Review: BBC Match of the Day World Cup 2014 Draw (Friday, BBC2)
ITV produced a series of Euro 2012 trailers in which history is re-written and England are seen winning every single match and tournament they enter. No one misses a spot-kick, goalkeepers make magnificent saves and every player who gets a sniff in the penalty area converts the chance clinically.
It was inspired stuff but horrific, the ultimate nightmare for any English football lover. It leaves no room for hope, ecstasy, despair and all those other vital human emotions.
Everybody now knows that England are the best team for ever and ever. There is no longer any place for the prayers that this might finally be our year.
It reminded me of a scene from Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene. A priest dreams that the angels come down and rescue Christ from the cross, seen by a multitude. The priest wakes up in torment. Everybody now knows that Jesus is the son of God. There is no longer any place for the faith which sustains Christianity.
The BBC Match of the Day World Cup Draw didn’t play with our head in this way. Quite the opposite, because the programme makers put together some clips of recent England failures. It was all rather low-key, in keeping with our limited expectations for England.
We also saw some great moments from the past revealing why we love Brazil and their superbly gifted football teams. They didn’t feature the reasons that some of us don’t always like them so much, such as the nation’s absolute and unhealthy obsession with football, and the gamesmanship and brutal play when things aren’t going their way.
The ceremony and entertainment surrounding the live draw in Bahia were no doubt preposterous, the sort of thing that used to have Clive James licking his lips when he reviewed the Eurovision Song Contest. But we only saw the draw itself so we were spared the finer details.
After that we cut back to Gary Lineker and a discussion of England’s prospects with Everton boss Roberto Martinez and Alan Shearer, and we also got reactions to the draw from around the world.
No one (unlike me) was crass enough to make any comment about the woman with the peculiar boobs, no doubt Sepp Blatter-approved, who was helping with the draw.
For the most part, the programme was in the best possible taste. There wasn’t too much of that ghastly slavering over superstars (of the Portugal equals Ronaldo, Argentina equal Messi variety) that sometimes mars these events.
Mind you, Alan Shearer, after picking a possible England XI for the first match, couldn’t resist bigging up Wayne Rooney. Shearer, I fear, would do well to remember David Niven’s words about Errol Flynn: “You could always rely on Errol to let you down.”
For Rooney, Brazil 2014 is his final opportunity to prove that he really is England’s best footballer since Bobby Charlton, someone who can cut it on the biggest stage of all.
Perhaps the ghost of Nelson Mandela, who had died the previous day, hung over the programme and kept inappropriate naffness at bay.
England manager Roy Hodgson, interviewed after the draw, spoke sensibly when asked about his brief meeting with Mandela at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Hodgson is an intelligent and thoroughly decent man.
Let’s hope that the run of the ball and a bit of (for once) over- rather than under-achievement by some ordinary players propels England to a respectable last-eight position.
England’s nightmare scenario
I do, however, have a nightmare scenario which might just trouble Hodgson, if he stops to think about it: England lose in Manaus to Italy, then draw with Uruguay. Meanwhile, both the Italians and Uruguayans have beaten Costa Rica.
That would leave Italy and Uruguay in a similar situation to West Germany and Austria in 1982. They played out a 1-0 German victory in the notorious Anschluss match, a score which suited both countries at the expense of Algeria.
If the final round of group games in Brazil started with Italy on six points, Uruguay four and England one, the Italians (already through and therefore able to take it easy) and the Uruguayans could settle for a draw knowing that they would both qualify and England could not catch up. You heard it here first.
So, England must get a draw from the first match. If Costa Rica could nick a point from Uruguay (it’s not out of the question), so much the better.
For me, the World Cup remains a triumph of hope over expectations. The four-yearly Euros usually make for a better tournament.
The last one, won by title defenders and World Cup holders Spain, was a cracker. There are fewer weak teams in the Euros (though that might change in France in 2016 with 24 sides rather than 16) and standards of refereeing are far higher.
Still, for us event snobs, the World Cup remains the big one. Despite all my reservations, I can’t wait.
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