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.
The "Working" Press Room, Stadium Media Center, 12:25 a.m.
I'm still coming down from the high. Genuinely one of the best football games I've seen in my life. And make no mistake, that was football out there tonight. Hard-nosed, violent, every inch of the field contested, fan-inspired, battling -- in spite of the ref, dramatic, passionate, breathless football. The atmosphere was evangelical, a communion of faith, doubt, determination and fear between the opposing players and the opposing fans. All witnessed by the nonbelieving disciples in the international media.
It was such an instant classic, so enthralling, so mesmerizing, so unexpected, it needs a moniker -- like the War on the Shore, The Thrilla in Manilla.
I like the Pfight in the Pfalz.
God, look at all these miserable faces around me. Nothing they hate here more than the U.S. matching up to one of the best teams in the world. They hate the England team more. But they hate what the U.S. stands for the most.
Yesterday I told you the nine things to feel good about before the U.S. take on Italy. Today I give you:
Nine Things To Make You Feel Good After The U.S. Played Their Hearts Out Against Italy And Got A Point:
(1) The U.S. showed how well they're capable of playing. They worked harder, they were quicker, they tackled hard, they went a goal down and came back, nine men outplayed 10. Every player in that dressing room now believes they can make it into the next round if they play like that against Ghana.
(2) They really can qualify. A win against Ghana, and the most likely result in Hamburg, an Italian win over the Czech Republic, takes them through.
(3) The Czechs and Ghanaians have lost some players for Thursday's games. In fact, right now, the Czechs don't even have a striker.
(4) I will wear no lucky shirt on Thursday.
(5) The performance of the U.S. fans. They behaved like real, world "football" supporters. They sang, they took on the ref. They lifted their team. Make no mistake, that was a game of football -- violent, passionate, hard-fought -- and the U.S. contingent responded. Outstanding.
(6) Oguchi Onyewu. He is world class.
(7) Eric Wynalda was wrong about dropping Claudio Reyna. I've been wrong about a thousand things so far, but it's nice to be right against someone you respect. Don't kick the crap out of me, Eric.
(8) Arena's Face. The only Bruce Arena face that I like more than the miserable one is the smug one. But seriously, every move he made, all week, naming names, changing the lineup, scouting the game himself, worked.
(9) The Miserable Faces of the international football media. The reporting will be begrudging. I particularly can't wait for the Italian press, who were so critical of England.
It's been a long but perfect day. No for and against today because, frankly, I'm for everything. I'll give you new rankings in the morning.
On my way to the Media Tribune, Fritz Walter Stadium, Kaiserslautern, 8:15 p.m.
So that was weird. Ghana over the Czech Republic by two and it could have been four or five. My wearing of lucky shirts seems to have some kind of reverse but awesome power to throw the football universe into flux. I can't wait to see what happens now. I'm going to try to live blog the U.S. game. Though technically the U.S. can still qualify with a loss, that's a long shot. They need a point then a big win over Ghana -- or two wins at any scoreline.
8:45 p.m: Twenty minutes to kickoff
So remember what I said about the Italians outnumbering the U.S. fans three to one? Make that 10 to one. And in volume about two to one. Good job by the U.S. fans -- in really good voice during the intro. Bruce Arena has misled everyone with the starting lineup -- Carlos Bocanegra in for Eddie Lewis, Clint Dempsey in for DaMarcus Beasley, no place for Eddie Johnson. Zambrotta returns for Italy, but with Andrea, Simone and Daniele in the lineup, they seem to be playing three girls.
8:55 p.m: Ten minutes to kick off
Is DNA in really great voice. I think it's the boys from the air force base. I'm sitting with a whole ESPN gang (next to the VIP area). So far I've spotted der Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer and German game show host Thomas Gottschalk.
8:50 p.m: Five minutes away
National anthems; bad sign when some of the kids who came out with the U.S. team are taller than the U.S. players. God, they're playing the U.S. anthem fast, but the response is insane, 10 times better than Monday.
