Special to Page 2
Editor's Note: Michael Davies, who spent 2002 looking for a stick of deodorant in Japan and South Korea, is back to blog the 2006 World Cup for Page 2. Each day throughout the monthlong tournament, he will file multiple reports from Germany. Check back for more updates.
Row 5, Table A, Seat 4, Media Tribune, 5:55 p.m., June 12
You know what, I've got a nice table here, I think I'll try a Live Game Blog of a live football game which you won't be able to read until it's not live anymore.
Five minutes to kickoff -- National anthems: Czechs win, beautiful tune, well sung. I thought there were more U.S. fans here than there actually are -- or maybe there are thousands of members of Sam's Army here wearing red shirts, speaking Czech and carrying Czech flags. The U.S. fans, mostly off in the far corner, are making some noise, but they're being drowned out by the Czechs. You will find this ridiculous, but I can tell you from experience that fans inspire teams at World Cups. They are 12th men.
Three minutes before kickoff -- I plug in a computer for the Portugese journalist next to me. Only three current MLSers in starting lineup.
1 -- Czechs kick off playing from right to left and go right to Jan Koller (might he be distantly related to U.S. keeper Kasey Keller?). U.S. get it back but horrible first touch for DaMarcus Beasley, who looks about 50 pounds lighter than every member of the Czech team. He must be on the South Beach diet.
2 -- I like it, the U.S. are playing Koller physically; in fact, three fouls in the opening two minutes from the U.S., who often play less physically than the women's team.
3 -- God, the Czech fans are loud, but wait a minute -- Steve Cherundolo scores a field goal -- three points! Oops, wrong code. Two feet over the bar.
4 -- Pavel Nedved brought down, after scintillating run -- the Gooch (Oguchi Onyewu) is booked; that's going to cramp his style, but his haircut is way trendier than Nedved's, who looks like he could have been in T. Rex.
5 -- GOAL FOR THE BAD GUYS. Nightmare: Eddie Pope and Gooch completely fail to stay with Koller and he head butts it in at about 100 miles per hour past his long-lost cousin, Keller. That was the worst minute of the Gooch's footballing life.
6 -- 0-1. This is the opposite start from what the U.S. wanted -- they wanted to throw themselves at the Czechs, start really strong the first 15 -- and the flow of play has been almost entirely the other way. The U.S. fans are sitting on their hands. Come on, sing some of your new songs!
Lull -- I eat another fabulous sausage.
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11 -- That's better from the U.S., Eddie Lewis in from the left to Brian McBride -- who always goes in hard with his head but over the top for another field goal.
13 -- A call goes against the Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika and the neutrals boo loudly -- maybe the Germans loathe the Czechs more than they loathe the Americans.
14 -- Beasley and McBride are in a spat -- never a good sign. There's a lot of gesticulating going on wait a minute, it might be German rap.
15 -- Americans start chanting USA, USA -- which, frankly, is a pretty crap song.
16 -- Beasley gets tackled hard by Tomas Rosicky -- the Czechs look so much bigger than the Americans. I'm a game show producer, so I know about big Czechs.
18 -- Nice run from Landon Donovan after rare miscue by Nedved -- he's human -- and Donovan fouled hard and cynically by David Rozehnal, who is booked. The American fans -- at least the ones who understand what it means -- cheer heartily.
21 -- The Czechs look for Nedved the way I look for German sausage. Constantly. That sounds disgusting.
22 -- The Czechs are giving the U.S. way too much space at times -- now the U.S. have to do something with it.
23 -- Another bad giveaway from Beasley; this guy is so unlike himself I'm starting to think he might actually be someone else pretending to be DaMarcus. Perhaps, DaOtherMarcus.
24 -- Nedved magic -- he's better than David Blaine. He's winning every tackle and every second ball, and he never makes the obvious pass. He is a master of the illusion of time and space. That's actually quite good -- must have read it somewhere.
25 -- On the monitor in front of me, the stadium TV director cuts to a shot of Bruce Arena -- he looks like he just ate cement. Not funny, not fun. The U.S. fans are singing "Ka-sey Kel-ler" to the tune of "Let's Go, Hoyas." Lame.
