Stan Hey: 'Dracula' has a cross to bear as he uses any excuse to penalise lads

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The Independent Online

"This is a chance to create history," Alan Hansen intoned, as the countdown to the big match began - so no pressure on the England team, then; nor, by association, the BBC coverage of the match. But pressure there was, right from the start - firstly in the form of a Hargreaves v Carrick debate, won hands down on the panel's verdict by Carrick, who, of course, hadn't been picked by Sven.

Then Eriksson himself was quizzed by the Noam Chomsky of football, Garth Crooks, so abstract are his questions. Nothing new was gleaned from the soon-to-be-retiring coach. "Could this be your last game?" Crooks asked belligerently. "I hope not, I don't think so," Sven hedged, counting down the days until he'll never have to be interviewed by Crooks ever again.

Presenter Gary Lineker had appeared earlier in a lunchtime briefing and looked to be bare-chested but, on closer inspection, he'd donned an orange polo shirt to match his tan. By the time of the main broadcast he'd changed into a white pin-striped number - he, like the whole nation, was sweating cobs in anxiety.

The mood of the panel was indeed anxious, uncertain, almost clutching at omens, unnerving the viewers at home. Only Ian Wright seemed confident of victory - "We have nothing to be frightened of" - and this must have unnerved viewers even more, given Wright's capacity for aimless optimism.

As the Big Fill continued, Big Phil of Portugal was featured, and seemed very far from being the wild beast of the touchline, politely saying how "honoured" he'd been by the offer of the England job but that the timing wasn't right - maybe it will be after three or four games of Steve McClaren's reign? Surprisingly, there was a show of optimism from Lawro, pictured beside a bespectacled Motty. "England will win," Lawro assured us, but back in the box both Lineker and Hansen reported "churning stomachs", or Beckham's Syndrome as it is now known.

But after a shapeless start the patterns of the game started to appear - Figo was going to fall over whenever touched and Lampard would pass to a maroon shirt rather than a white one at every opportunity. Portugal were certainly missing Deco, and from the height of their passes, England were missing Crouch. "Nervy," Motty concluded, although "messy" would have been more apt. The rare sight of Sven on the touchline spoke volumes about England's malfunctioning system, and viewers must have been shouting "4-4-2!" at their sets.

"Well, that was pretty poor," Lineker said at half-time. "There's no spark," Shearer moaned, before adding "aimless" to the list of discontent. More support for Rooney and the recruitment of Carrick were the two demands, but there were no substitutions for the second half - not until Beckham limped off, that is, and the electric Lennon came on. "Get the ball to him!" Lawro urged.

But the optimism ended with Rooney's red card, and Eriksson's selection process was laid threadbare. "It's gone horribly wrong on the surface," Motty said in a statement of the bleedin' obvious. "Got to play for penalties now," Lawro suggested, gloomily, donning his black cloak.

The expected coup de grâce from Portugal didn't materialise as England summoned dogged defiance, and even started to create chances. Indeed, with the Great Escape theme welling up from the England fans, there was grim hope in the commentators' voices. "It's a hanging on for an extra-time situation now," Motty concluded.

"I'm not sure my heart could stand another half-hour of this," Motty added as extra time was signaled. As England fans went to empty their bladders and light candles of hope, you couldn't help thinking how the Brazilian and French teams would be reacting - their sides splitting with laughter in all probability. Extra time was a war of attrition, with England shading it. "Keep going, stay on your feet," Lawro suggested. England obliged, heroically. But the spectre of a penalty shoot-out loomed and I couldn't watch any more.

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