Myself and Greg Johnson imagine the scenes in the ITV studios as they cover Belgium’s opening game at the 2014 World Cup against Algeria…
Adrian Chiles: Goeiendag! Hallo! Welgekomen to ITV’s coverage of the Red Devils from Belgium against the Desert Foxes of Algeria. Yes, that’s right, Belgium are in town and the golden generation is ready to take the world by storm. With me, overlooking the beauty of the Copacabana Beach are Lee Dixon, Roy Kea… sorry… Patrick Vieira and Fabio Cannavaro.
Now, now, don’t get all excited Manchester United fans. We’re not talking about you lot. This is the World Cup, and sadly you won’t be seeing your team on ITV any time soon, what with you missing out on the Champions League next year.
[Chiles looks around the studio but Dixon and Vieira are unmoved. Cannavaro smiles.]
Well, as I was saying. The Red Devils of international football are of course Belgium, who have been highly tipped to go all the way this year. What do you think, Roy?
Patrick Vieira: It’s Patrick, Adrian.
[Chiles shuffles awkwardly in his seat]
Vieira: But of course, Adrian, they are a very good team. We have seen that in the Premier League they have some outstanding talent and…
Chiles: …but Belgium? They’re so unfancied, so unfashionable. They like chocolates and truffles and tulips and bicycles don’t they? And don’t forget the windmills!
Vieira: I think maybe you’re confusing them with the Dutch a little.
Fabio Cannavaro: We have this saying about the Belgians, in Italy…
Chiles: [brusquely interjects] Sorry, we’re going to have to stop you there Fabio. Glenn Hoddle and Gordon Strachan are on the beach.
[Hoddle and Strachan chat inanely for five minutes, with Hoddle constantly repeating that Frank Lampard should start for England against Uruguay]
Chiles: Thanks to Glenn and Gordon there, Lee – what are we expecting from Belgium today? And don’t ‘waffle’ on [looks around the studio, eyebrows raised]
[Vieira coughs, Dixon lets out a forced laugh. Cannavaro smiles]
Lee Dixon: Well there’s a lot of pressure on this golden generation, Adrian…
Chiles: And we all know how well that goes! But who’s their Hercule Poirot? Who’s their Jean-Claude van Damme?
Dixon: Well we all know about Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas, but there’s a lot of Belgian talent outside of the Premier League. Dries Mertens has had a very encouraging debut season at Napoli…
Chiles: Forgive me, Lee, but isn’t he more Tintin than Poirot? Oh, no time to answer that one, I’m afraid. It’s time to join our commentary team in Belo Horizonte, Andy Townsend and first, Clive Tyldesley.
Tyldesley: Thanks, Adrian. It’s a samba kind of day here at the Estadio Mineirao, and there is a great deal of excitement at finally seeing this highly fancied Belgian side play.
Townsend: Yeah, certainly is Clive. It’s come from nowhere really, hasn’t it? Your Fellainis, your Hazards, your Kompanys, your Lukakus. Power, pace, goals. They’ve got everything, and you know what, Clive, I think they could take this World Cup by storm. Top, top national anthem too, Clive. It’s up there with your Frances and USAs.
Tyldesley: How is your Belgian, Andy?
Townsend: Well they all speak English anyway, don’t they Clive. I’ve been in and around Bruges, let me tell you. Lovely canals, lovely locals. The Venice of the North they call it, and you can’t argue with that, it’s a top, top city.
Tyldesley: And what about their opponents today, Algeria?
Townsend: Hard-working but lacking in top-top quality. I’m looking forward to seeing Faghihi of Valencia…
Tyldesley: Feghouli, Andy.
[Townsend stares out at the pitch, vacantly]
Tyldesley: …but Belgium shouldn’t take them for granted, should they?
Townsend: [splutters back into action] Certainly not, Clive. They’re a tidy side, but you’d expect the Belgians’ Premier League quality to shine through.