26 -- This game is starting to become as open as the nude sunbathing policy in German public parks -- wowzer -- with lots of end-to-end stuff. Is this good for the U.S.? I'm not convinced -- but now I might be
27 -- The U.S. break and Claudio Reyna drives it low past goalie Petr Cech (surely there are letters missing here -- it's like a "Wheel of Fortune" clue) off the inside of the post and it rebounds away -- desperately unlikely.
35 -- The U.S. have been the better team the last 10 minutes -- there is hope. Reyna and Pablo Mastroeni are starting to stamp some claim on midfield. But then
36 -- A poor defensive header from the Gooch and wham ahead of me laser-guided footballs blaze through the air (a Lichtenstein reference -- yes!!!) and GOAL FOR THE BAD GUYS. Rosicky blasts a furious slider past and away from Keller into the top corner. The Czech fans pick up on the Kasey Keller chant and taunt them with "Tho-mas Ro-sicky" to the same tune and all I'm thinking is, crap, that guy now plays for Arsenal.
37 -- Wow. 0-2. Arena looks like he just ate some bad sausage. The U.S. do not see that kind of finishing in CONCACAF.
42 -- The U.S. midfield look to be in a quandary now; if they throw too much into attack they could get eaten alive. Quite literally in Jan Koller's case.
43 -- But then Koller is down, it's his hamstring, could be out of the tournament.
45 -- Vratislav Lokvenc comes on for Koller -- he is huge! And most likely not related to "Ka-Sey Kel-ler."
The U.S. players look very down as they leave the field -- now we'll find out what Arena is made of; never in his tenure have the chips been down as badly as this.
And here's my beef. It's not with Arena or with the U.S. team. They are certainly not playing their best, but they're working hard, they're being beaten by a better team who have scored two extremely high-quality goals. But the fans have to be louder. At the World Cup you've got to sing, get up, shout, do whatever you can to lift your team -- the U.S. fans are being dominated by the Czech fans more than the U.S. players are being dominated on the field.
Substitutions for the U.S.: John O'Brien and Eddie Johnson on, Mastroeni and Cherundolo off -- three-man back line, more attacking holding player in O'Brien, Pope goes to center back, Onyewu to right back. That's two more MLSers to balance out the side.
46 -- Chance almost immediately for Reyna after the restart -- but it is blocked by a giant, flying Czech.
47 -- The Gooch commits a foul in midfield, he's got to be careful, on a card.
48 -- U.S. now in a 3-5-2 formation, which is about as dangerous as you can get in international football, but it should give them width, which they desperately need.
51 -- Tomas Ujfalusi almost scores off a header, which he glances just wide. To glance is always a good verb to put in front of header. It makes it sound way more classy than hitting a flying football with your head.
55 -- U.S. fans finding their voice -- that's important, but they still haven't attempted a single song.
56 -- The U.S. are really getting stuck into Nedved this half -- seems like that might have been the halftime speech from Arena.
57 -- The U.S. need some width! They're as narrow as German toilet paper
58 -- Lokvenc is booked for a foul on the Gooch. And for having an anagram of nothing for a last name.
59 -- But watch out, the ref will definitely yellow card the next U.S. player to commit a foul as a makeup call.
60 -- And there's the makeup call -- a card for Reyna; they can't afford for Captain America to play tentative as he's been the USA's best player.
61 -- Lokvenc should have done better -- Keller saves. Maybe if he changed his name to Nevclok.
62 -- The U.S. fans are booing Nedved. Bad idea. Karel Poborsky almost scores from a sensational Nedved cross. The Czechs play very clever football -- almost unrecognizable to an England supporter.
63 -- We need to see way more from Landon Donovan -- he is the USA's supposed world-class player. Nedved is everywhere.
64 -- Woah Nedved with another beautiful ball into the box, Beasley defends smartly. But we need to see him getting forward. The wide players are getting sucked into the center of midfield.
68 -- Game goes into a bit of a lull broken by a thunderstrike from Rosicky which hits the bar and rebounds about a mile. God, I hope he doesn't play like this for Arsenal.
69 -- U.S. look tired and disheartened. Arena has his hands behind his head like he's thinking of taking a nap but U.S. crowd gets behind its team and tries to lift them -- way to go, lads.
