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World Cup TV View: Kev’s in a fez, Kenny’s Skittled and Ronaldo looks chicken chop sueyed

Spain pay the penalty as Morocco dig in for 120 minutes, while Portugal find themselves a new superstar in Ramos

“Are we here for a good time or a long time?” asks a twinkly-eyed Tony O’Donoghue at the start of the RTÉ coverage of Morocco v Spain. He’s getting at the clash of styles that’s about to be served up. Morocco have conceded just once in the whole tournament – an own goal against Canada. Spain haven’t beaten anybody since the first game against Costa Rica. Hard to see it being a 5-4, right enough.

“I don’t think it’s going to be over after 20 minutes,” says Kevin Doyle. And boy oh boy, is he not wrong. Spain don’t beat Morocco in 20 minutes, 60 minutes, 90 minutes or 120 minutes. In fact, they spend the rest of the day not beating them at all. By the time the penalty shootout is done, we’re close to three hours on from Tony popping the question.

It is, to use a phrase deployed by John Kenny earlier in the tournament, a grueller. The tension sits like marmalade over the whole occasion. The Moroccans dig in, the Spaniards nip and tuck the ball around the place to no great avail. “Are you a tiki-taka man?” Tony asks Kenny Cunningham at one stage. “Is that a sweet?” replies Kenny. “I’m a Skittles man. I like Skittles.”

Half-time. Little to report. Morocco have sat in, Spain have skittled around between themselves in the middle third. The African side have actually had the best chance, a header just over by Nayef Aguerd, set up by a lovely step-over and cross by Sofiane Boufal.


Or, as Kev puts it, “Boufal has been really good – chicken chop sueys him.” Which is a new one on us, it has to be said. Lollipops, yes. Scissors, sure. Chicken chop suey? Must be a Wexford thing.

Teatime. Penalties. John Kenny tells us that Luis Enrique has made his players practice 1,000 penalties. They promptly miss every one. They could have all drank 1,000 pints of porter each instead and literally not done any worse.

Back to studio. Kev and Kenny are wearing fezzes. Of course they are. We can officially, permanently, never complain about foreign media paddywhacking their way through an Irish success ever again. Do your worst, TV stations of the world. Assume from this day forth that Irish eyes are smiling, that any medal was down to the luck of the Irish, that the Guinness is flowing in Dublin tonight and the leprechauns are in charge.

By the time the coverage of the second game starts, Tony, Kev and Kenny have been taken out the back and shot for crimes against stereotyping. The far more sober Joanne Cantwell, Karen Duggan and Didi Hamann are in instead for Portugal v Switzerland. But barely have they walked on to set but Joanne has got a promise out of Didi that if Brazil win the tournament, he’ll chicken dance live on air. Maybe the rest day can’t come soon enough. They’ve all gone bananas out in RTÉ.

Soon enough, there’s a news of a bombshell from the Portugal camp. The teams are in. The unthinkable has happened. Proof, finally, that reputations count for nothing and that what any of his players have done in the past won’t sway the thinking of Fernando Santos, the Portugal coach. João Cancelo has been dropped in favour of Diogo Dalot. Also, their lumbering centre-forward, whose biggest contribution to the tournament has been claiming a goal he didn’t score, has been benched in favour of a kid winning his fourth cap.

Anthems. The teams line up facing the flags, half the photographers at the World Cup line up in front of the Portugal dugout to show Cristiano Ronaldo among the subs. Must be such a weird life, all the same.

Weirder still when, with the first shot of the game, his replacement Gonçalo Ramos leathers the ball high into the Swiss net from an impossible angle. When Ronaldo made his Portugal debut, Ramos was two years old. Eventually the camera cuts to Ronaldo, looking like he’s eaten a dodgy chicken chop suey. “His team has just scored,” remarks Ray Houghton. “You’d think he’d be happier.”

Second half. Dalot rampages down the right, whips in a brilliant cross for Ramos. Back of the net. By the end, the kid has bagged himself a hat-trick and Portugal have skipped through to the quarter-final so easily, they even have time to give the lumbering old centre-forward a run off the bench.

Ramos? A hat-trick on his World Cup debut surely nails down his place against Morocco. All we can hope for him now is that Piers Morgan never gets hold of his phone number.

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times