Saturday, June 21, 2008

Bosphorous 1-0 Balkans

It's almost as if Michel Platini was sitting in the stand with a remote control. "Honestly", he thought to himself as he recalled the one hundred and eighteen minutes of dirge that he had found himself sitting through, "if you leave them to do it for themselves, you'll always end up with one really duff match in the end". He reached into his pocket and brought out his gold and black Sony Euro-Joystick and switched it on. Within twenty seconds, Rustu Recber had run fifteen yards from his goal after a ball that he would have needed Inspector Gadget's arms to get to, gifting Klasnic and Croatia what looked for all the world like the winning goal, from Luka Modric's cross. "Hmm", thought Platini, "if this ever becomes public knowledge, they'll make mincemeat of me. I need to do something to level things up. That way, if anyone ever finds out about this, I can always say, 'Well, at least I was even-handed about it all'. That should cover me". Barely two minutes later, in the injury time of the second period of extra time, Rustu launched a long, aimless ball into the Croatian penalty area. With military precision, Platini sent a hundred volts through the testicles of the two Croatian central defenders -the distraction providing just enough space for Semih to drive the laser-guided ball past Pletikosa and in off the underside of the crossbar. "Well, that livened things up a bit", thought Platini to himself whilst putting Euro-Joystick away, "but if Turkey win the penalty shootout, I'll probably be needing this baby again".

Thirty minutes or so into this game last, I had a very sentient thought. Rustu is a strange, strange goalkeeper, I thought to myself. He is a good enough goalkeeper to be able to win a match for you against anyone, and is capable of amazingly acrobatic saves. On the other hand, though, you just know that, somewhere along the line, he is going to make a horrendous mistake that is going to cost his team dear. Turkey have to win matches with the full knowledge that this may well be in spite of something that your goalkeeper may well have done. Some goalkeepers have just got that look about them, like Gabor Kiraly, that Crystal Palace goalkeeper who wore those ridiculous grey tracksuit trousers. Ray Clemence had that look. Roy Carroll's got it, too. They just look as if they are going to make some terrible, horrible, basic error. You can almost visualise their faces as they stand up half covered in mud and start shouting and gesticulating ineffectually at their defenders before putting their hands on their hips and kicking an invisible ball because that, ultimately, the only people to blame for the ball dribbling slowly through their legs or whatever was themselves, and no-one else. That's the look that Rustu has got about himself, and that's why there was no great surprise about Klasnic's goal.

It's not all about "that look", though, and Rustu's dignity was partially restored a minute into the stoppage time allowed by the referee. As Slaven Bilic protested over not being allowed to bring on a substitute (and it was difficult to have much sympathy, considering that he was, ultimately, trying to do nothing more than time-waste), Rustu launched the long, ambitious ball that led to Semih's equaliser. In the penalty shoot-out, he proved his value still further. Even from the normal camera angle (which normally make the job of scoring a penalty look much easier than it actually is under such fraught circumstances), he seemed to fill the goal, his very stature being enough to intimidate Modric and Rakitic into shooting wide of the post before he saved Petric's kick to send his country through to a semi-final against Germany that they had scarcely deserved. Turkey had seldom seriously threatened the Croatian goal over the one hundred and twenty minutes of normal time, with Croatia having had the majority of possession and the best chances, particularly in the first half, when Luka Modric's run to the touchline set up Ivica Olic, who hit the crossbar when it seemed easier to score. The rebound fell for Niko Krancjar, but the ball fell at an awkward angle for him and his header sailed harmlessly over the empty goal.

The match was commentated upon by the BBC by the ever-improving Steve Wilson. Whilst Jonathan Pearce has been earning some critical commendation for his performances at Euro 2008 so far, his voice still sounds to me like the sound of fingernails being dragged down a blackboard. Wilson, however, is starting to sound more and more like the finished article and would be my preferred option as the BBC's main man for when John Motson finally decides hang up his microphone. He did, however, sail close to the wind in almost being prodded into making a pretty fundamental mistake at the end of extra-time, when Lawrenson almost had him persuaded that they were already out of time when Turkey scored because the clock had ticked over the one minute of injury time that had been signalled by the fourth official. You'd almost think that Lawrenson never went to any football matches. Hasn't he ever heard the tannoy man announce that "the fourth official has indicated that there will be a minimum of one minute of stoppage time at the end of this match"? Considering that the fourth official had indicated a minimum of one minute of injury time at the end of the match (as per the laws of the game), the disallowing of a goal after thirty-one minutes and four seconds of extra time would have been very harsh indeed.


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