Super Mario abandons the ridiculous for the sublime
VIEW FROM THE COUCH:RIGHT THEN, Germany v Italy. “An irresistible force versus an immovable object,” as Gary Lineker put it, the nations not entirely unfamiliar with occasions such as this.
And, impressively enough, the BBC had hired Jurgen Klinsmann and Gianluca Vialli for the night (with Alan Shearer playing in a deeper role behind the front two), which lent the pre-match shebang a sizeable dose of informed and fascinating banter.
There was only one potential hiccup along the way when Gianluca reminisced about German sides of old – “They were like tanks, they came forward all the time” – prompting Gary and Al to study their shoelaces, while Jurgen just sported that stoic look of his, but other than that, it was tremendously good stuff.
Gianluca credited Jurgen with the de-Panzerising of Germany during his spell as manager, Jurgen describing how he changed the team’s philosophy for the 2006 World Cup, partly influenced by the inclusion of players of a different “mentality”, sons of immigrants to the country.
At this point you half hoped the match would be delayed for an hour by a severe thunderstorm; Euro 2012 chat of this class has been a rare enough treat.
Speaking of the sons of immigrants: Mario Balotelli.
“We’re a bit harsh on him in Italy because we forget he’s still a boy, he’s only 21,” said Gianluca, but over on RTÉ John Giles was decidedly less forgiving. “I don’t trust Balotelli, or the likes of Balotelli,” he said, declaring he was tipping Germany because Cesare Prandelli had been bonkers enough to include the fella in his starting line-up.
Giles then moved on to analyse the wonder that is Andrea Pirlo, a footballer for whom he has a bit of time, and when he was done Bill O'Herlihy chuckled and asked him to “go from the sublime to the ridiculous: Balotelli”.
You could see it coming, couldn’t ya? “There’s a great quote from him,” said Lineker. “He said: ‘I don’t celebrate my goals because it’s my job; postmen don’t celebrate when they deliver letters’.”
Nineteen minutes in, Guy Mowbray: “Balotelliiiiiiiiiiiiii!” And he – Mario, not Guy – ripped off his shirt in a delightfully celebratory fashion like a postman who’d completed his round half a day early, despite pitbulls gnawing his ankles along the way.
“Pirlo, Chiellini, Cassano, Mario,” said Guy, summing up the move succinctly. “Great ball in, finished by Mario, of all people,” said Mark Lawrenson, who, until then, didn’t trust Balotelli, or the likes of Balotelli, either.
Not long after. “Crikey, O’Reilly,” said Lawro, when Mario only went and did it again. Boom. .
“Well, who would have believed it – Italy two up, Balotelli the hero of the hour, I’m shocked,” said Bill, but not half as shocked as Gilesie, whose head was aching from the first-half scratching.
“He’s not my favourite player . . . but he has taken his goals extremely well,” he really had no choice but to concede.
Back on the Beeb Alan was a little more enthusiastic: “The four of us have been sat here going berserk about Balotelli, his performance has been sensational!” All concerned nodded. “And if I’d a body like that I’d take my shirt off too!” More nods.
“Who said trying to score goals is like trying to get ketchup out of the bottle?” asked Gianluca. All concerned looked at him blankly.
“You keep hitting and nothing comes out, and then all of a sudden you score twice.” (This is when you know you need to get out more: it was Real Madrid’s Gonzalo Higuain on the advice given to him by Ruud van Nistelrooy, based on his five years in Manchester eating chips smothered in tomato sauce : “He told me that goals are like ketchup. Sometimes, as much as you try, they don’t come out, and then they come all of a sudden.“)
Pirlo? “He’s run midfield with a cigar,” swooned Liam Brady. Gianluca likened him to a quarterback, “dropping deep and looking for movement before passing”.
Nice. He’d already told us his “heart beats at 35-beats-per- minute – he’s as cool as a cucumber”, so we shouldn’t have been surprised that he was taking it all in his chilled-out stride.
And the cucumber kept on puffing his cigar in the second half, only coughing briefly when Mesut Ozil scored that penalty, but other than that, he was smokin’. A bit like Mario.
So, an Italy v Spain final. In hindsight, then, it was true: we were in the group of ‘you’re having a laugh?’, if not quite death. We might not have delivered the letters, but Crikey, O’Reilly, they were mighty pitbulls we were up against.