THE on-the-field battle for European soccer supremacy starts with the big kick-off in Poland and Ukraine tomorrow.
Meantime, in the commentary box and in the tv studio, it is more a case of ‘let prattle commence’.
Both the BBC and ITV will be wheeling out their big battalions, though it is anything but an all-out confrontation as the two networks will only collide head-on for the final on July 1.
Who will win the actual tournament is a matter of deep conjecture and hard to call, but it’s a fair bet that when it comes to the decider in Kiev on the first day of next month, the BBC will come out on top by a ratio of 2-1 in terms of viewing figures.
As has been apparent for several years, the BBC commentators and pundits seem to go down better with the viewers, one key factor being that studio discussion is not hamstrung by going to annoying commercial breaks, as happens on ITV.
Nonetheless, there is plenty for ITV to be pleased about in the early stages of Euro 2012, not just the juicy advertising revenue, which will help push the share price up.
Of the three England Group matches, two of them – versus France and the possibly crucial one against Ukraine – are on the independent network, while the BBC have the Sweden game.
However, the BBC, whose team leader is Gary Lineker, will get England in the quarter-final, provided Roy Hodgson’s depleted squad gets there, and they will also screen both semi-finals live.
ITV, fronted by Adrian Chiles, also get off to a flier in Group C, which features the Republic Of Ireland.
They have coverage of their matches against Croatia and Italy, while the Gary Lineker and co at the Beeb have just the showdown with Spain.
Guy Mowbray will probably get the final for the BBC, while on ITV, Clive Tyldesley will be behind the microphone.
The BBC also have Jonathan Pearce, who has the most distinctive style of any of the commentators, though he is nowhere near as excitable as he was in his Channel 5 days when he was too far over the top.
The Corporation back-up is provided by the likes of Simon Brotherton and Steve Wilson, though they both sound so much the same that it almost takes a voice expert to split them.
Match commentary is the ITV weak link – or in the case of the annoying Peter Drury, a very weak link.
The BBC have the better pundits, their ranks boosted by Jurgen Klinsmann, who will give the German viewpoint.
Harry Redknapp was initially announced as being part of the BBC line-up, but his participation has been in some doubt – there are now second thoughts by the Spurs manager because of his justifiable concern that, having lost out to Hodgson for the national job, his comments about England could be seized upon or maybe come over as sour grapes if he was in any way critical.
The BBC’s ace in the pack is Dutch master footballer Clarence Seedorf, who has nothing to prove on the field to anyone, and everything to boast about if he was of a mind to do so.
Sometimes pundits are asked to show their medals when they opine about other footballers as pundits, but Seedorf has the perfect answer.
He has won four Champions League titles with three clubs, so not even the most argumentative pundit can quibble with that.
Seedorf, in his prime probably the best midfield player in the world, impressed for the BBC at the last World Cup.
This time round, watch how his colleagues listen with respectful silence when he puts forward a viewpoint – it is hard to imagine anyone better qualified and he has the eloquence to go with it.
While Seedorf is the likely star of the BBC, sharing the sofa with Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer, the jury is out on the ITV team.
Jamie Carragher makes his big-time bow – he has the knowledge, though whether his strong Scouse accent goes down well with the viewer is another matter.
Maybe Patrick Vieira’s French tones will be more appealing, while Roy Keane has come over a bit like the studio grump, and so far his contributions do not compare with another Manchester United retired-player-turned-pundit Gary Neville, who has a hands-on job with England on the training ground.
Gareth Southgate is too close to the FA to be outspoken and even if not employed by them, one suspects he still would not be outspoken.
What ITV really need is a throwback to the days when Brian Clough used to give it what-for to all and sundry.
Or going even further back, the famous panel of the 1970 World Cup when Pat Crerand, Malcolm Allison, Jimmy Hill and Derek Dougan quibbled and quarrelled, which made for superb television, though not, it should be added, taking away the vast number of viewers from BBC, who had the much more restrained panellists at the time.
Punditry has suffered recently because the experts are not outspoken enough.
Let’s hope the panellists from both sides tell us how it is, and don’t have to quit the studio for the first aid room to get the splinters out of their bottom, the dire consequences of sitting on the fence.
That is a cardinal sin for any so-called expert.