Tyldesley: And that’s what it comes down to isn’t it?
Townsend: [Sits back and thinks of England] Oh without doubt, Clive. It wouldn’t surprise me if the country that wins this tournament is the one with the most Premier League experience. It’s the greatest league in the world for a reason, Clive, and so many Belgians have cut their teeth there – your Fellainis, your Hazards, your Kompanys.
[The game kicks off, and three minutes later…]
Tyldesley: …Hazard, still Hazard… ball breaks. FEEELLAAAAAAINIIIIIIIIII. TONIGHT, BRUSSELS SPROUT. GONDOLAS IN BRUGES. THE RED DEVILS OF BELGIUM ROAR, A GOAL INSIDE THREE MINUTES. MAROUANE FELLAINI. WHO ELSE?
Townsend: Oh wow, Clive, what a goal that is. They’ve been getting in and around the Algerian back line all afternoon, and that is a top, top finish from Fellaini. The ‘keeper may be disappointed with that, to concede, but my word that is a great strike from the Manchester United midfielder. That’s what £28m gets you. Great start for the Belgians, and hard to see Algeria getting back into this one now, Clive. They’d rather be in the Sahara than the Amazon if it carries on like this.
[Belgium go 2-0 up on the half-hour mark]
Townsend: What a fantastic goal, Clive. Hazard’s run through the Algerian defence wasn’t exactly Murder on the Orient Express, but that is a lovely finish for me.
Tyldesley: Belgium really showing the world here that they are no mugs – they are in it to win it.
Townsend: They certainly are, Clive.
[Vincent Kompany heads home a third goal before the break]
Chiles: If you’re just joining us it’s Belgium 3-0 Algeria at half-time. Any thoughts, lads?
Cannavaro: Yes, as we say in Italy…
Chiles: [brusquely interjects] Right, well time to catch up with the England camp. Gabriel Clarke has been with the players as they visit a poverty stricken favela in downtown Rio.
[Harrowing images of Wayne Rooney consoling a malnourished Brazilian street urchin, while the voice over ponders just how hungry he really is. It’s left up to the viewers to decide whether it’s a fair comment on the Englishman’s desire to win the tournament, or a crass remark about child poverty. Cut to Chiles.]
Chiles: Some very poignant scenes there, but Patrick, come on, the World Cup’s on in his home country! If that’s not going to cheer you up, what will?
Vieira: I think you are wrong, how…
Chiles: Sorry, I’m going to have to stop you there, Roy. [Vieira swears off-camera] Er… time for the second-half.
Tyldesley: Thanks, Andy. Belgium are making a change actually, Eden Hazard is the man coming off and on comes Adnan Januzaj, with…
Townsend: [loudly interjects] Not Belgian for me Clive. He’s about as Belgian as a maraca, Clive. It’s a bloody disgrace.
[Townsend ponders the political ramifications of nationalism and identity for 10 minutes]
Tyldesley: Forgive me, Andy. But you were born in Maidstone, and played for the Republic of Ireland.
Townsend: Nah, not for me Clive. It’s completely different. You know, I had an Irish grandmother, god rest her soul, what’s Belgian about Januzaj?
Tyldesley: He was born in Brussels, Andy.
[Townsend splutters, struggling to comprehend what is being said]
Townsend: [after a long pause] Then why on earth would he have wanted to waste his time playing for Kosovo, Clive? Where even is Kosovo?
[Townsend discusses what can be learnt from 19th century nation-building]
Tyldesley: Oh and that’s a strong tackle by Kompany. Has he? Yes, it’s a free-kick. The referee is going over to the Manchester City captain and… IT’S A RED CARD
Townsend: [audibly groans] The game’s gone, Clive. Ridiculous decision. Not a red card, for me. Not even a booking, I don’t know where they think these rules up. We’ve all been there, Clive, gone in for the ball, strongly, but fairly.
