Brian Viner: Rider plays safe hand as Tyldesley proves lone joker in the pack

'It's not as though Gabby's Alan Rough or Gary Sprake on a bad night'
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The Independent Football

"Looking at them on paper, I don't think they can beat us," said Stuart Pearce. He was talking about Sweden but it could have been the BBC. Pearcey, Big Sam, El Tel, what a line-up! Unbeatable, surely. Except that they were strangely muted.

No wry quips, no loud guffaws, no exuberance. There were times when I almost yearned for Ian Wright, that's how uncharismatic it was.

Gabby Logan would at least have provided the entertaining distraction of watching Tel trying not to look at her cleavage. But what does Steve Rider offer, apart from a safe pair of hands and Gloria Hunniford's hair?

I bet Gabby's fed up with reading that Steve has a safe pair of hands. It's not as though she's Alan Rough or Gary Sprake on a bad night. And Steve is the man responsible for the flatness in the studio. He sets the tone, he's the playmaker.

Sir Desmond would have been twinkling with Tel, bantering with Big Sam, parrying with Pearcey, and while there's not much point lamenting his absence from big televised football occasions - one might as well regret a Dan Maskell-less Wimbledon - Rider's safe, sedate presence somehow makes it unavoidable.

Still, ITV at least have a commentary-box humorist in Clive Tyldesley, who formed a kind of Morecambe and Wise partnership with Ron Atkinson, then had to re-form with David Pleat as Morecambe and Syd Little, and now has Gareth Southgate as his foil, which is like Morecambe and the Archbishop of Canterbury. I like Tyldesley's commentaries, in fact he's my pick of the crop now that Lord Barry of Davies has gone, but he's only at his best with someone to bounce off.

Undeterred, however, Tyldesley began last night in promising form. The last time England beat Sweden, he said, Abba were six years from winning the Eurovision Song Contest, Bjorn Borg was eight years away from winning Wimbledon, Ikea were 20 years away from opening their first store in Britain, and ... Ulrika was only nine months old. Cheeky. He must have hoped that the camera would settle on Sven Goran Eriksson at the mention of Ulrika, but instead it picked out Franz Beckenbauer. Those German cameramen can be terrible spoilsports.

The first-minute injury to Michael Owen took the wind out of Tyldesley's sails, as it did out of England's. But after a while he settled back into his easy stride, suggesting that with Peter Crouch as Owen's only replacement, Jermain Defoe at home must be kicking the telly. Unfortunately, he clean forgot about Theo Walcott as a striking option until a producer, I suspect, offered a reminder in his earpiece. "The other forward is Theo Walcott," added Clive, in the nick of time, "and he's got a provisional driving licence." Class.

The other advantage to watching these big games on ITV is the commercial break. The opposition might have the peerless Martin O'Neill, but ITV have the Carling ad about the best pub team in the world, and frankly I can never get enough of it, despite having to explain to my kids who the lanky old bloke called Charlton is.

As for Samsung, who hired Joe Cole to advertise their product, their board of directors must have spent the interval doing a conga following his extraordinary first-half strike. Pearcey reckoned it might end up as the goal of the tournament, and who could argue with him? Certainly not Steve Rider, who likes to keep things uncontroversial, being a safe pair of hands.