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Play-by-play pundits: Voices of the World Cup

No one tells it better than the experts behind the mike

Siphiwe Tshabalala opens the scoring at the 2010 World Cup. Photo: AFP
Siphiwe Tshabalala opens the scoring at the 2010 World Cup. Photo: AFP

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OTHERS : Roma have risen from their ruins! Manolas, the Greek god in Rome….The unthinkable unfolds before our eyes. This was not meant to happen....This could not happen. This is happening! Barcelona extraordinarily 8 minutes from elimination…. Di Francesco does not know where to go…. Iniesta does not know where to look.... It is a Greek from Mount Olympus who has come to the seven hills of Rome and pulled off a miracle.”

Kostas Manolas had just scored the goal that had put mighty Barcelona on the brink of Champions League elimination in April. It was as if the 72,000 people in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico had multiplied into millions. AS Roma’s head coach Eusebio Di Francesco was frantic on the sidelines, asking his side to stay composed and see the match through.

Amid this chaos and madness was British commentator Peter Drury. Behind the mike, he had the colossal task of describing the conclusion of one of the most inspirational comebacks witnessed in Champions League history—trailing 1-4 from the first leg of the quarter-final at the Camp Nou, Roma defeated Barcelona 3-0 at home and advanced to the next stage on the away goals rule.

“This is special. This is so very, very special.”

The referee blew the full-time whistle. Roma players fell to the ground as if they had attained nirvana.

“Phenomenal! Beyond reason, beyond Roman reality and in the end, beyond even Barcelona—who fall! Barcelona fall. Messi falls. Disbelieving. How did that just happen? Roma made it happen. History…. History, even for this city and its bottomless world of myth, legend and history…. A sporting achievement beyond anything imagined at the start of this never to be forgotten evening at the Olympic Stadium.”

Barcelona fans held their heads in their hands. Some of them were teary-eyed while others refused to blink. Drury continued his verbal masterclass, describing the winning goal that was “etched into the memories of everyone who was here, tearful and otherwise, to behold it”.The magic of football commentary transcends all boundaries. And it is not restricted to club football. The likes of Drury, Jon Champion, John Helm and many more have been describing World Cup clashes that we raved about for years.

rom World Cup winning goals to a rout that brought to an end Spain’s dominance over international football, these spectacles would have felt unfinished without the voices behind the mike.

Lounge takes you back to some recent World Cup moments that were not only exciting to watch but also thrilling to hear.

Tshabalala and all of Africa

South Africa vs Mexico; Peter Drury, South Africa, 2010

This goal was memorable for many reasons. Not because it was in the opening match of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa—the first football World Cup hosted by an African nation—but it was also goal-scorer Siphiwe Tshabalala’s 50th cap for the Bafana Bafana (as the South African national football team is known). He celebrated the occasion in style.

It was no surprise that Peter Drury soaked his words in African colours, representing the coming together of the rainbow nation. As soon as Tshabalala’s left foot connected with the Adidas Jabulani, the official match ball, Drury knew it was a special moment.

“It’s Tshabalala! Goal Bafana Bafana! Goal for South Africa…. Goal for all Africa. Jabulile. Rejoice! Bafana Bafana have popped the first cork on their day of days.”

South African flags were being waved everywhere as Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium came to life.

They don’t call Drury the “wordsmith” for nothing.

Iniesta and the vuvuzelas

Spain vs the Netherlands; John Helm, South Africa, 2010

Photo: AFP

It was as if the moment was meant for John Helm and his (trademark) deep voice. This was a final that was tested to its limits—a final full of extra time, yellow cards and flying kicks (remember Nigel de Jong taking out Xabi Alonso?). If Spain were to win a first-ever World Cup, they would have to get past a gritty Dutch defence.

When Eljero Elia lost the ball in the Spanish half, all seemed fine. The Dutch had it under control. But then a Carles Puyol pass released Jesús Navas, who skipped away from Rafael Van der Vaart, and a counter-attack was on. Gaining momentum, Navas evaded a small cluster of orange shirts as he tried to make one last foray into the Dutch half.

A few seconds and an Andrés Iniesta back-heel later, the ball found its way to Fernando Torres near the wing. “Iniesta is in the middle all alone if Fernando Torres can find him.”

Torres’ attempted cross reached only as far as Van der Vaart, whose clearance was weak.

Helm’s voice gathered pace as he anticipated a breakthrough as soon as the ball fell for Cesc Fàbregas.

“It’s stabbed away uncomfortably to Fàbregas.”’s No.10 laid it on a plate for Iniesta, who lashed the ball past Maarten Stekelenburg. Helm’s voice accompanied every pass that led to the World Cup winniely now, surely now, Spain have won the World Cup for the first time in history. Andrés Iniesta has broken Dutch hearts with a goal on 116 minutes that promises to say ‘Viva España’ for the first time ever.”

