Special to Page 2
Editor's Note: Michael Davies is blogging the 2006 World Cup for Page 2. Each day throughout the monthlong tournament, he will file multiple reports from Germany (and back home in New York). Check back for more updates.
Tribeca, New York, 9:45 p.m., June 15
Fly the imaginary graphic and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah here's what I'm for and against today.
For: New York City cab drivers sporting their national team colors, two beers at lunch, Web chats, my new book idea, Trinidad and Tobago.
Against: Guys who come from countries who haven't even qualified telling you all the ways in which your team, who have qualified, suck; how difficult it is to work after two beers at lunch; watching football with girls; American sausage, England's performance against Trinidad and Tobago.
Woke up at the crack of dawn and fortunately managed to get out of the house before my 22-month-old daughter made me watch Andrea Bocelli for the 50th time on "Sesame Street" this week. I was headed up to Westchester County, just a Tiger Woods 4-iron (about a mile and a half) from Winged Foot, where the U.S. Open got under way today (come on, Monty!). As I left the city, I drove past two cabs and a 1984 metallic green Honda Accord, all decked out in Ecuadorian flags and the driver and passengers in Ecuador World Cup shirts. I gave them all encouraging fist pumps. But if England have to play them the weekend after next, I hope they remember it as road rage.
Up at the headquarters of a major consumer brand, we had a big 20-or-so person meeting about a new TV show we're launching, but for the first 15 minutes all we talked about was the World Cup. One of the brand guys had been at the U.S. game against the Czech Republic and was totally gutted about the U.S. performance, inconsolable, and it suddenly struck me that this whole situation is totally new for the U.S. sports fan. Firstly, none of you are at all accustomed to losing at anything. Secondly, the fact that enough of you care so deeply and are so unhappy with the team's performance shows that football has started to matter. That in turn puts pressure on the national team, who, accordingly, have to play under more pressure more regularly and therefore improve. I really mean this.
After the meeting I raced back to the city to make the noon kickoff of England vs. Trinidad and Tobago at the Greenwich Street Tavern. I had arranged to watch the game with Dan Shanoff, who writes the Daily Quickie on Page 2. We got on immediately and I pitched him my killer idea for a book which we instantly decided to do together. It's going to be the must-have sports book for Christmas 2007. Bids in sealed envelopes, please.
Unfortunately, England were absolute pants. Large pants that make their asses look big, are made out of a crunchy polyester blend, are worn real high like mom jeans and are a few inches too short so some hairy leg is exposed over the top of mismatched ankle socks.
In ascending order of pantsness then, here are my player ratings:
NO PANTS AT ALL
Once again, no one.
None of the England players delivered a completely pantsless performance. Oliver Neuville for Germany yesterday evening? Absolutely no pants. Arjen Robben for Holland against Serbia at the weekend? Buck naked below the waist.
SHORT PANTS (knee length)
Terry was England's Man Of The Match for me. But I'm a Chelsea man. He and Rio are still going to be difficult to score against, even for the stronger teams. Beckham was far more involved today than he was against Paraguay and though his corners and free kicks were atypically weak, he made two or three insanely clever crosses in the game, including the perfect cross which met the Crouchatron's head and the back of the net within a split second of each other. Incidentally, I heard Beckham interviewed on the radio today -- his voice has definitely become deeper. I think he's taking elocution lessons. Lennon was electric in his half an hour or so. England just play the ball much quicker with him out there.
THOSE GIRLY CAPRI PANTS THAT YOU SOMETIMES SEE GUYS WEARING
Not quite pants but definitely disappointing, Joe Cole opened brightly but then kind of disappeared. The more he cuts inside, the more he seems incapable of ever getting a shot off that isn't blocked. The Crouchatron is somewhat fortunate to avoid wearing the largest pants on Planet Earth after his first-half miss, but he scored a goal that I'm not sure any other striker in the world, save maybe Jan Koller or Dwight Howard, would have made. But if it is true that he pulled himself up on the dreadlocks of the T and T defender, as reported on German television earlier (it apparently had a unique angle), that might go down as my No. 1 comedy goal of all time (seeing as the defender also had him in a bear hug).
Ashley Cole played way better today, got forward more and linked up better with Joe Cole and overall looked more match fit. Still, nowhere near his best and still way too many players with the last name Cole in English football. Roon-aldo combined well with everyone when he came on, but he was nowhere near his normal, schoolyard bully self. Great move by Sven though to bring him on for 30 minutes of match practice. And in one close-up after the T and T defense broke up a play, he did manage to say the F-bomb about seven times at every player and official in the vicinity. Carra did nothing wrong, worked unbelievably hard, but right now, right back is England's weakest position on offense -- you don't see a lot of goals coming from there. Paul Robinson looked a little shaky, but still not a goal past him.
Gerrard would be wearing absolute pants if he hadn't scored. England's central midfield are playing "toight" (as my friend Goldmember would say), and not toight in a good way, toight like they're nervous schoolboys on trial for the South East London Schools Under 11 boys all district team. But I might be projecting. Lampard has now taken 13 shots in two games and has not scored once. Sven can't drop him; the stats also show he's England's best passer, tackler, gets fouled most often and gets into scoring position far more than anyone else. But he's got to score.