70 -- Nice turn and shot from a suddenly inspired Eddie Johnson, not a hundred miles away -- a wakeup call for the Czechs and Arena.
71 -- Eddie Johnson again after a nice move, powerful shot blocked on the edge of the area by another flying, giant Czech -- bouncing Czech? How many papers, by the way, will have "U.S. bounced by Czechs" tomorrow?
75 -- Finally, width from the U.S., beautiful run by Donovan to Bobby Convey on the wing, Cech just grabs it from Johnson's outstretched boot.
76 -- Josh Wolff is coming on. With two F's which stand for "fast %^&*$#."
77 -- But first ANOTHER GOAL FOR THE BAD GUYS. Nedved releases Rosicky, who runs 50 yards and scores past who many in the U.S. media would have us believe is the best keeper in the world. Don't get me wrong, Keller is a first-rate keeper. But the best in the world is at the other end of the stadium with a few vowels missing. It's 0-3 to the Czechs -- I'm starting to worry about how this is going to play at home.
78 -- The Czechs are really, really loud now and they're not cheering for Wolff, who replaces McBride, who has done little, but to be fair, has had very little service from the wings.
79 -- Stadium director predictably cuts to shots of lots of unhappy-looking Americans in silly hats.
81 -- Quick free kick after silly Rosicky booking and Johnson goes close again -- can't help feeling he'll be starting against Italy. At a Welt Meisterschaft, defenders don't tend to like big, athletic, quick strikers who constantly whip fiercely struck shots at their goal.
84 -- This game can't end soon enough for the U.S. The Czechs have acres of space now I'm counting the number of players on each team now because it looks like 11 against seven.
86 -- Rosicky subbed -- he will inevitably be man of the match -- but I would still give it to Nedved.
87 -- Before any of you start complaining that this is all about my unlucky Japan shirt -- I took it off at halftime.
88 -- The German journalist next to me is copying my stuff -- I swear I just caught him completely leaning over my work. I'm definitely buying the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung tomorrow.
89 -- The stadium director keeps cutting to Arena every shot he looks like he's chewing a lemon wrapped in granny's knickers.
91 -- The whistle. Darn. The air just sucked out of the stadium. Some in the media will attack the players, the coach, the selection, the tactics, but the truth is the U.S. just got thumped by one of the best teams in the world. Even without Milan Baros this evening, and Koller for half of the evening and maybe the rest of the tournament, the Czechs have players of superior quality, with superior strength, skill, creativity and football intelligence.
I'm not going to do player ratings, as they always seem so negative after a loss, but in my humble opinion, Reyna and Convey (mostly in the second half) had the best games for the U.S. Johnson looked dangerous when he entered the game. Donovan showed occasional bursts of speed and brilliance, but without more from him, and the re-emergence of Beasley (or perhaps his rediscovery of himself), the U.S. will struggle mightily against Italy. And you just can't afford defensive lapses at this level. The top teams will kill you.
The U.S. fans looked incredibly disheartened leaving the stadium. But this is what being a soccer fan, what playing world class teams is all about. The team will learn just how good they need to be to compete with one of the best teams in the world playing well, on a fast pitch, close to home. And the U.S. fans are going to have to learn to make some more noise, constantly get behind their team, learn some songs, and bring more friends.
Arena looked crushed in the postmatch conference. Said the right things. But one always senses that his hardest job has been convincing a highly confident team that they're not as good as they think they are, while also protecting them from situations that would expose their weaknesses. Now, for the first time, he might have some players who look at Nedved and Rosicky, who are great players, but not the greatest at this World Cup, and think, Oh no, maybe we aren't that good.
But they are that good. This is the strongest team by far the U.S. has ever sent to the World Cup. Now they just have to live up to their potential. This is heartbreaking stuff, though, World Cup Football.
I know. I'm English.
The "Working" Press Room, FIFA World Cup Stadium, Gelsenkirchen, 3:50 p.m., June 12
I love crap goals and Japan's first-half goal against Australia had the added bonus of being completely accidental and probably involving a foul. It's right up there with Iran's goal yesterday, and England's own goal scored by their only fit striker (Paraguay) in contention for crappiest goal of the tournament so far. Which brings me to (fly the imaginary graphic and play the imaginary music).
