Brian Viner: Motty and Beeb on hand to see us through familiar drama

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The Independent Online

England fans had seen it all before. We'd seen David Beckham skying a penalty before, we'd even seen a disallowed Sol Campbell header before, against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup. Not to mention a Rui Costa belter.

England fans had seen it all before. We'd seen David Beckham skying a penalty before, we'd even seen a disallowed Sol Campbell header before, against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup. Not to mention a Rui Costa belter.

If a television drama department had produced last night's match, they'd be lambasted for recycling old scripts.

But for the BBC it was like the good old days. Not the good old days with the annoyingly alliterative Leonard Sachs, obviously, which was something else entirely. But the good old days when they had all the best sport. Last night, as Emmerdale gave way to The Bill on ITV1, the BBC offered a choice between a thrilling England-Portugal quarter-final and an equally thrilling Wimbledon Centre Court encounter between Venus Williams and the Croatian Karolina Sprem, who improved Croatia's week no end by knocking out the former champ.

Conveniently, not to mention sensationally, Sprem overcame Williams just in time for kick-off at Lisbon's Estadio da Luz. And just in time for kick-off meant just in time for the opening goal, although I confess to a mild twinge of disappointment on realising that Michael Owen scored after two minutes and 24 seconds rather than Wayne Rooney, who at that point could reasonably have expected to be made Poet Laureate, President of the Board of Trade and England cricket captain.

With the considerable benefit of hindsight, it seems inevitable that the fortunes of Owen would sooner or later improve while Rooney's would go pear-shaped. But it was not the 18-year-old's ankle that anyone wanted to go pear-shaped. Perversely, Peter Reid, who has turned stating the bleeding obvious into an art form, for once missed the obvious.

"He's turned his ankle, I didn't notice that," he said at half-time, studying the replay. He was the 14,725,469th person in the country to notice.

There were problems too in the BBC's commentary box, where Joe Royle was repeatedly succumbing to Atkinson's Law, which decrees that anything said by the co-commentator will immediately be contradicted by events. In Royle's case it was the observation that Gary Neville is a commanding header of the ball. Seconds later Neville went for a simple defensive header and the ball pinged violently backwards. Briefly, he looked like a man with a large threepenny bit where his head should have been.

It's normally John Motson who tempts fate like a seductress tempting a drunk, but last night it was Royle's turn. When early in the second half he said dismissively that there had been "three shots over the bar by the once-great Figo" it seemed like only a matter of time before Figo put the ball into the back of the England net. Instead it was his replacement, Helda Postiga.

As for Motty, he did not disappoint. He rarely does. I timed his first "nothing's being taken for granted" at 15 minutes and 42 seconds. He then told us that if Steven Gerrard got another yellow card in the semi-final he would miss the final. When England fail to entertain - and last night they were about as entertaining as Joe Pasquale - there's always Motty.

"The grocer from Zurich didn't balance the scales for England there," he said of the Swiss referee. And better still, "there are centre-halves, there's giants and there's Sol Campbell." A piece of lyricism worthy of the greatest wordsmiths in the land. Barry Davies even.

Of course, entertainment is not always what is required from the commentator, nor even from the pundits, not that anyone has told Ian Wright.

Thank heavens for Gary Lineker and Alan Hansen, twin beacons of sanity in a maelstrom of nonsense. If there is an upside to England's agonising exit after yet more penalties, it is that Wright might now be able to restrain himself.

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