One of the very great World Cup telly exchanges took place a whole 20 (!) years ago, after Senegal made it to the quarter-finals in Japan-Korea, beating France and Sweden along the way and drawing with Denmark — when we’d been reliably informed that they wouldn’t have the nous to deal with European opposition.
Paul Gascoigne: “Sen-e-gawl, which, beforehand, I’d never heard of, looked very impressive.”
Des Lynam: “You’d never heard of Senegal?”
Des: “They’ve been part of Africa for some time.”
So, the chat ahead of this 2022 contest was going to be a test of how far Eng-er-land’s punditry had moved on, would it be a touch less dismissive of non European/South American opposition?
Gary Lineker had already struggled with the test by dismissing any notion that Sen-e-gawl would trouble Eng-er-land, wondering aloud if Gareth Southgate would rest Kyle Walker for the quarter-final against France. (”Poland: Hello?”).
But look, so it proved. Senegal didn’t have the nous to beat England, even Jordan Henderson scoring
And Lee Dixon, on co-commentary duty with ITV, was a touch presumptuous too when he told us that “if England just concentrate on doing their job individually, there shouldn’t be a problem”.
But look, so it proved. Senegal didn’t have the nous to beat England, even Jordan Henderson scoring.
So, on they march. Expect mentions of the Battle of Agincourt, Waterloo and the like, while realising that Eng-er-land has never faced a more formidable foe than Kylian Mbappé.
Pre-match, Mark Pougatch was buzzing about the atmosphere in the stadium, largely created by the Senegal supporters.
“The noise! The dancing! The music!”
“Oh, it’s lovely,” said our Roy, “but it’s very annoying”.
This also took us down memory lane.
Bill O’Herlihy: “John, you were there in Germany for the best part of a week, extraordinary collection of people from all over the world, a great atmosphere?”
Gilesie: “Was it only a week, Bill?”
Then Roy was urged to appear on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here by Queen of the Jungle Jill Scott, Wrightie reckoning he’d only consider it if he was promised Star bars instead of stars, unaware that some Cork folk, known by this couch, find tripe (the lining of a sheep or cow’s stomach), drisheen (a blood pudding) and crubeens (pig trotters) tasty.
So, the jungle might actually feel like a Michelin-star restaurant for our Roy.
Anyhow. Team news. Saka back in, Rashford out. Gary Neville, on loan from postponing his principles at beIN Sports, and Ian Wrightie fretted. “You can’t pick everyone,” Roy reminded them, which they conceded, albeit reluctantly, is true.
The lads were happy with the all-Manchester defence, though, even if 50 per cent of it conceded four goals to Brentford in 35 first-half minutes earlier this season.
And then Mark spotted two people dancing in the crowd while wearing Del Boy and Rodney masks. “Plonkers,” he called them, and you feared that would be the headline in every English paper if England failed to get past Sen-e-gawl.
There was little fear of that, though, by half-time, England 2-0 up through Jordan (!) and Harry (not Maguire, the other one).
Once Saka made it 3-0, the occasion had all the atmosphere of Mercury, Mark resigned to telling us that England had adopted a Qat in Catar and had called it Dave
Roy had predicted as much beforehand.
“As night follows day,” he said, crystal ball in hand, “Kane will score”.
Second half. Once Saka made it 3-0, the occasion had all the atmosphere of Mercury, Mark resigned to telling us that England had adopted a Qat in Catar and had called it Dave.
And then, just to pass the time, Lee told us that David Seaman had sent him a cat emoji on his phone. That’s how competitive the - loosely-used-word alert - contest was.
Dave, no doubt, was purring by full-time, job done, England home and hosed, at a canter, all those condescending pre-match quotes that we were going to whip out in an lol manner consigned to the dustbin.
Sweet Caroline filled the air at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, a sentence you never thought you’d type.
“They’ve not put a foot wrong, these lads,” said Gary, Wrightie purring alongside him. Roy wore the look of a man just pining for some tripe, drisheen or crubeens.
If you’ve never heard of Eng-er-land, they used to be part of Europe for some time. And now they’re on the verge of conquering the world.
Deja vu all over again.