• Day 6: Blood, sweat and sausage|
• 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
I'm sorry, but he's not fit. Not the same player he's been for England in the past. Someone has to make way for Rooney and Lennon, who are knocking on the door.
Ran back to my house to watch "World Cup Live." Eric Wynalda's point is well taken -- I don't know who these guys are, either. But I can't help thinking that if this were the Germans, all the pundits would be saying that's what the Germans do, keep on pressing and break you down at the end of the match. Certainly, I think it would be tough to say that an injury-time winner against a very weak Poland side and a 4-2 win against Costa Rica makes them any stronger than England. Moreover, they are trailing Ecuador in their own group.
After two pints of Bass watching the game, I really needed some sausage. I found something pretending to be "finest German sausage" at the Food Emporium, but was deeply disappointed. But on my way back up to my office I passed a Beer Keller on 10th Avenue. I'm definitely going to check that out tomorrow.
I ran a few minutes late for my Web chat on ESPN.com but loved talking to several of you. Unfortunately a few of the questioners seemed to be under the mistaken impression that I am some kind of football expert. But most of you do seem to get the point -- I'm far more qualified to talk about sausage, beer, autobahn rest stops and narrow toilet paper. And stop despairing about the U.S. national team. Win or lose on Saturday, this is part of becoming a major football-playing nation. I will write more about this later.
After the Web chat I watched a replay of the game between the two largest exporters of bananas on the planet (thanks "World Cup Live"), Ecuador and Costa Rica (in honor of the Costa Ricans' exit from the World Cup, I am wearing their way-too-tight shirt in the picture to the right). The Costa Rican fans are fantastic but their shirt is made by Joma, which is never a good sign and kind of looks like one of those early MLS paint-splattered disasters. Ecuador are now, officially, a dark horse team. England don't want to play either them or Germany in the next round.
A bunch of my female co-workers headed over to the office for a meeting during the Sweden vs. Paraguay game and this was frankly annoying. Firstly, girls ask questions which sports fans can't answer. Like why do the players walk out holding hands with small kids at the beginning of every match? Also, I have never watched a football game before purely through the eyes of who's cute (Freddie Ljungberg), dreamy (Roque Santa Cruz) and just ridiculously hot (Nelson Valdez). At the end of the game as I was cursing the Swedish victory (both because the English now need a result against them to win the group and because I enjoy mercilessly teasing my Swedish in-laws) they were all oohing and aahing that Nelson Valdez looked so sad that he really needed a hug.
OK, got to go and pack for my trip back to Germany. But first, how do recent games affect 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, Germany, Ecuador, Costa Rica, England, Trinidad and Tobago, Sweden and Paraguay):
(1) Argentina (up 1): This was the best I've seen any team play in the tournament so far. And I was sober. Winning 6-0 over my No. 21 Serbia-Montenegro didn't hurt this pick, either.
(2) England (down 1): Just to prove this is completely biased, England only move down to No. 2. But if I weren't English, I think I'd have them at 10 or 11. Rooney is back; now we need Harry Potter.
(3) Czech Republic: Strong at the back, strong in midfield, strong up front (with 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 that go in your favor.
(6) Ecuador (up 4): Those two wins are impressive. No one wants to play them now. England might have to.
(7) Germany (down 1): 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.
(8) Italy (down 1) 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.
(9) Holland (down 1): 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.
(10) Portugal (down 1): 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. Christiano Ronaldo is a superb footballer, but nowhere near as good, yet, as he thinks he is.
(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. Can't wait for the game against Holland. Has potential classic written all over it.
(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) Sweden: Still not fluid but they got the win. That will give them huge confidence. Who knows? Don't tell my Swedish family but I think they would stand a chance against Germany in the next round.
15) Switzerland (down 1): Nowhere near as boring as you'd think based on where they're from and how they played against France.
(16) Croatia (down 1): Played great against Brazil -- definitely see them in the last 16. But they really need to rethink those pajamas/uniforms.
(17) Australia (down 1): Nowhere near as good as they now they think they are after scoring three goals in six minutes against a Japanese team who literally fell asleep on the field.
(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: They're going home after two narrow losses. Tough. I still think they deserve this ranking.
(20) The USA: Do not despair, U.S. fans. You will play better on Saturday.
(21) Serbia-Montenegro: This is a little harsh. They didn't so much lose to Holland as lose to Arjen Robben. Or maybe not too harsh: they lost 6-0 to Argentina Friday morning.
(22) T and T (up 1): I never would have expected a team from the Caribbean to play such physical defence. T and T are still in this group if they can beat Paraguay and England beat Sweden. But they need to score goals.
(23) Poland (down 1): Seconds away from stealing a result against Germany -- but they were dominated all match, created few chances and now they're 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.
(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 Didier 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. And looked worse against Ecuador. But they've got a guy up front in Paolo Wanchope who can score goals. And while CONCACAF sends three and a half teams, we'll see them again.
(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.