Liverpudlian Pele proves Roy knows his onions


VIEW FROM THE COUCH:A BIG day for England, then. And the supporters were well up for it. Sky News tracked down a pair of them in a tent on the outskirts of Donetsk and they waxed lyrical about the warmth of the reception they had received from the locals.

One of them poured scorn on Panorama’s pre-tournament ‘scaremongering’ about racism in Ukraine/Poland, “typical BBC, innit,” he said, adding that it was a bit like their warning that they’d all be murdered in South Africa if they travelled there for the 2010 World Cup. And he was still alive, so it was kind of proof they were wrong.

Anyway, he hadn’t, he reassured the Sky reporter, experienced any racism of any sort at all, and with that he applied some more Factor 50 to his pearly white skin lest he transmuted into a lobster by kick-off.

And as kick-off neared Adrian Chiles was surprisingly chipper. Before England’s opening game he’d told us “our lack of hope has become our chief source of hope,” but after a draw and a win he’d changed his tune.

“It’s all going worryingly well,” he said, “for the first time in a while we’re travelling less on hope, more in expectation.”

At that point, you’d imagine, all of England cried “noooooooooo”.

But Roy Keane did nothing to dampen Adrian’s spirits: “I can’t see England losing tonight, Ukraine are average,” he said.

So, his belief now inextinguishable, Adrian began discussing England’s opponents in the quarter-finals, Spain or Italy, and worried that they’d end up with Spain, when Italy would be a softer touch.

At that point, you’d imagine, all of Ukraine cried “yoo hooooooooo”.

“Relax yourself,” said Roy, reminding Adrian that while he was confident England could do the job, it still had to actually be done.

But: Wayne Rooney was back.

Now, granted, while Roy Hodgson didn’t actually liken Rooney to Pele in his build-up chat, he did mention the pair in the same sentence, while not, of course, wanting to put too much pressure on the Liverpudlian maestro. Which the English media didn’t want to do either, hence them toning down their headlines to modest stuff like ‘The Saviour Returns!’

“Was that, um, wise,” asked Adrian of the Pele business, but Gareth Southgate was easy about it all, reckoning Hodgson was just turning the heat up a little in the hope that, well – as Hodgson put it himself when he spoke to ITV before the game: “We hope Wayne Rooney will play like Wayne Rooney.” As opposed to, say Zlatan Ibrahimovic who couldn’t hit a barn door with . . . . oh, wait.

The key thing, said Gareth, was for England not to leave it all up to Rooney, like they had done in their opening two games. Oh, wait.

Just time for a quick discussion on team selection between Keane and Jamie Carragher. “If you were a manager, even in club football,” Carragher started, and you could only admire the fella’s courage.

Anthems time. England first. Then Ukraine’s, the climax of which was interrupted by Clive Tyldesley who called for an ad break. Respect, as the Uefa motto puts it.

And off we went, England opting largely for an ‘after you’ approach to the first half, Ukraine doing everything in the world, apart from the scoring bit.

“England are only one goal away from going out,” said Clive, offering a somewhat downbeat assessment of half number one.

Over on RTÉ they were equally unimpressed, John Giles even going so far as to suggest England were “almost as guilty” as Ireland at the art of giving the ball away. Severe.

Back on ITV Adrian had the look of a burst balloon: “we apologise that England haven’t got the job done yet, this is due to circumstances beyond our control.”

And by now the conversation had switched to how long Pele should be left on the pitch, having missed a sitter in the first half – football punditry being a fickle auld business.

And then, naturally enough, he scored. “Pyatov needs to deal with that a lot better,” said Andy ‘no s**t Sherlock’ Townsend after the goalie passed Steven Gerrard’s cross onto Rooney’s forehead.

“The bite has gone out of Ukraine,” said Andy, two minutes before they scored. But it didn’t count because, well, these things happen in football.

You know, if you’d a euro for every time goal-line technology will be discussed all over again in the coming day or two, you’d be able to purchase the Liverpudlian Pele for your club. And partner him with your other buys from the proceeds, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Xavi and Iniesta.

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