[Replay shows Kompany’s studs raking down Sofiane Feghouli’s left leg]
Townsend: There’s nothing wrong with that Clive, just letting Faghihi know he’s there. We’ve all been there. No one likes to see that sort of play-acting from Faghihi, he’s ruining the spectacle.
[Feghouli draws a fine save from Thibaut Courtois from the resulting free kick]
Townsend: That’s better. They’ve got a real chance now the Africans, but everyone knows it’s harder to play against 10 men than it is 11. We’ve all been there, Clive.
[Islam Slmani heads over from the corner kick]
… You’ve got to make the goalkeeper work from there, that’s really poor. Hit the target. He’ll be disappointed with that.
Tyldesley: You’ve been in this position before of course, Andy, with a Republic of Ireland side who were regarded as, no disrespect, underdogs at Italia ’90 and in the USA in ’94.
Townsend: Yeah we certainly were, Clive. We had a great bunch of lads but we really missed out on having that valuable Premier League experience in 1990.
Tyldesley: Surely there’s more to success than Premier League experience, Andy?
[Dead air reigns]
Townsend: [after taking stock for a couple of seconds] I wouldn’t have thought so, Clive. And Algeria have very little of that. They haven’t got a chance if truth be told, just look at those Belgians. [murmurs off air about England inventing football]
[Andy Townsend talks about the Premier League for the next 10 minutes, comparing Phil Jones to Franco Baresi]
… And that, Clive, is why England will win the World Cup.
Tyldesley: Well that’s all well and good Andy, but there’s a game on here, and Algeria are right back in it, let me tell you.
Townsend: They certainly are, Clive. The commitment and desire’s not really been there from Belgium since the sending off. And that Bentaleb for the Algerians. What a player. You’ve got to credit Tim Sherwood for bringing him into the first team set up at White Hart Lane, and now look at him. Doesn’t score or run about enough for me, Clive, but he’s still a youngster.
[Bentaleb spends the next 10 minutes playing keep ball with his team mates while Vahid Halilhodzic gestures to his forwards from the touch line, demanding more pressure in the final third against the Kompany-less Belgians.]
Tyldesley: Bentaleb… Taider… to Bentaleb… to Yebda…
Townsend: These Algerians are keeping the ball well, Clive, but for me they’re not doing enough with their possession. You’re alright with your tiki taka and your formations if you’re one of the Spains, Germanys or Englands of this world, but I’m not sure about this lot.
[Having drawn the depleted Belgians out of position, Algeria’s patient passing play suddenly snaps into a quick, direct ball out to Yacine Brahimi, who loops a cross over to Sofiane Feghouli, running on free towards the far post for a smart, close-range finish. It’s 3-1]
Tyldesley: Holland, Costa Rica… this has been a World Cup of shock results and surprise comebacks. Are we about to see another one?
Townsend: Kompany’s got to do better in situations like that, Clive. He was utterly anonymous as the danger came in. I can’t even see him down there on the pitch. He’s the captain, Clive. He should be leading them back up to the kick off, making sure heads aren’t slipping. It’s his job, and…
Tyldesley: He might have a bit of problem making his presence known due to that Red Card, Andy.
Townsend: Er… [a quiet, perplexed exhale into the microphone] Er… not for me, Clive. I mean where is he on the bench? He should be out there barking orders with his manager in the dug out now. He’s a two-time Premier League winner after all, Clive.
[The game restarts and the ball is passed back to Fellaini, who sends a bit of a scrappy ball back towards his defence, with Van Buyten misconstruing the wild, leggy delivery. Islam Slimani snatches up the loose ball and squeezes his shot underneath a clearly panicked, onrushing Courtois. 3-2]
Tyldesley: Great reactions from the Algerians there, but that was a dreadful goal to concede.
Townsend: They won’t be happy with that at all, Clive. What a mess. We heard a lot about the Belgians and their country’s two languages coming into the World Cup.
