triumph. And that was just the BBC's battle against ITV

Saturday was a night to celebrate for England fans, but the evening also had its losers
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The Independent Online

The BBC scored a significant success over its main rival after its coverage of the historic England versus Germany football match helped it to trounce ITV yet again in the Saturday night ratings.

The game, broadcast live on Saturday evening from Munich's Olympic Stadium, was watched by an average of 12.7 million viewers over the 90 minutes, rising to 14.6 million at one stage.

The peak period began at 8.15pm, with minutes left to the final whistle, when millions more tuned in to witness Sven Goran Eriksson's side administer a 5-1 drubbing. The three-hour show, hosted by a beaming Gary Lineker, captured a 63 per cent audience share for the BBC ­ the highest peak-time proportion of viewers for any channel on a Saturday night for five years.

As the veteran commentator, John Motson, purred his appreciation of Michael Owen's hat-trick, his BBC bosses were toasting a start to the football season which not even the most optimistic among them could have forecast.

ITV may have won the battle to screen Premiership highlights in a three-year deal costing £183m, but its much-criticised early evening programme was watched by only 4.3 million in its first week on 19 August, losing out badly to BBC's The Weakest Link. The 7pm show, hosted by Des Lynam, the BBC émigré, was savaged in the media and prompted complaints from viewers demanding more football action and less time devoted to analysis and interviews. They also objected to constant interruptions for commercial breaks, which allowed for only half an hour of action in a show lasting 70 minutes.

On Saturday, with no Premiership football on offer, ITV's light entertainment schedule failed to dent the audience for the international game. It is understood that only about 2.2 million people watched a programme with the Pop Stars winners, Hear'Say. This was followed by 3.2 million for Cilla Black's Moment Of Truth and a similar figure for This Is My Moment hosted by Mel B.

The match in Munich attracted a larger audience than any other match in the current World Cup qualifying campaign. The Greece versus England qualifier, which was also on BBC, came closest with an audience of 12.3 million. Peter Salmon, the BBC's Director of Sport, said: "It is a massive vote of confidence for the BBC's football team. It just goes to show that people love to come to the BBC for the big game."

Saturday night's match featured commentary by BBC stalwarts John Motson and Trevor Brooking with analysis by Alan Hansen, Mark Lawrenson and Peter Reid.

When the BBC lost the rights to screen Premiership highlights, Greg Dyke, the BBC's Director General, said that Saturday games and the contract for FA Cup games would ensure it would retain audiences and, just as importantly, prized presenters. It is still early days, but so far he will not be displeased.

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