World Cup 2014: Which pundits scored – and who bored – in Brazil?

As Alan Hansen delivers his final pearls of punditry, Colin Murray looks back at the World Cup 2014 commentary

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1. ALAN HANSEN

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The ultimate custodian for three decades: once exciting, now the safest pair of safe hands.

There may be some who’ll throw a party when he edges off the BBC sofa after 22 years, but – despite what you might have read – he was always straight up with me during my three years working alongside him on Match of the Day 2, and I liked him a lot. Might be something to do with the fact I wanted to grow up to be him.

RT HIGHLIGHT When he finally appeared in the BBC studio — a week into the tournament. Where was he? On the beach?
VERDICT A fitting testimonial
RATING 8/10


2. LEE DIXON 

Of all the seasoned pundits, Lee Dixon remains the one who delivers balanced and thought-out punditry that goes beyond “he should have done better’’ or “he should have got tighter’’.

From experience, I can tell you that he’s diligent, well researched and passionate about his job. The fact that he looks like a skinnier version of Tin-Tin shouldn’t count against him.

RT HIGHLIGHT Turning up for Germany v Algeria in a sweat top and sneakers. Clearly, words were had in the ITV dressing room as he’d reverted to the customary open-necked shirt by half-time.
VERDICT Articulate, assertive, held his own against ITV’s foreign signings. Unsung hero.
RATING
8/10


3. PHIL NEVILLE

The main target of the Twitter hate-mob after his debut as co-commentator on the England v Italy game. One keyboard warrior called his performance “like a Dignitas sat nav”.

In fairness, he’s since looked more comfortable as a studio pundit. His main problem is that he’s not his brother Gary, who has set the punditry benchmark sky-high. You can hardly blame him for that, but he is responsible for his hairstyle. 

RT HIGHLIGHT On the ref’s vanishing spray: “There’s the ref drawing the imaginary line.”
VERDICT You can’t win anything with kids.
RATING6/10


4. FABIO CANNAVARO

I’m sorry, but Cannavaro, however insightful, has a grasp of English on a par with, well, mine. He’s had his moments, but more often than not it seems as if he’s trying to keep up. But he’s on my list because, quite simply, he’s beautiful.

RT HIGHLIGHT When Lee Dixon asked him to comment on coming on as a substitute and he replied, ‘’But I was never on the bench.’’
VERDICT Pleasing on the eye.
RATING
7/10


5. RIO FERDINAND 

The BBC’s new boy brings more to the table than just a wide range of pastel shirts with overly complicated collars. Ferdinand’s dissection of the art of defending can be brilliant, but he’s not an all-rounder as yet. We may not see the best of him, like the England team, until the 2018 World Cup.

RT HIGHLIGHT “We want Danny Welbeck to open his legs.”
VERDICT Academy player.
RATING
6/10


6. DANNY MURPHY

Now, this is biased. Danny Murphy’s first day job in sports media was on my radio show. Sometimes he seems a little overawed by the company he’s keeping, but he’s emerging as the people’s pundit: a real thinker, but with the common touch. And if his punditry was good, his co-commentary was in a different class. Why every producer wants their new signing to sit on the sofa with the old boys is beyond me. The biggest audience is for the action on the pitch.

RT HIGHLIGHT Co-commentary of Belgium v USA in the round of 16. Handled everything that the most exciting game so far could throw at him.
VERDICT
Midfield general.
RATING 
8/10 


7. GORDON STRACHAN

Good old Gordon. He’s top of my list of pundits I’d like to have a night out with in Rio – but not in those shorts. I feared for 5ft 6in, sandy-haired Strachan, made by cruel ITV bosses to present some of the early games in short trousers on Copacabana Beach. I can only assume the Rio branch of St John’s Ambulance were poised just out of shot to deal with heatstroke. 

In the studio he never sits still, as if he’s trying to avoid an imaginary fly buzzing round him.

RT HIGHLIGHT Seat-dancing to live samba while the rest of the pundits smiled awkwardly.
VERDICT Stalwart.
RATING 7/10


8. ROBBIE SAVAGE

Ah yes, the ultimate divisive pundit. I shout at my TV when he’s on, too, but I’d rather have the Barry Gibb lookalike than a self-important ex-pro who leaves the viewer with nothing memorable to pass on in the pub. He’s a fan. Just like us, only with more first-hand knowledge.

RT HIGHLIGHT “Balotelli can’t believe it. He’s got his hands in his head.”
VERDICT Blond bombshell.
RATING
7/10


9. THIERRY HENRY

Hated by the Irish since 2009 (when his blatant handball helped to deny Ireland a place in the World Cup finals), but loved by just about everyone else. Yes, he’s cool, but look beyond the Gucci cardigan and he challenges others, and the presenter too. It’s been refreshing to see former England hero Gary Lineker pushed a little.

RT HIGHLIGHT When Robbie Savage claimed that at Leicester his team-mates had adopted aggressive tactics against him and Arsenal, snarling, “Your lot didn’t like it, did they”, Henry shrugged drily, “Oh, we managed.” C’est magnifique.
VERDICT Match-winner… a shame the MLS season meant an early bath.
RATING 9/10


10. GLENN HODDLE 

The former England manager’s affinity with creative players shines through, although in the Brazilian climate his hair seems to have developed into a nesting place for rare birds.

However, if you close your eyes, Hoddle has been as sharp as an Armani suit. Even if his insights are occasionally undermined by his skill at nobbling the language: “As they say, when in Brazil, do as the Brazilians would do.”

RT HIGHLIGHT Grew in stature throughout the tournament — until he called Algeria “Al Jazeera”
VERDICT 
Luxury player.
RATING 7.5/10


11. MARTIN O’NEILL 

It may seem biased as I’m a fellow Northern Irishman, but Martin O’Neill makes half-time on ITV unmissable. There are moments when I’m not sure whether he’s trying to educate or chastise me, but a flash of dry wit is never far away. And, lest we forget, he won serious silver- ware and captained his country to a World Cup.

RT HIGHLIGHT Hilariously trumped Patrick Vieira and Fabio Cannavaro by asking them how many European Cups they’d won (2—0 to O’Neill).
VERDICT Let me be clear… simply undroppable.
RATING 
9/10 


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