It was end-to-end stuff. First the BBC held the initiative, then ITV.
Reaching for the remote as frequently as Rafael Nadal had earlier reached for the towel, your armchair critic tried to assess who was having the better game, John Motson and Mark Lawrenson playing from left to right, or Clive Tyldesley and David Pleat playing from right to left.
There wasn't much in it, although Tyldesley unwittingly played a blinder when he mused, early doors, that "we've had an early injury, an early yellow card, it may be the kind of game that needs an early goal". Seconds later, France had a penalty, converted by Zinedine Zidane with bags of what we call "sangfroid". The World Cup final had the early goal that Tyldesley had just said it needed. He must have felt like God.
As for the deity that was Zidane until his extraordinary sending-off, he did little else in the first 45 minutes, which at half-time gave the BBC's Alan Shearer pause for thought. "He's a big player for France," said Shearer, who will also tell anyone who cares to listen that Frank Sinatra could hold a tune, and that Brigitte Bardot was a bit of a looker.
Shearer apart, however, the BBC held most of the aces in the studio. Their principal asset was Gary Lineker, who had almost as good a World Cup as he had in 1986, when he won the Golden Boot. Lineker used to strain a little too hard for the quip - almost as if he had a photograph of Des Lynam pinned up just behind the cameraman's head - but now they either come naturally or they don't.
His ITV counterpart Steve Rider did nothing wrong, either, but in a way that was his problem. He is so safe that he could endorse a brand of condoms, but he sucks away even the charisma of others. Immaculately coiffed and suited, he managed to give the half-time quizzing of Terry Venables and Ruud Gullit the air of a Sunday morning discussion programme on European common agricultural policy.
But when Venables and Gullit told him that the Italians were in the ascendancy and that France had better watch out, they were talking about football, not oilseed rape subsidies. Across on the BBC, Alan Hansen and Martin O'Neill told Lineker much the same. So in the second half, naturally, the French stormed forward and for ages Italy hardly got a look in. Football has a wonderful way of confounding the experts.
In the punditry before extra time, sitting next to Shearer for so long had plainly rubbed off on the normally sure-footed Hansen, who explained that "we'll have to wait and see what happens".
Well, yes. My wife was saying the same thing to my eight-year-old son. Meanwhile, ITV had no time for punditry, it was too busy with commercials. That isn't always a bad thing, although if I ever bump into those two Budweiser guys, I might have to do a Zidane.Reuse content