By Michael Davies
Special to Page 2

My office, 77 West 66th St., New York, 3:35 p.m., June 14
Apart from the fact that I'm experiencing the dreaded wurstschwitz -- literally sweating from sausage withdrawal -- it's kind of nice to be back in New York in the office for a few days. Yes, my employees seem to be laboring under the gross misconception that I'm actually going to be doing some work on our television shows, but it's also gratifying to realize how many of them are watching the Cup on ESPN, and reading the coverage on ESPN.com for the first time.

This is the first time in eight years that I've had a chance to watch ESPN's Cup coverage and I know it's fashionable to bash it, but I think that, by and large, it is superb. Every game in HD, the commentary teams are doing an excellent job of conveying the atmosphere and the "World Cup Live" studio shows between each game are standout. Julie Foudy is that rare combination on television -- likable, credible, spontaneous and well-prepared. But Eric Wynalda is the standout star. He has presence, confidence and controversial opinions -- that's what you want from a pundit. I don't agree with everything that Eric says (Bruce should drop Claudio Reyna? He was the best player for the U.S. by far in Gelsenkirchen) but soccer pundits should say controversial things and Eric's point, backed up by research on the U.S. team's record with Reyna in the starting lineup, was, at the very least, thought-provoking. I think he has legitimate star potential. There's nothing wimpy about him; he's been there, done that and his references -- the Spanish would be the Red Sox of World Cup football, but because they've never won it, they're more like the Cubs -- will speak loudly to the U.S. fan.

And remember this: They don't pay me to write this crap. They give me great access to the World Cup to write this crap.

Germany should have scored just before the half. Bad miss by Lukas Podolski -- maybe he really is Polish. But a pretty good game -- this is how the U.S. have to come back against the Italians. The Poles have stepped up their defense about 1,000 percent versus how they played against Ecuador. Or rather how I think they played against Ecuador -- have forgotten the whole match due to beer and rum.

Previous Entries
Day 5: Back in the U.S.A.
Day 4: Welcome, America
Day 3: Clarity at 190 kph
Day 2: England are pants
Day 1: I kiss football
Complete World Cup coverage

But I'm going to ignore the fact that the Poland vs. Germany (two of whom might actually be Polish) game is going on right now and concentrate on …

Cue the music and fly the imaginary graphic:

Here's what I'm for and against today:

For: The F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Fighter, Eric Wynalda, 22-month-old girls watching World Cup football, Gianfranco Zola, red cards.

Against: Sausage withdrawal sweats, the way American announcers say "sahrker" instead of football, 22-month-old girls forcing you to watch Andrea Bocelli putting Elmo to bed on "Sesame Street" (again and again and again at 5 in the morning), the weird polyester blend of the Italian World Cup shirt, bad penalty decisions which result in red cards.

Some explanations. Firstly, here is a photo of me in my office wearing my Italian World Cup shirt (over a shirt and tie, which might be the way the Italians are wearing it in Milan this year).

I usually love the Italian national team jersey. But this one is disgusting. Awful scratchy polyester. I am holding a really crap portrait of my favorite football player of all time -- Gianfranco Zola -- a wedding present from my muse, George Waud (check the 2002 archives). And on the wall behind my desk is the greatest symbol of American power ever -- no, not Jeff Agoos -- the F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Fighter. People have to pitch TV shows to me staring up at that thing. I don't make anyone nervous -- but that monster does.

Here's a picture of my 22-month-old watching the Spain vs. Ukraine match this morning:

Her interest in football, or rather indoctrination in football, started at three months. Here's her in the shirt of her beloved Chelsea on the day of her first visit to Stamford Bridge:

She genuinely enjoys watching football though (which is good, because she has no choice). Her favorite player is Didier Drogba, who she calls "foo-ball." I particularly enjoy how she screams, "Woah!" after every goal kick.

Unfortunately, she seems to enjoy "Sesame Street" even more than Chelsea and World Cup football. This morning she awoke at 5, and made me and my wife watch the same ridiculous scene on "Sesame Street" (where Andrea Bocelli is inexplicably putting Elmo to bed and singing an even more appalling putting-Elmo-to-bed version of the always appalling "Con Te Partiro/Time to say Goodbye"). Bruce Arena should play this for the U.S. team before they play against Italy on Saturday to really fire them up to go out there and stuff the polyester-shirted poofs/Azzurri.

The Spain versus Ukraine game was pretty much ruined by a terrible refereeing decision in the 47th minute in which the Swiss referee (and I thought they were meant to be neutral) called a foul on Vladislav Vashchuk, who, if he committed any foul on David Villa, did it way outside the area. It was a double whammy -- bad penalty decision and an unwarranted red card, and even though Spain were up 2-0 at that point, Ukraine were certainly looking capable of getting a goal back and making a game of it. In fairness though, Spain looked quality.


Sorry, just stopped writing abruptly to watch the end of the absorbing Poland/Germany game. What a finish -- a completely justified sending off for Radoslaw Sobolewski (I'm fully in favor of a firmly raised red card especially if preceded by a cynical second foul and continental-style begging from the suddenly oh-so-innocent-looking Johnny foreigner), followed by 15 minutes of war re-enactments on the Polish goal. At one point, the Germans put two consecutive shots off the crossbar in a touching tribute to the Ronaldinho Nike commercial. And what a sublime goal by Oliver Neuville, who I've always liked despite a suspicion of Belgian-ness. Regular readers will know how I feel about the low countries.

