Messi ruled out for geographical reasons


TV VIEW:The first in a series of columns on television coverage of the finals

IT’S NOT quite the World Cup, we have to make do with just the one continent and 31 games over 24 days, eight of them somewhat infuriatingly on at the same time, compared to a luscious 64 in South Africa two years ago. And there’ll be no Lionel Messi, for quirky geographical reasons – which came as a shock to ESPN presenter Adnan Virk when he previewed Euro 2012 with Alexi Lalas for his American radio listeners this week: Adnan: (About Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo) “How’s the outlook looking for both those guys and their teams?”

Alexi: “Aw, well, Lionel Messi won’t be there because he’s Argentina.”

Adnan: “Right.”

Actually, it hasn’t, generally, been the happiest of build-ups to the tournament for the pundits, poor old Alan Hansen left with half a dozen scrambled eggs on his face when he picked his semi-finalists for the BBC website: Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal.

That is, of course, a more than reasonable quartet, the only problem being that Germany, the Dutch and Portuguese are all in the same group, so only two of them can progress.

Some were cruel enough to allege that Hansen hadn’t done his homework, and, perhaps, wasn’t earning his punditry bucks, although he denied this, and very kindly wished Big Jack’s Ireland all the best.

Meanwhile, Hansen’s colleague, Alan Shearer, was getting dog’s abuse for his predictions, him being the only BBC pundit to forecast that England would reach the last four. Why so confident? The Roy Hodgson factor? Danny Welbeck on fire? Harmony in the camp (well, apart from the Rio business)? Jordan “Xavi” Henderson’s late call-up? No: “Because I am English, I am patriotic and I want them to do well,” he said from his Jubilee tent outside Buckingham Palace.

Bill O’Herlihy: “John, why have you forecast that Ireland will throttle Croatia, Spain and Italy?” Giles: “Because I am Irish, Bill, I am patriotic and I want them to do well.” Na, you can’t quite see it.

Nor can you imagine Roy Keane, who’ll be on ITV duty for the tournament, letting ditzy patriotism get the better of his judgment.

His channel have two of the Republic of Ireland’s group games – the opener against Croatia and the ding-dong with Spain – so if Keane is called up for duty, as you’d imagine he will be, then don’t expect to see him sitting there wearing a leprechaun hat while waving an inflatable green, white and orange hammer.

His observations on Aiden McGeady’s performances will be of particular interest. So far, it’s 1-1 between the pair: Keane: “He doesn’t pull up trees.” McGeady: “I played with him at Celtic – and that was bad enough.”

Keane will be joined on the ITV panel by Gareth Southgate, Jamie Carragher, Patrick Vieira, Roberto Martinez and . . . wait: Patrick Vieira? One utterance of “I’ll See You Out There” and Adrian Chiles will, presumably, call security.

Over on RTÉ we have Giles, Eamon Dunphy, Liam Brady, Kenny Cunningham, Richard Sadlier and Didi Hamann, but, sadly, no Ossie “the ball was my lubber” Ardiles, this being a European thing.

Partnering George Hamilton, Peter Collins, Stephen Alkin and Ger Canning in the commentary box will be Ray Houghton, Ronnie Whelan, Trevor Steven and Brian Kerr, O’Herlihy and Darragh Maloney our hosts. And there’ll be a spot of Après Match too.

The BBC let ITV have two of England’s group games, gambling on the team advancing – so, they’ll have first pick of the quarter-finals as well as both semi-finals, none of which will feature England according to their pundits, bar Shear-rah.

So, just the 31 games over the next three weeks and a bit, with non-footballing programming deliciously interrupted until the conclusion of the final on July 1st. We’re talking a serious slice of heaven here.

Predictions? You’d have to fancy Germany, the Dutch and Spain, while not ruling out Portugal, England, Croatia and France, nor, indeed, Sweden, Italy, the Czech Republic, Russia or Ukraine, and even Greece, Poland and Denmark.

But Ireland? We’re patriotic, we want them to do well, so work those biceps Robbie: that trophy weighs a ton.

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