As England mourns Rio, Portugal grieves for Nani and the Ivory Coast frets over Drogba, so ITV is assessing the damage done to one of its star performers after he was painfully brought down in what was expected to be a friendly pre-tournament warm-up.
James Corden, hired to present World Cup Live on ITV1 and ITV4, was the target of a robust challenge by the veteran actor Sir Patrick Stewart at Glamour magazine's annual awards ceremony on Tuesday night. Like Wayne Rooney at Germany 2006 and David Beckham at France 1998, Corden retaliated to Stewart's verbal provocation. The chubby comedian's credibility may not recover in time for today's opening games.
It means the commercial network is relying on its end-of-season signing Adrian Chiles, who will lead its line-up against his old team-mates at the BBC, in what promises to be an unusually close contest between the bitterest rivals in football broadcasting.
Chiles will kick off this afternoon, presenting the host nation's game with Mexico. The performance of the affable Brummie, widely seen as the football presenter with the greatest affinity with the terraces, will be critical to ITV's success. "That could be the trump card," said Louis Massarella, features editor of Four Four Two magazine.
Andy Lyons, editor of When Saturday Comes, said the commercial broadcaster was hamstrung by the necessity of advertising breaks. "They've got no time to build any conversation, it only lends itself to sound bites," he said. Which is why in his view the ITV team, built around the "earnest tactics guy" Andy Townsend and the "sober" former Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate, is not ideal.
ITV's football coverage has been widely derided by fans in the past and consistently outperformed by the BBC in international tournaments. For this World Cup, it has hired foreign stars Marcel Desailly, Patrick Vieira and Edgar Davids, and the former England manager and striker Kevin Keegan, though Lyons thought Keegan "terrible" as a co-commentator.
While GMTV has entrusted its World Cup coverage to "model and TV personality" Danielle Lineker, the BBC's output will be led by her husband Gary, the goal machine of Italy 1990. Alongside him will be his Match of the Day colleagues Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer. Lyons is unconvinced by Hansen. "He started to believe his own publicity. Now he will just reel off a string of adjectives... leaving the viewer to assemble a sentence out of what he has said." Hansen's former Liverpool team-mate Mark Lawrenson will have a co-commentary role. "His little jokes are mostly quite clumsy," said Lyons. "If he's just talking about the football he's OK but he feels he has to do his 'Lawro' thing."
Chiles will miss working with his old Match of the Day 2 companion and Independent columnist Lee Dixon, another member of the BBC team. "I read the game very badly. When Lee Dixon tells me what's been going on it's like the fog clears," Chiles once told this newspaper. "Lee says I'm his 'idiotometer' because if he can explain something to me he knows he's getting to the audience."
Massarella said the BBC would miss previous pundits Martin O'Neill and Gordon Strachan, but the corporation had "acted quickly" in hiring the Fulham manager, Roy Hodgson, and Spurs boss Harry Redknapp. It has also signed up World Cup veterans Jurgen Klinsmann and Clarence Seedorf and the former African Footballer of the Year Emmanuel Adebayor.
Both channels are trumpeting their gadgetry, but not everyone is impressed. "It's far too over the top, the analysis and the sofa wars," said Mike Berry, founder of Backpass, a retro football magazine. Berry looks back to ITV's World Cup coverage of 1970, when pioneering pundits Malcolm Allison and Derek Dougan locked horns. "It was groundbreaking then to even have a panel," said Berry. "I think we've overdone it now."Reuse content