By Michael Davies
Special to Page 2

Day 19: Poor research and blatant pro-Americanism

Room 1412 The Pan Pacific Hotel, 10:55 p.m.
Crap. I really should have waited until tonight to file yesterday's diary. South Korea has just beaten Italy in a game of staggering passion. I love Italian football, but I have to say this team's behavior toward the referee in the Mexico game and tonight was so atrocious, they have just had handed to them everything they deserve. Every decision, however clear, is protested. Christian Panucci (or young Adolf Hitler, as I like to call him) was lucky not to be put in a Korean jail for the drag-down mugging that he committed in the first half leading to the penalty. And Francesco Totti -- and he was not the only one -- tried to sucker the ref into carding his opponent with a classic, oh-no-my-beautiful-face-I-must-grab-it-immediately-where-he-hit-me move, when the slow motion replay clearly revealed there was absolutely no contact whatsoever. You live by the sword, you die by the sword, Francesco. So maybe you didn't dive in the penalty area for your second yellow. I don't care; you were overdue.

Italy was outplayed, outhustled and outcoached by Guus Hiddink, who got his team up splendidly for this game (and for all their games, come to think of it). Giovanni Trappatoni has built a team of prima donnas in his own image. Just watch, he will blame the ref and accept absolutely no responsibility for himself or his team.

Christian Panucci
Italy's infamous Christian Panucci, left, argues with Ecuadorean referee Byron Moreno.

Outside Starbucks, Minato Mirai, 11:35 a.m.
Oh, what a shocker, there it is: "Italian Fury at 'worst ever' referee" screams the headline. FIFA just has to do something about this -- the level of disrespect for officials amid all the diving, injury-feigning, shirt-pulling, professional-fouling and time-wasting by players from certain parts of the world is a joke. They should review the tapes and start banning players. The NBA does this so well -- players and coaches are constantly ejected and fined (but not enough) for protesting calls. In soccer, it's even worse because so many players try to deliberately get away with illegal acts, it is unconscionable that anyone would question a referee's or linesman's call. In the Portugal-Korea match the other night, Joao Pinto actually punched the referee, while Fernando Couto had his hands around his throat. In the NBA, I'm pretty sure they would both be banned for life. Screw 'em. Most of the worst offending players and countries are out of the Cup, and I won't miss them.

Media Center , 12:15 p.m.
Oops. A couple of mistakes in yesterday's diary. The United States did not concede five goals to Germany in that friendly -- it was only four -- and it was played in March not May. Now you understand why I hire a research department on "Millionaire."

As for the power rankings, I submitted those before the Korea-Italy game and originally they looked like this:

1. Brazil
2. Italy
3. Spain
4. England
5. Germany
6. Senegal
7. USA
8. Korean Republic
9. Turkey

In an effort to save me from even more "you're a %$#*&^@ idiot, Davies" e-mail, my editors at espn.com removed Italy and slid everyone up one. But I think Korea deserves to rise after last night (Spain is not digesting their paella, I hear), and call it new U.S. patriotism or just a hunch that they might be able to beat the -- yes, I'm going to use the word -- vulnerable Germans, but I've got to move the Americans up as well. So here's a new list:

Davies' Dubious and Ever-changing Power Rankings (Take Two)
1. Brazil
Natch.

2. Spain
Not happy to be playing Korea, but on paper (meaningless these days) the best team in their half of the draw.

3. Eng-er-land
If the Brits can get past Brazil healthy, you've got to like their chances.

4. Germany
By a whisker, but the Germans can be beaten.

5. South Korea
That crowd, that home-field advantage, those unpronounceable names, no one wants to play the Koreans. They run their asses off. Can't wait to see Spain trying to deal with it.

6. (tie) United States
Speed, discipline, heart and guys called Clint and Josh. If that defensive line, be it three, four or five (who knows with Bruce Arena, he might invent something completely new next game, like playing everyone on the left), can hold it together (Greg Berhalter must play like his German ancestors, Eddie Pope must play like ... the Pope), Brian McBride, Clint Mathis and Landon Donovan (Lethal Weapon III) can score against the ugliest goalkeeper in the world, Oliver "Chewbaca" Kahn. Performance against Poland, though, can't be completely brushed aside by the coach. It's certainly in the mind of the opposition.

6. (tie) Senegal
So talented, but the second half performance against Uruguay still bothers me. A side, perhaps like the United States., that can lose its composure very quickly if things start going badly for it.