The entire Spanish team mobbed Iniesta as the vuvuzelas blared in the background. Spain were crowned champions of the world in the most dramatic fashion. It was—as Helm described—“desolation for the Dutch” and “absolute ecstasy for the Spanish”.

Robben runs riot against Spain

The Netherlands vs Spain; Jon Champion, Brazil, 2014

Photo: AFP

This contest between the Dutch and then reigning world champions was billed as a replay of the 2010 final. What followed in Salvador was nothing short of a rout.Spain led through a Xabi Alonso penalty, but then goals from Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Stefan de Vrij changed the entire complexion of the match. The Spaniards were all over the place.

Jon Champion summed it up aptly. At 4-1, Spain’s“embarrassment” was complete. But there was more to come. Wesley Sneijder’s pass set free Robben, who embarked on a foot race against a tired Sergio Ramos.

Robben had the great Iker Casillas scampering inside the penalty box as he evaded the goalkeeper’s efforts to take the ball off him. One more touch took him away from Casillas.

“Still a chance for Arjen Robben.”

Then, with this trusted left foot, Robben buried the ball into an empty net. Ramos and Jordi Alba on the goal line could do nothing about it. Champion exulted, his voice coated in a thunderous shriek: “It’s five! It’s a landslide!”

Moments later, the cameras zoomed in on the look of despair and disbelief on Casillas’ face.

“This may well prove to be a seminal day for Spanish football. They’ve climbed the peaks, but now they do appear to be rolling down the other side of the hill.”

It proved to be just that. They lost 2-0 to Chile in their next match. Thechampions were eliminated—a golden era of Spanish football had come to an end.‘It’s Emile Heskey… it’s five!’

Germany vs England; Martin Tyler, 2001

Photo: Reuters

This is an exception—not the World Cup finals, but a pivotal match in the qualifying stages for the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan. You really can’t overlook a World Cup qualifier that has Martin Tyler in the commentary box.

It was poised nicely for Tyler’s distinct voice, aided by Andy Gray. England were looking to avenge a 1-0 home defeat in the last match at the old Wembley Stadium. This was a German team that had never been beaten in a World Cup qualifier on home soil. Even the referee officiating was a high-profile name of his time—the remarkable Pierluigi Collina.gland trailed to a Carsten Jancker goal after 6 minutes. Then, inspired by their captain David Beckham, England rallied to score twice before half-time—first, through Michael Owen, and, then, from an arrow-like strike from Steven Gerrard.

 only got better for the Three Lions in the second half. Michael Owen bagged a brace—completing his hat-trick—and then, on 74 minutes, a pass from Beckham released Paul Scholes, who drove forward with Emile Heskey ahead of him. “And Scholes gets forward. He’s got Heskey on for the pass. England are in again…It’s Emile Heskey! It’s five!”

Going to Munich and scoring five goals against Germany remains probably one of England’s greatest nights in international football. Tyler went on: “This is payback time…for the World Cup semi-final of 1990, the semi-final of Euro 96…a World Cup quarter final when England were holders.”

After the final whistle, Tyler summed it up perfectly. “This is England’s night. A truly glorious win.” Even the legendary John Motson recently told The Telegraph that this was the best England game he had ever commentated on—Tyler would surely nod in approval.


Most football fans might remember the commentary during the ‘Hand of God’ incident in 1986. Here are some less famous but equally iconic examples“Your boys took a hell of a beating”—Bjørge Lillelien on Norway beating England 2-1

Norway defeated England 2-1 in a World Cup qualifier in September 1981 and Norwegian broadcaster Bjørge Lillelien’s jubilant proclamation went down in commentary history (some bits translated from Norwegian)

What he said: “We are the best in the world! We are the best in the world! We have beaten England 2-1 in football! … We have beaten England! England, birthplace of giants. Lord Nelson, Lord Beaverbrook, Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden, Clement Attlee, Henry Cooper, Lady Diana—we have beaten them all…. Maggie Thatcher can you hear me? Maggie Thatcher…. Your boys took a hell of a beating!”

Dennis Bergkamp (right) scoring the winning goal against Argentina in the 1998 Cup. Photo: Getty Images

“From adversity to triumph for the Dutch”—Barry Davies on Dennis Bergkamp’s goal vs Argentina (1998)

t was the sort of goal—and silky touch—that only Dennis Bergkamp could produce. It could only be the voice of Barry George Davies that could match up to it. Bergkamp picked a long ball from Frank de Boer and then flicked it past Roberto Ayala, who was left kicking at thin air. Bergkamp lashed the ball past the goalkeeper and won the game for the Netherlands in the 90th minute.


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