What I'm for and against today:
For: U.S. fans brave enough to wear the flag in enemy territory, Banana Republic, Nena, cold weather moving in by England's next game, Bitburger Beer.
Against: U.S. fans who don't know any songs, the Czech Republic, German rap, no air conditioning in the press room, Coca Cola Light with lemon.
So we're just two hours or so away from the kickoff of the Vereinigten Staaten Von Amerika (catchy) against the Czech Republic and you could cut the atmosphere in the press room with a spoon. By which I mean there is no atmosphere at all. It might be because of the complete lack of air conditioning in here (it's about 90 degrees outside and blazing sun) because, believe me, every member of the world's media (except the Americans, me and maybe some Italians) desperately wants the U.S. to lose.
First off, let me explain why I'm wearing a Japan shirt. Last World Cup, I wore my U.S. shirt on the day that Goose and the Gang (I'm talking of course about Jeff Agoos, my favorite U.S. player ever!) got hammered by Poland. I now believe it is bad luck. So I am wearing the shirt of my beloved Japan (I miss you Taki, I miss you Japan) and so far it's working.
God it's fun watching Australians lose at something -- anything -- when you're English.
Outside, the U.S. fans are making an impressive display at the stadium perimeter -- they've turned out here in numbers and the Czechs are standing around looking a little confused ... as though they're surprised there are so many U.S. fans who care enough about this football to travel all the way over here, many of them risking their lives and kneecaps by wearing a U.S. flag in enemy territory.
My one complaint about the U.S. fans is they seem woefully unprepared with any decent songs or chants. I stopped and chatted to a few groups, from Arkansas, New York, Pennsylvania, Atlanta and New Orleans. In very high spirits, all forecasting a 2-1 victory for the U.S. (popular opinion seems to be a Landon Donovan thunderstrike in the 57th minute but I'd prefer to see a crap goal from Oguchi Onyewu -- "the Gooch" -- in added time). But they don't know any songs!
OK, here are my:
TOP NINE SONGS (with two sent off) THAT THE U.S. FANS SHOULD SING TO REALLY PEE OFF THE OPPOSITION (AND THE ENTIRE WORLD)
(1) "Stand up for THE Superpower" -- to the tune of the international football megahit "Stand Up for the Champions" -- an American Neocon wet dream of a song.
(2) "Wir Fahren Nach Berlin ... again!" The American version of the classic German football song "We're driving to Berlin" with "again" tacked on the end to remind the world that we've been here before.
(3) "(Clap,Clap) (Clap, Clap, Clap) (Clap,Clap,Clap,Clap) -- George Bush!" Even if you didn't vote for him, the French will detest it.
(4) "America, %&$* Yeah!" from "Team America."
(5) Any Christian rock!
(6) "We'll Never Leave Iraq" -- to the tune of "You'll Never Walk Alone."
(7) Any German rap -- I watched some on German TV last night, it was awful, but not nearly as bad as the biggest band in Germany right now, Sportfreunde Stiller. I watched a live German music show on television in my hotel room last night in Cologne and was staggered by the poor quality of the music. No wonder they like Hasselhoff. I actually started missing Nena and her neun and neunzig luft balloons and then, I couldn't believe it, the show had her on as well. And she was the best act of the night.
(8) The theme from the "Great Escape," whistled. The England fans showed surprising sensitivity by not singing that in Frankfurt. Why should the "ugly Americans" be so considerate?
(9) "You only sing when you're enjoying the benefits of a U.S.-style political democracy and a market-driven economy" to the tune of the English classic, "You only sing when you're winning."
Crap, penalty for Australien in the 68th minute. Phew, it's only a free kick just outside the area. Double phew, it's saved.
Double crap, two goals for Australien in five minutes from Tim Cahill and they're beating Japan 2-1 in the 89th minute.
And another in added time from John Aloisi and it's over. Rob Stone comes over and gives me crap for my "lucky Japan shirt."
Still don't have my ticket for the U.S. game. Going to find it. Come on the Vereinigten Staaten!Michael Davies is a British-born television producer whose forthcoming projects for ESPN include the World Series of Darts and the documentary film "Once In A Lifetime" about the New York Cosmos, which will air on ESPN in October after being released theatrically by Miramax in July.