8. Turkey
Sorry, Turkey, I know you're better than I think you are, but you just haven't done anything that's got me excited yet. I'm going to watch you Saturday, though, so let's see how I feel after that.

Guus Hiddink, South Korean players
Guus Hiddink, left, puts the amazingly fit South Koreans through their paces Wednesday.

The Pool at the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club, 2:05 p.m.
Nestled in the hills above Yokohama (it could be the Hollywood Hills, except for all the uniformed Japanese schoolchildren), this place is ex-pat heaven. A country club for mostly Britons and Americans living and working in Japan, I heard about it from a friend who used to work for the British Foreign Office out here. It is very English -- a traditional bar, lawn bowling and cricket on Sundays, but is largely responsible for introducing the game of baseball to Japan. After a team of Americans from this club lost a game of baseball to an elite Tokyo high school team in 1896, the ensuing publicity catapulted the game into the national consciousness.

Baseball is still by far the biggest sport here, but represents corporate Japan, a slightly, older, more traditional fan base than soccer's young, outgoing and untraditional crowd. I sit by the pool and read "Japanese Rules: Why the Japanese needed football and how they got it" by Sebastian Moffett. I only get through the first 60 pages, but it is fascinating. I never realized how much sport in Japan, and especially baseball, is controlled by its biggest corporations. Japan's soccer league, The J-League, incidentally, is only 9 years old and has already had its ups and downs -- but I dare say, after this World Cup, it is going to be more successful than ever.

The Media Center, Press Room, 6:30 p.m.
There are no games on today, so I'm really just killing time until my friends George and Dom arrive from the airport. I set myself up at an Internet station and scan my favorite websites but am horrified to see I have pissed some people off at football365.com. The trouble with writing an online diary, I've figured out, is that some people, including future spouses, actually read it. Football365.com is one of my favorite websites, it writes about football from a fan's point of view and, therefore, rarely succumbs to either the up-its-own-assness of the broadsheets or the mindless jingoism (which I quite enjoy) of the tabloids. But I had a go at them for their pre-tournament predictions, which I now can't find online, but I remember distinctly that the vast majority of their contributors predicted that the United States would be by far the worst team in this World Cup. In my column after the Poland game, I accused Football365 of shoddy research (hardly one to talk on that front) and blatant anti-Americanism (perhaps a little harsh). Under the headline, "ESPN takes a pop at 365 (and then ruins its own argument)," they write:

    Meanwhile, the USA's 2-0 win has prompted the ESPN website to remind their readers that one F365 writer said that the Americans would "stink the place out" in our World Cup prediction piece.

    "It is they, though, who now have the embarrassed looks on their faces, as they're responsible for the odorous emission of poor research and blatant anti-Americanism," they write.

    Experienced F365 readers know that poor research goes without saying, but the accusation of anti-Americanism is a new one for us.

    And it is in no way whatsoever devalued by ESPN themselves writing, in the second entry in their '10 reasons soccer is poised to break through in the States like never before,' that:

    "The United States loves heroes and underdogs, hates foreigners who trash the USA -- it is really fun watching these underdogs, these heroes, beat those bastards."

Fair point, but it should be abundantly clear to anyone who has read my column that, when I write "those bastards," I don't mean anyone English. I generally use that term to refer to my new football writing friends from South America and continental Europe.

I try to send them an apology, because I really do enjoy their site, from the media center computer, but it won't let me mail and I figure I'll just write it here. Sorry, lads. But you must admit, it was more than one writer who felt the United States had no chance ... and even today, this is from your website:

    USA -- Plucky bunch of nobodies and has-beens fly in the face of nobody in their home country giving a damn to beat much-fancied teams full of good players like Portugal and Mexico. They triumph despite consistently calling the sport by the wrong name and reach the quarterfinals of the competition, whereupon their fans declare that they rule the world.

I agree wholeheartedly with the wrong name comment -- I am forced, after all, to name my column "the other football" -- and also that despite the ratings being extremely impressive for the U.S. (and England) games in the middle of the night, that not enough people give a toss. But "nobodies and has-beens"? That is no way to talk about Jeff Agoos! I also get the sense you might be devoting a few more column inches in the future to the somebodies on this team -- Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and John O'Brien.

Moreover, nobody in the States I've spoken to, or read about, is claiming they rule the world. Except in a geo-political sense.

Michael Davies, a native of London, is executive producer of ABC's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." He'll be filing five diary entries per week from the World Cup for Page 2.




Michael
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CUP DIARY