Bill puts bite in tackle

 

TV View John O'Sullivan "It's all gone red," screamed ITV commentator Peter Drury as Korea's Park Ji Sung bamboozled the Portuguese defence before slamming the ball through goalkeeper Victor Baia's legs to give his side a 1-0 victory in a sensational victory over Portugal.

Drury's reference was to the Korean fans, bedecked in red, who understandably went ballistic, but it could equally have applied to Portugal's shortcomings on an unforgettable afternoon.

Twice the red mist descended as first Joao Pinto and then Bento were dismissed, the first for an x-rated two-footed lunge that miraculously didn't break the Korean's leg like a twig. The second was relatively innocuous, Bento's departure for a second yellow card offence facilitated by the Korean's double pike and somersault before collapsing in a crumpled heap.

Pinto's foul was the only major talking point of a first half and it produced a nice little ding dong, as the Koreans might say, in the RTÉ studio. While Brian Kerr had no qualms about Pinto's departure, John Giles considered the referee's actions a little harsh. Bill O'Herlihy, just to be sure that he hadn't misheard, asked Giles whether he genuinely believed it wasn't a red-card tackle.

When Giles confirmed his stance Billo couldn't resist a little studs-up lunge of his own, albeit tongue-in-cheek. "You know what you're talking about from experience, don't ye?"

Given that the opening 45 minutes owed more to a slow waltz than a soccer match, it was welcome entertainment. Not even George Hamilton's pre-match exclusive that "Italy, France and Argentina are already gone and if Portugal were to go it would be another sensation," could raise the fare above the mundane.

After the interval, it was time for a change of tack and so to ITV we turned. Drury and the excellent David Pleat didn't disappoint. The Spurs director of football is probably the best foil for any commentator: his analysis sharp and accurate while the fact that he has done his homework is evident.

Fortunately, the quality of fare also improved, Beto's sending-off and Park's goal followed by the Portuguese budget version, due to dwindling numbers, of the Charge of the Light Brigade.

On the final whistle, coach Antonio Olivera cut a forlorn figure as he hobbled back to the dressing room on crutches, having fallen down the stairs in the hotel earlier in the week.

Drury encapsulated the result with this onomatopoeic conclusion: "From president to peasant, everyone will party tonight. Another one of the blue chip nations is gone."

Earlier in the day, Stephen Alkin presided over Belgium's 3-2 win against Russia, the conclusion to the match far better than the 70 or so minutes that preceded it. Alkin, to be fair, did his best to generate enthusiasm, suggesting that "it was a marvellous match with both sides giving everything," and describing it as a "fascinating scenario in the sultry heat of Shizouka." Not.

He did confirm though that "Russia have made two substitutes in the first half," presumably out of some old toilet rolls and double-sided sticky tape. It's amazing what they keep on the bench these days. Joking aside, Alkin's enthusiasm is far from grating and pretty much required at that hour.

Probably the most amusing aside to the coverage for the Belgium-Russia game was a shot of two fans enjoying their interval noodles. A Belgian supporter appeared absolutely plastered as he desperately tried to use chopsticks to shovel the noodles into his mouth.

Having failed with two, he then tried one before grabbing the whole lot with his hand. The observation that the Japanese man "looked like he had been using them (chopsticks) all his life," needs no further elaboration.