World Cup TV View: It’s all gone Pete Tong as Belgium and Germany hit the decks

Gary Lineker’s attempts at Cockney rhyming slang fall flat as two football powerhouses bow out

Day 12 and the experts are falling over themselves discussing the Greenland block. Having just figured out what Stephen Kenny meant by Ireland’s problems playing against a low block, this new Greenland variant comes as a worrying turn of events.

After a dozen days of full World Cup immersion, the problem with games now being televised on the RTÉ News channel is occasionally stumbling upon non-Qatar-related content. But Day 12 proved all news shall remain dominated by the World Cup.

Thankfully the meteorologists indicate the Greenland block is unlikely to have an impact anywhere around the parish of Doha in the weeks ahead. A bit like the Belgian and German national teams, as it turns out.

Live long enough and you’ll see everything. World Cup games taking place on same day the advent calendars get prised open. Belgium and Germany, within hours of each other, both exiting the competition at the group stages. And Japan’s winning goal, that was novel, too.


For the early games, on BBC Alan Shearer had the Belgians on the runway for Brussels before kick-off against Croatia.

“They have had no energy. Unless they sort it out they are heading home,” he suggests.

Host Gary Lineker tries to inject some cockney rhyming slang to the moment when Dries Mertens appears on the screen.

“Belgium, it will be Dries Mertens for them if they don’t win...”


“Curtains,” explains Lineker.

Ah. Fiddly laughter. “You’re playing well tonight, aren’t you,” says Shearer, assertively.

That’s subjective, we think.

Lounging across the Big Brother red couch on RTÉ, Liam Brady and Shay Given are also telling us why Belgium are cooked.

“Normally you need pace at the back,” says Liam. “But when you get older you lose that yard of pace and it looks like that has caught up with Alderweireld and Vertonghen, because the forwards are running away from them.”

Given is running with Chippy on this one: “Before the tournament that was the weak point, the ageing defence, maybe the ageing team.”

Back on BBC, Lineker, a renowned anti-ageist, is excitedly telling us Roberto Martínez has reacted to criticism of their ageing team by naming the second-oldest starting 11 for a World Cup game this century.

Ronnie Whelan has seen enough in the warm-up to predict a comfortable Croatian victory.

“If warms-ups are anything to go by, these could win by a hockey score because they looked so sharp in passing, sharp in everything they did and they looked really up for this game.”

Just then the Belgians shuffle on with their walking aids.

Within seconds Croatia almost score. “I said they looked sharp in the warm-up,” says Ronnie, all delighted with himself.

Scoreless at half-time.

Shearer: “It has been what Belgium have been for the previous two games.” Old, presumably?

The second half will haunt Romelu Lukaku, whose luck here was of a man out for a stroll who tumbles into a vat of sticky honey, right below a hive of bees.

At the final whistle Lukaku is embraced by Belgian coach Thierry Henry, that great humanitarian.

Either way, that’s the drama of the day done. Straightforward Germany and Spain wins would ease us through the closing stages of Day 12.

Didi Hamann and Damien Duff hopped up on the Big Brother couch for the evening entertainment.

“I can’t see beyond a Germany win, probably two or three nil,” says Hamann. And off we went to boil the kettle.

“The impossible is happening,” screams RTÉ commentator John Kenny. Jeez, John, it’s only a mug of tea.

“Germany, would you believe it, as it stands are heading out of the World Cup,” Spplrrtttt. Wait, what now?

And off we go back to the kitchen to find something a little stronger.

“I’m speechless, John,” adds co-commentator Kenny Cunningham. Ditto, Kenny.

And for the next half-hour the permutations snap and change like bids at an auction.

Then the final whistle. And it’s all over. Belgium and Germany gone. It’s like Glastonbury losing two of its headline acts after damaging their vocal cords during pub warm-up gigs somewhere in Somerset.

“Over the three games you have to say it was shambolic the way we presented German football,” fumes Hamann.

But Duff is looking at the whole malarkey differently. “If you ever wondered why you fell in love with football I think tonight is a reminder,” he exclaims, with the air of a man who is still in love with football.

“I should listen to my own advice sometimes. For six months I have been telling anyone and everyone, my son laughs at me every day, I think Japan are dark horses and they are going to upset people. Before the game, I don’t know why I said Spain would win.”

Because, well, that is what Spain have traditionally always done against Japan. But the sands of change are blowing across this World Cup.

For some of football’s powerhouses, as Lineker might say, it’s all gone Pete Tong.

Farewell to Belgium and Germany. Home before Christmas, and before Morocco and Japan. But just in time for the Greenland block.

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times