World Cup on TV / Weatherbeaten heroes, and a Law unto himself

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The Independent Online
'THE Mexicans didn't beat us,' said Jack Charlton on Friday, 'the weather beat us.' Which means the weather goes straight to the top of Group E and looks certain to qualify for the second stage. In fact, many now fancy the weather to go the whole way and take the trophy, in a possible Brazil v the weather final.

What went wrong for the Irish out there in the midday sun? Perhaps it was Charlton's fault for worrying so intensely about keeping his team refreshed. All last week, the talk coming from the Irish camp was more about passing fluids than fluid passing. And it can't be easy concentrating when your manager is pelting you with water-filled condoms.

Or perhaps, like Ron Atkinson, we should blame Campos, the luridly dressed Mexican goalie. 'Why the hell couldn't that goalkeeper have stayed home making shirts?' Ron said, throwing off the cardigan of impartiality in order to remain perky in the Orlando heat.

It was hot, too, in the Pontiac Silverdome last Saturday, but John Motson wasn't complaining - not with that Silverdome roof to talk about and a pitch remarkably transformed from astro to turf. 'Quite a revolutionary design, which has been developed by Michigan University partly.' So what if the US's draw with Switzerland was quiet; this was, as Motson said, 'a match that has already made history for the stadium and the way the grass was laid'.

Then he was off to San Francisco to see the entrance into the competition of the glamorous Brazilians; as it were, Mad Mots II: Beyond Silverdome. Here there was much to wallow in, from the skill of Romario - 'very much a law unto himself' - to the arrival of the emergency vehicle, which looked like the fire engine from Trumpton. It took Motty a while to come up with the exact phrase for this one: 'the first player to be carried off on the . . . medical cart.' 'Some grounds seem to have a medical cart,' observed Trevor Brooking, 'and some a sort of . . . manual stretcher.' As opposed, presumably, to the traditional 'foot- held' stretcher you see so much of.

What's so amiable about Motson and Brooking is they are clearly having fun. Contrast Alan Parry over on ITV. It will take Parry, and us, a long time to live down those remarks last week on the South Koreans (briefly: in Parry's diplomatic assessment, they're short and they all look the same). This week, shortly after being insultingly patronising to Americans ('they may not understand what they're watching, but they're enthusiastic anyway'), he reached a new level of sulkiness and proposed a ban on the Mexican wave. 'I don't want to be a spoilsport, but . . . it's very distracting.' Silence, please. Mr Parry is thinking.

Back in the studios, everyone's talking organisation. Ordinarily you'd have to subscribe to a particularly kinky cable service to hear this much about discipline. Alan Hansen fancied Norway ('disciplined; they're organised') but faulted Cameroon for a 'lack of organisation'. Over on ITV, Don Howe spotted 'high individual ability, but they haven't got team discipline yet'. He was talking about the entire African nation. Howe appears nightly in an unfortunate collision of garish lighting and sunburn. He is, in effect, Pinky to Atkinson's perky.

Beside Howe is Denis Law. Denis Law is like . . . well, actually Denis Law isn't like anything. In fact, he's very much a Denis Law unto himself. A typically informative exchange with Law goes something like this. Matthew Lorenzo: 'An important game for the Argentinians, Denis.' Law (sucking in cheeks, leaning into desk): 'Very important game for them, oh yes. You can't underestimate the importance to the Argentinians of this game. They'll be going into this one, well aware of its importance, as games go, importance- wise . . .' And so on, until a commercial break interrupts his flow. This is worse than money for old rope. This is money for no rope.

There's a small skirmish developing on both channels over the pronunciation of 'Rincon', who plays for Colombia. Most go solidly for 'Rink-on' which makes him sound like an indigestion tablet. The Wimbledon striker Justin Fashanu on the BBC, though, opts for the more parochial 'Runcorn', which may be part of his larger plan to relate everything he sees to England. Everybody is doing this - celebrating the presence of any English club players, any linesmen, even the spare referee at one point - but Fashanu upped the stakes when he professed amazement that Sweden hadn't picked Anders Limpar, given that Limpar had treated the Dons to a hard time last season at Selhurst Park . . .

Obviously there's a general feeling that this richly foreign currency needs converting into pounds, shillings and pence. This is perhaps to miss the prevailing sitting-room mood. I would hazard a guess that for the vast majority of viewers, the particular glory of the World Cup is that it doesn't take place at Selhurst Park and it doesn't feature Wimbledon. Either the football team, or the tennis tournament.