[Sound of rustling paper as Townsend sifts through his haphazardly scribbled notes]
…yeah, you’ve got your Flemish speakers and the French speakers. That pass must have been lost in translation, Clive.
[Townsend coughs out a short, throaty chuckle of satisfaction at his observation. Tyldesley carries on, unaffected]
Tyldesley: A sloppy pass by the Manchester United man tips Algeria even closer towards a remarkable victory for the Group H outsiders. Can the Belgians hang on?
Townsend: Just going back to the goal, Clive, I can’t believe how poor that pass was. He completely misread it and put his defence under real pressure. And straight from conceding their first as well. You’ve got to credit Tim Sherwood for this turnaround though. Bentaleb. He’s been the heartbeat. He’s like Algeria’s Xavi or Michael Carrick.
[ITV suddenly cuts to an ad break. Across the country Algeria and Belgium sympathisers vent as Samsung’s futuristic phone commercial starring Victor Moses airs again. The screen turns black before a broken stream of choppy audio and images crackles back into view.]
Tyldesley: …the header. Once he was up there he wasn’t going to be beaten. Bougherra. It’s 3-3.
Townsend: Players like him are always a danger from set pieces, Clive. He put his head straight through the ball. Great delivery from the corner too.
Tyldesley: We’re into stoppage time now. Can Algeria find a winner?
Townsend: I don’t quite understand what Bentaleb’s there to do, just coming deep and playing those passes about. I’d be pushing up looking for the finisher if I were him. Still though, he’s a top, top young player, and tonight he’s done Tim Sherwood proud.
[The ball breaks loose and Adnan Januzaj springs into life down the left wing, darting towards the Algerian box. He’s cleaned out by Madjid Bougherra.]
Townsend: It’s been a great match for the future of the Premier League, hasn’t it Clive? I like the look of that Mahrez who’s on the Algerian bench too. Leicester player. Great season. Could be one to watch in this World Cup and in the Premier League next season. Been really impressed by this Algeria side, it must be said.
Tyldesley: And on that note Andy, it’s time for you to pick your man of the match.
Townsend: Well Clive, for me it’s got to be Eden Hazard. He might have gone off at half-time, but what a player he is. Made the Belgians’ goals with some lovely runs. He’s a top, top player.
Tyldesley: And with that, the referee blows his whistle for full-time. No winners here at the Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, but it’s been an entrhalling encounter and finishes all square. Belgium 3, Algeria 3.
[Cuts to the studio]
Chiles: I’d just like to apologise to viewers in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and beyond for the surprise ad break late on in the second-half there. We’ve sent our best men on the job to find out what’s gone on and we assure you that it won’t happen again.
Now, onto business. We didn’t see that coming at half-time did we Roy… er… Patri… er… Lee?
Dixon: No, but Kompany’s red card changed the whole dynamic of the match and the Algerians were very good at making the most of the opportunity with Belgium down to 10 men.
Cannavaro: In Italy, we say… “A red card…”
Chiles: [brusquely interjects] Was it a red card though, Patrick?
[Clearly put off by his host’s continual confusion over the former Arsenal man not being Roy Keane, Vieira is in no mood to chat on any longer]
Vieira: I don’t know, why don’t you tell me?
[A cloud of bricks, rocks and some small arms fire suddenly erupts beneath the studio as protesters re-assume their assault on ITV’s huge glass window onlooking Copacabana beach. In the crowd it looks as those someone is burning an effigy of Gareth Southgate. Hoddle and Strachan can be seen in the near distance fighting off aggressors on a beach pavilion with a plastic chair each]
Chiles: Oh crikey, they’re back! It’s all gone a bit duck and cover here, viewers. I’m afraid, we’ll have to leave it there due to all the commotion outside.
[A hefty lump of rock thwacks the glass behind Cannavaro, making a loud thudding sound that makes the studio guests jump]
Thank you to our panel: Lee, Fabio and Ro-, Patrick. Gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure. Bye for now.