OK, time to adjust my:

Davies World Cup Diary Completely Biased Power Rankings of the 32 World Cup teams after they've each played one match (or two in the case of Poland and Germany)

Harry Potter
Warner Brothers
England continues to negotiate with Hogwarts to release Harry Potter from his contract in time for the match with Trinidad.

(1) England: Just to prove this is completely biased. In all seriousness, I have them at No. 8. But their defense is strong enough to have them in the top five. If Rooney comes back and Harry Potter plays at Seeker.

(2) Argentina: This was the best I've seen any team play in the tournament so far. And I was sober.

(3) Czech Republic: Strong at the back, strong in midfield, strong up front (with Milan Baros back) and the best goalkeeper in the world, Petr Cech, despite the missing letters in his name.

(4) Brazil: Let me make clear, these rankings are only based on how they've played so far at this World Cup and frankly, though they only seemed to be playing in second gear against Croatia, they looked human.

(5) Spain: History means nothing at the World Cup. I know they've never won it but are you going to tell me that Dallas or Miami can't win the NBA championship because they've never won it? Success in team sports is based on personnel, coaching, luck and timing. And referees making crap decisions which go in your favor.

(6) Germany: They're just gut. Playing at home they're sehr gut. And their uncanny ability to score last-minute goals makes them annoyingly gut. I've forgotten about their defensive lapses against the Costa Ricans. They just leapfrogged Italy.

(7) Italy: If they played in more comfortable shirts they might be No. 1. They looked good against Ghana. But it was Ghana. We'll know more about them after Saturday against the U.S.

Goldmember
New Line
What better way to take a break from World Cup action then with a smoke and a pancake?

(8) Holland: My second-least-favorite low country. They'd be way lower down without Chelsea's Arjen Robben, who is, not surprisingly, my favorite all-time Dutchman after Goldmember.

(9) Portugal: Organized, strong players in every position, will be hard to beat, but this is the first team on the list that I just can't see winning the whole thing. Their best player is still 53-year-old Luis Figo. Ronaldo is a superb footballer, but nowhere near as good, yet, as he thinks he is.

(10) Ecuador: I hear they were good. I can't remember. If they beat Costa Rica tomorrow they're through to the next round.

(11) The Elfenbeinkuste (aka the Ivory Coast): Controversial, yes, because they lost their first game. But they played beautifully against Argentina and the Dutch are pooping their duipers before they have to play them this Friday.

(12) Mexico: Tough to judge them after they beat a very poor Iran on Sunday. I think they might struggle against Angola on Friday.

(13) France: Count them out at your peril; 0-0 against a talented Switzerland team might not have been thrilling, but it was a good result for both teams.

(14) Switzerland: Nowhere near as boring as you'd think based on where they're from and how they played yesterday.

Croatia
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Have some respect, Croatia! At least switch to tablecloths.

(15) Croatia: Played great against Brazil -- definitely see them in the last 16. But they really need to rethink those pajamas/uniforms.

(16) Australia: Nowhere near as good as they now think they are after scoring three goals in six minutes against a Japanese team who literally fell asleep on the field.

(17) Sweden: Better than they played against T and T. But this is where that performance puts them. I'm going to get hell from my Swedish in-laws for this.

(18) South Korea: The weakest of the winning teams. But crucially, they still found a way to win after going a goal down. This team has tremendous desire, and tremendous fitness. France and Switzerland wish they didn't have to play them.

(19) Paraguay: Maybe I'm biased here, because they were playing against England, but I think they're useful. We'll know more after tomorrow if they can challenge Sweden for second in the group.

(20) The USA: Hardcore U.S. fans, the same ones who are killing the team and the coach for their performance on Monday, will now want to kill me for this ranking. But I think it's kind. This is how well they played against the Czech Republic. They can climb mightily with a result against Italy.

(21) Serbia-Montenegro:This is a little harsh. They didn't so much lose to Holland as lose to Arjen Robben.

(22) Poland: Seconds away from stealing a result against Germany -- but they were dominated all match, created few chances and look really likely to be going home. Which I'm kind of happy about, because I'm kind of scared of their fans, and if they'd beaten Germany, England might have had to play the home nation in the next round.

Shaka Hislop
AP
Come on, Shaka! Just go with one name ... all the cool Brazilian kids are doin' it.

(23) Trinidad and Tobago: One word: Shakahislop! Which is two words, but so much more fun as one.

(24) Japan: I guarantee that the last few minutes against Australia were treated like a national tragedy on Nippon TV. I can't see them qualifying for the next round.

(25) Ghana: They would be higher (and might have scored a couple against Italy) if they had any natural goalscorers in their side. They're (almost) the Ivory Coast without Drogba.

(26) Tunisia: Sorry, find it difficult to care much. Only meeting I paid attention to all day was while they were playing (and almost losing to) Saudi Arabia.

(27) Angola: Great fans. Good football team. No one up front who can score.

(28) Ukraine: This is how badly they played against Spain. And yet, I still think they'll qualify for the last 16.

(29) Costa Rica: Just not that good. But they've got a guy up front in Paolo Wanchope who can score goals.

(30) Saudi Arabia: See No. 26 above.

(31) Togo: Bye, bye, Togo. Do not pass Go. Do not collect a $200,000 per player fee.

(32) Iran: I've seen them play way better than this. They win the award for crappest goal of the tournament. But otherwise … rubbish.

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.




Michael
Davies
WORLD CUP DIARY