TV View: Fabio keeps his head when all around lose or use theirs

Cannavaro in splendid form for ITV

Pepe and Thomas Muller: not strictly a head-butt but not strictly not a head-butt either.

Pepe and Thomas Muller: not strictly a head-butt but not strictly not a head-butt either.


Day Five. A Monday. You’ve put in a weekend of frankly heroic football watching and then just when you’ve got to go back to work, you realise it’s Day Five of the World Cup. Beats any morning coffee.

Germany v Portugal to begin. But first, there are irritants to deal with. Outside, there are children playing. Happily, clappily tottering around with voices full of laughter and mirth. That just won’t do. Close the window. Also, the sun is out. Blazingly, hazingly out in the late of the evening. Won’t do either. Close the curtains.

RTÉ make it on air before ITV. Kenny Cunningham and Noel King on the couch with Tony O’Donoghue to go through the Sunday night games. Tony starts by asking Kinger for his best World Cup memory, to which Noel – in full “I’m-glad-you-asked-me-that-Tony” mode – starts to walk us through his part in Italia 90.

King it was who went around collecting the names for the penalty shoot-out against Romania away back on The Best Day Ever. “Jack told me to get the names and fill out the form,” said King. And right enough, when they cut to the footage of everyone piling on Dave O’Leary, there’s King in a tremendous business-out-front, party-out-back haircut all of 24 years ago.

“I wish I kept the sheet of paper,” he sighed, back in the present day. “You should say you were the one who picked the penalty takers,” said Cunningham. “It’d make a better story.” Tough man to impress, is Kenny.

ITV arrive on the scene a while later. Serious cast. Cannavaro. Vieira. Dixon. Chiles.

Cannavaro in form

Cannavaro is in splendid form. His English is just decent enough for him to be able to get across what he thinks but not quite good enough to knock the sharper edges off it. Philipp Lahm as a midfielder? “No. It’s a matter of quality. In Bayern, he can make always a short pass. But he has not the quality for long pass.”

When Chiles asks him if he’d ever played in midfield, it turned out he’d started life there. “But I remember the first game I ever play in defence. I was unbelievable! The coach says, ‘Are you sure you want to be a midfielder? I think you have the possibility to be very good in defence.’ ”

And with that, he spread his arms wide and broke into a six-mile wide grin that basically said, “Well? Was he right or was he right?” Good man, Fabio. We’re going to enjoy having you around.

Game time. On RTÉ, Didi is writing off the Germans, Eamo can’t see Portugal doing a whole pile. “They have Pepe, Bill,” he laments. “He’s a loose cannon.”

Ten minutes before half-time, Portugal losing 2-0. Pepe’s cannon goes off. Thomas Muller turns into Tom Daley. Pepe leans over him in a rage at the play-acting and does the whole touchy-rubby-foreheady thing. Not strictly a head-butt but not strictly not a head-butt either. Enough for a red card though.

Hard-nut persona

Half-time. Eamo is stretching every sinew not to tell us he told us so. Doesn’t quite get there. Billo has a question though. “But was it a head-butt in the real sense of a head-butt?” The two lads freeze for a minute. Plainly in fear of Billo’s newly minted hard-nut persona. Clearly wondering if the next question is whether or not they want some.

Over on ITV, it’s all kicked off. Chiles and Dixon are being very English about Muller’s part in Pepe’s downfall. Chiles is getting especially exercised about it. Shrieking, almost. Vieira is having none of it.

“But you are wrong,” he explains. “We have to be realistic here. We are all professionals.” (Subtext: All except you, Chiles. Go home and get your shinebox).

In the stadium, Andy Townsend isn’t buying it either. “Muller isn’t the villain for me. Nowhere close. Pepe has put this whole operation in jeopardy. It’s 31 degrees here and his team is 3-0 down. If I’m his team-mates, I’m going, ‘Thanks very much, mate.’”

Full-time. Muller gets a hat-trick, Germany win 4-0. Chiles, for some reason, won’t let the Muller thing go. “I was there in 1998 when Slaven Bilic got Laurent Blanc sent off and even as a Croatia supporter [Chiles’s mother is Croatian], I said Bilic was a disgrace. Did it not drive you mad?”

Vieira budges not an inch. “No! It was the referee we were angry with. Players will do whatever they can. It’s part of the game.” Sitting between them, Cannavaro just smiles.

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