Sunday 17 December 2017

Euro 2012 TV Watch: I’ll stick with RTE for the final but they need to up their game after superb BBC substitutions

Italy's Mario Balotelli celebrates his goal against Germany. Photo: Reuters
Italy's Mario Balotelli celebrates his goal against Germany. Photo: Reuters


TO paraphrase the words of 1980s electronica legends The Art of Noise, "Oh to be in front of the TV, in the summertime, watching Euro 2012".

This tournament has been sporting bliss, and although in some ways I envy those who made the pilgrimage to Poznan, surely the best place to watch it has been in front of the box.

The modern age offers the sedentary soccer fan such a cornucopia of viewing options that it's a miracle we ever get off the sofa.

Like all the games in this tournament, Germany vs Italy was shown live on two channels with highlights on a third and commentary and/or updates on at least two radio stations.

If that wasn't enough, there was the Twitter feed, where the public offered predictions of wildly varying accuracy. At one end of the spectrum there was the eerily prophetic tweet just before kick-off that "Balotelli will be like the postman tonight - he will finally deliver". At the other were frankly inexplicable claims such as the suggestion that "Italy's back four and Buffon look incredibly shaky".

And if you really wanted to overdose, you could always keep a laptop handy. This was particularly useful - or perhaps dangerous would be a better word - if, like me, you indulge in the ill-advised vice of online gambling.

There were, literally, hundreds of betting markets open on the game, with the odds flickering and shifting in real time throughout the 90 minutes. Betfair alone had taken tens of millions of euros by the time of the final whistle, proving (if it still needed proving) that the only way to make money out of gambling is to buy shares in a bookmaker.

But there were also one or two refreshingly old-tech ways to follow the game. The five-year-old next to me on the couch, for example, had on his lap neither an iPad nor an iPhone but a Panini sticker book. It was opened at the page marked "Italia".

As we near the end of the tournament, I've realised that it's invidious to compare the various ways in which one can imbibe Euro 2012. So, rather than saying which is best, I'd rather close ranks and say that they're ALL better than most other forms of entertainment available at present.

For example, I gather that Big Brother, the reality show that refuses to die, has risen again, albeit on the less accessible British station Channel 5. There is, of course, nothing real about reality TV, whereas the drama at Euro 2012 is authentic and visceral.

Take the story of Balotelli himself (number 335 in Panini). Born in Sicily to Ghanaian immigrants and taken in by an Italian family, his health problems as a toddler were so severe they nearly claimed his life. So it was immensely moving that the first person he went to share last night's triumph with was his now elderly foster mother.

It would be hard for any TV channel to fail to capture the excitement of Balotelli's and Italy's moment and, in fairness, none of them did.

Admittedly, RTE seemed at times as if they wanted to, with the panel determined to ascribe the result of the match to German inadequacy rather than Italian brilliance, but, by the end, even Eamon Dunphy seemed to have been won over to positivity.

His face lit up as he described the way Chiellini celebrated after one of his last-ditch tackles, punching the air as if he had scored a goal. (Chiellini that is, not Eamo). And all three of RTE's Punditry Trinity seemed to slough off their gloom as their thoughts turned to the mouthwatering prospect of an Italian-Spanish final.

They need to up their game, though, to compete with the BBC. Last night the Beeb gave Alan Hansen the night off and brought in supersub Juergen Klinsman and new addition Gianluca Vialli. Both were outstanding, as was pitchside pundit Martin Keown (who cut his teeth on TV3, of course). Keown looked across at the teams warming up for the game and confessed he wished he was out there - now THAT's the sort of enthusiasm RTE need.

Even ITV, despite their relentless jingoism (they were still having their regular "word from the England camp" three days after England had gone home), have unearthed some useful talent. Gordon Strachan is razor sharp, and Roberto Martinez is the analytical find of the tournament.

But if RTE could purge themselves of their complacency they would still be the team to beat. Their only major mistake is to start each panel discussion with the team news, thus nullifying their greatest strength. They should begin by asking Eamon Dunphy to set the scene, preferably with one of his unique flights of metaphysical rhetoric. Starting with the prosaic details of tactical formations (usually accompanied by a moan about the coach's decision making) doesn't have quite the same appeal.

But I'll stick with RTE for the final, if only because George Hamilton is still the best commentator on TV. He is the golden thread of this country's journey through major tournaments - he was there in Stuttgart in 1988, in Genoa in 1990, the Giants Stadium in '94 and Ibaraki in 2002.

And he was there in Donetsk last weekend, presenting not just Spain vs France but also, on the morning of the game, his very popular classical music show on Lyric FM.

Having survived heart surgery last year, he knows how to enjoy the good things in life. Such as Euro 2012.

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