Wednesday 17 January 2018

Euro 2012 TV Watch: Um...aren’t Croatia just better at football than us?

Ireland fans sit dejected in the stands after their teams defeat to Croatia
Ireland fans sit dejected in the stands after their teams defeat to Croatia

Chris Lowry

LAST night's game was broadcast on at least three channels (a fourth if you include radio commentary, and a fifth if you count live text feeds) but on none of them did I hear what, surely, most needed to be said.

The statement in question is a simple one but I've only ever heard it once, after a completely different game, when Croatia beat England at Wembley in 2007. On that occasion there were countless theories about why the home team were outclassed, ranging from the ineptitude of manager Steve McLaren to the number of foreign players in the Premiership, but it was left to a non-sports journalist - BBC politics correspondent Peter Allen - to get to the heart of the matter.

"Um ... aren't Croatia just better at football than us?"

That was the verdict that everyone seemed to want to deliver about the match in Poznan but no one could quite bring themselves to say out loud.

Instead, media pundits used circumlocutions like, "Croatia were the stronger team on the night," as if on another night things might be different.

Of course, if the blunt truth had been spoken it would have left no room for further analysis, and then there would have been nothing for Giles, Brady and Dunphy to talk about on RTE.

Fortunately, the trio had plenty to talk about. After the game they spoke for at least 20 minutes, often at the same time, rarely pausing for a breath let alone a commercial break. I for one think that's a good thing.

Compare and contrast with ITV, where they packed in an enormous ad break, followed by replays of the key incidents, interviews with the players, the analysis of Roy Keane and others, and of course the obligatory "word from the England camp" - all in the time it took John Giles to finish one straggling sentence.

Giles was, by his own admission, "long winded" but that's infinitely preferable to ITV's attitude, which seems to be: "Football is a game of two halves, but if we had our way it would be a game of ten tenths, between each of which we would sell as much advertising as we could.

Since we haven't yet persuaded FIFA to adopt this structure, we must compensate by cutting analysis to the quick and replacing it with ads for Coors Light."

In fairness to ITV, they were more pro-Ireland than we have any right to expect, as indeed were the BBC, who broadcast highlights later.

Peter Drury, ITV's match commentator, went absolutely bananas (in a good way) when St Ledger scored. Meanwhile, there was only person on any channel who noted that St Ledger's goal came from a free kick won by a Kevin Doyle dive, and that was the BBC's Mark Bright - but he seemed to think this was a good thing, noting that Doyle had "done well".

RTE still beat all comers, however. Apart from the misguided decision to turn their studio green (and not even a particularly attractive green - the studio looked like a Murray mint that someone had spat out in disgust), their coverage was streets ahead. As well as the time and space they invariably give to post-match analysis - allowing the pundits if need be to descend into embittered rants (often directed at one another, as Brady and Dunphy seemed on the verge of doing last

night) - the pre-match build-up is more substantial and less gimicky than their rivals'.

Their trump card at present is their access to Trapattoni, whose every interview is a linguistic goldmine. So let's hope we get to find out if the Trap is right when he says that the key is to survive the group stages, because "after can happen everything".

BEST MOMENT: Michael D's celebration when Ireland scored. Who knew the poetry-loving, professional Irish person had such a genuine love for football? Here, clearly, is a President who doesn't regard soccer as a foreign game.

WORST MOMENT: Croatia's manager, Slaven Bilic. I don't like the cut of his jib. During his team's national anthem he put his hand on his heart but managed to look like he was reaching inside his jacket for a semi-automatic. Some of us haven't forgotten the play acting he used to get Laurant Blanc banned from the 1998 World Cup Final.

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