You had an awful feeling something was going to go horribly wrong when, in their two-hour build-up, BBC1 showed England's five goals in Munich not once, but three times to stoke expectation. And it so nearly did go wrong. "This is a bug, bug game," we were advised by Sky's Andy Gray. He was right, and but for David Beckham it would have turned out a bug, bug shock.
The channels offering live coverage were consumed beforehand with a galloping case of over-assumption. Richard Keys led the way on Sky: "Sven's army are on the brink of qualification and we are here to see it confirmed." Sir Bobby Charlton, wheeled out early by the Beeb, probably got it unintentionally right when he forecast: "People are ready for something really big this afternoon." Peter Reid was bullish on Match of the Day: "They'll do the business today, don't worry about it." Reid's Scouse straightforwardness made up an unusual MOTD trio, alongside the Scots erudition of Alan Hansen and Ian Wright's jollity.
For their part, Sky offered three great strikers in Michael Owen, Alan Shearer and Trevor Francis. Shearer, in whom the balding process is now virtually complete, was also over-assuming for his nation. "I can't see anything but an England victory," he said, but the modest Owen admitted that 12 months ago, he would have settled for second place in Group Nine. Perhaps it is something to do with his current concerns, but Francis was the worried one, confessing "nervousness for the players."
Perhaps it was the weight of praise, as well as expectation, but even Beckham struggled to help John Motson celebrate 30 glorious years of commentating. Hansen offered him both barrels of syrup – "a fantastic combination of class and commitment, absolutely sensational, he has come of age" – but Becks was not lacking when it came to plugging family interests, confiding that he prepared "by listening to my wife's new album, which is out on Monday. Everyone should go out and buy it."
The Greeks certainly weren't buying it, as Motty's increasingly concerned tone revealed. From the start he had enjoyed rolling the name Gelsenkirchen around his mike. While Old Trafford roared "God Save the Queen", he opined: "Just about now they will be playing the German national anthem in Gelsenkirchen." Then, after a concerned: "Greece are playing better than we expected," he reassured BBC viewers: "It's still nil-nil in Gelsenkirchen."
But when Charisteas scored for Greece, Motty, covering his 99th England match, had a soothing statistic to hand: "He is the first Greek outfield player to score a goal against England." Soon he was back to industrial Germany: "I am sure this score will have been flashed through to Gelsenkirchen. We could do with a goal from Finland. Where are you, Jari Litmanen?" Alongside him, Trevor Brooking was, as ever, knee-deep in discarded aitches as he deplored England's failure to break a Greek plate or two.
While Sven's army regrouped in the dressing room and Keys groaned, over on Sky: "It can't happen again, can it?", Hansen led the on-screen roasting party. "The England players look as if they have never seen each other. Basically they've just got to play better."
Gary Lineker offered the hope: "It can only get better." Before getting much, much worse it did, briefly, get better with Sheringham's introduction. "Incredible," said Motty. "What on earth can you say about that substitution?" Trev had something to say about it: "Ten seconds, not even that, is 'e on the pitch."
While Motty revealed it was still 0–0 in Gelsenkirchen, Greece scored again. "Gary Neville played 'im on," sighed Brooking. Time ebbed, Motty grew wistful about the "euphoria of 5–1 in Germany" until Becks saved the day. Motty confided that he and Trev had both leapt out of the commentary box as the free kick went in. "Just look at the acclaim he's gettin' " said Trev of Becks. Happy anniversary, Motty.Reuse content