Sport on TV: Commentators fluff their lines as Barcelona tear up the script

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The Independent Online

ITV1 kicked off what they are breathlessly billing as "A Week of Finals" with the Champions' League on Wednesday, followed by yesterday's FA Cup final and last night's 'Britain's Got Talent' climax, if that's the right word to use for a contest which has starred the famously celibate Susan Boyle.

Was their coverage of the encounter between Manchester United and Barcelona a triumph? Depends which way you look at it. Certainly the audience figures, which peaked at 10.3 million, attracting 39 per cent of viewers on terrestrial television, will have delighted ITV. And ad revenue of £8 million will also have been welcomed by the cash-strapped channel.

But there's a slightly unconvincing air about ITV's football coverage these days. Tuesday's preview, presented by Jim Rosenthal, set out the stall for the live action well enough, but on the day the commentary team of Clive Tyldesley and David Pleat, backed up by analysts Andy Townsend and Teddy Sheringham, struggled to pick up the ball and run with it with the same aplomb.

Whereas Rosenthal gently guyed the "city of gladiators" clichés that are always a temptation when covering any big sporting event in Rome, Tyld-esley had no such inhibitions at the Stadio Olimpico: "We're a few kilometres out of town from the Colosseum, but there's something rather gladiatorial about this moment," he announced; you could almost imagine him in a toga.

"It could be a really special night; if we get an early goal it could be sensational," said Townsend. "My gut feeling is United – I think they will squeeze it 2-1." Sheringham nodded sagely, before adding: "I think there will be more goals, I really do."

United's bright opening seemed to bear this out, but then Samuel Eto'o's goal for Barça left the ITV team bemused. "Big games are like a big film... players are actors," United legend turned movie star Eric Cantona pronounced while plugging his latest picture, 'Finding Eric'. Tyldes-ley and Co couldn't understand why this big game wasn't going according to the script.

At half-time they seemed in as much disarray as United. Sheringham, never the most articulate of men, spluttered while watching a replay of Eto'o scoring: "Don't give him a half-chance... it's not even a half-chance... look, there's his half-chance". The others fell back on the tried, tested and trite: "If the Spanish get a second, then it's a mountain to climb" (Townsend); and "Edwin van der Sar, 38 years young" (Tyldesley).

By the end the rout was complete, on and off the pitch. All that was left was to conduct gloomy interviews with the losing Manchester contingent and creep away, leaving the Barça boys to celebrate. Someone quoted Sir Alex's phrase: "Football... bloody hell." It was for United and the commentary team, if not for ITV's bean-counters.