June 13, 2006
World Cup soccer
By Ray Bennett
Bottom line: Broadcasters' keen eye for fan reaction adds to polished football coverage.
Friday, June 9-Sunday, July 9
BBC & ITV (U.K.)
Trinidad & Tobago was the place to be Saturday night judging from the lively scenes on the BBC and ITV late-night World Cup highlights programs showing the islanders celebrate their first appearance in the quadrennial tournament.
There is saturation coverage of the most-watched sporting event in the world in British media, with pubcaster BBC and commercial rival ITV showing alternate games, and the matches already have provided great excitement, demonstrating the broadcasters' expertise.
But it is the scenes of fans celebrating in their homelands and in the villages and towns of host nation Germany that provide some of the most entertaining viewing.
Trinidad & Tobago fought off favored Sweden to win a point in a scoreless draw that was exciting despite the lack of goals, and ITV's cameras returned frequently to the noisy island fans in the stadium at Dortmund. ITV also located the few supporters of Ecuador at the Gelsen-kirchen ground Friday night as their team pulled off a surprising victory against Poland.
There were about 35,000 Mexican fans in Nuremberg on Sunday for their country's win over Iran, and the BBC gave them lots of screen time as they easily shouted down the estimated 4,000 supporting Iran. Besides the soccer action, the BBC took time for the human stories behind the games, telling of the Mexican player Sanchez whose father just died and Brazilian-born Zinha, who some in Mexico resented for being foreign-born but who came on to score.
The opening ceremony Friday was carried on the BBC ahead of the tournament's first match, which saw Germany defeat Costa Rica in a high-scoring contest. Commentator Jonathan Pearce did a fine job keeping the giggles out of his voice as he described a demonstration of traditional dancing by men in lederhosen and shorts. He also was quick to identify the old-timers who paraded onto the field representing World Cup-winning teams from past years going back decades.
There are so many ways to watch the tournament here that it will be impossible to miss the scores during the next month. The U.K. mobile company 3 offers almost instant highlights via its 3G cell phones with clear images and TV commentary from the networks. The BBC Web site provides streaming live coverage, and there are giant screens in public places in London and other cities across the country.
BBC and ITV morning shows have correspondents in Germany, and even the BBC's Sunday religious program, "The Heaven and Earth Show," featured a debate on the relationship between God and football.
Many commercials are linked to the World Cup, with "Sharpe" actor Sean Bean's reliable Yorkshire tones the most ubiquitous. Budweiser has opted for American humility in its commercials, showing two TV anchormen in suits and ties displaying complete ignorance of the sport. "The FIFA World Cup has other countries playing in it," one says wonderingly. Given Team USA's heavy loss to the Czech Republic in its game Monday night, they could be the only ones laughing.
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