9:01 p.m: Someone alert the media the U.S. fans are singing a real football song. This looks good. And the game is under way
Minute 1: First Italian whine within 10 seconds.
2: First dangerous Italian cross.
3: First dangerous Italian free kick is crap. First Italian back pass is predictable.
4: U.S. in Italian half for first time for 10 seconds.
5: American football tackle by the Gooch, followed by yellow card for Cannavaro.
6: I have never been so inspired by a soccer crowd.
7: USA playing quick, aggressive ball -- not giving Italy any time.
8: Italy look shaken, Italian fans almost silent.
9: Dempsey already looks like an inspired selection he looks like he belongs.
10: They are all over the Italians.
11: Luca Toni goes down like a toddler.
12: Gooch plays Toni huge.
13: Italians go close, but offside.
14: GREAT TACKLING BY THE U.S.
15: Free kick in great position. Convey knocks it off the wall.
16: Convey has another great chance three points!
17: Sorry, not being funny at all but this is way too inspiring.
18: Dempsey flashes it just wide.
19: Italy reorganize their midfield on instructions from the bench -- now sitting in four lines instead of three.
20: Excellent short grabbing from Eddie Pope. U.S. fans start yelling bulldoody (or something to that effect).
21: Italian fans start getting into it. Italy wins a free kick on right.
22: Damn that's quality. Gilardino scores from sublime curling cross.
25: OK, I've missed a few minutes as I try and figure out whose fault the goal was. Don't like Convey's positioning in the wall. Don't like Pope getting beaten near post.
27: But lo and effing behold the Italians score the crappest own goal of all time.
28: And then another sensational own goal De Rossi commits assault on McBride and gets sent off.
Group E stands for group easily the craziest of the lot.
33: There is less blood in an episode of ER. McBride might file charges.
35: Totti off Gattuso on
37: U.S. must press cannot let Italy believe that they can handle them with 10 men.
38: Gattuso might be the hardest-looking footballer on the planet.
40: Suddenly, at the point that they're on top, U.S. suddenly tentative.
42: Mastroeni barely makes the field goal U.S. fans go crazy.
43: This is better.
45: Make-up call from the ref; that is international inexperience. Any ref is going to make that call having already given a red to the opposing team. Mastroeni off. Arena now has built-in excuse if they don't qualify.
Halftime an insane half of football. What else should we expect from Group E today?
10:05 p.m: OK, I just did a bunch of math and my head hurts.
U.S. need to hold here and pray that Italy beat the Czechs. If Italy and the Czechs draw, the U.S. need to best Ghana by a boatload. Or, the U.S. could just come out in the second half and stuff the Italians like calzone and do the same in the style of an appropriate Ghanaian dish to the Africans on Thursday.
Minute 46: OK, this has just become "The Weakest Link." There's less elimination in "Survivor" for Christ's sakes. The first red to Mastroeni? I have to say, I kind of get. This one to Pope, rubbish. A foul, but not a cardable foul only defense for the ref is that my guess is he forgot he gave Pope a card in the first half.
49: U.S. fans start screaming bulldoody again.
50: And now they're singing Yankee power or it might be Kasey Keller.
52: This is better Bocanegra clatters one off the crossbar unfortunately it's the U.S. crossbar.
53: Uh oh, Del Piero is on the Italians may as well be riding horses around the pitch there's so much space.
58: Lest we forget, the Italians still need to score to virtually eliminate the U.S. This is like Custer's last stand, the Alamo and the completion of the transcontinental railroad at Promontory Point, Utah, all rolled into one.
60: I've got to tell you my admiration for the U.S. players is eclipsed only by my admiration for the U.S. fans here in the stadium. They are awesome. The soccer haters should be embarrassed of their lack of patriotic support.
62: Beasley in for Dempsey how do you spell redemption?
63: McBride could have scored he should have juggled it onto his head and then had a go with his head.
64: Beasley scores but it's brought back for offside Arena is going crazy, but the replay makes it look like a good decision. Sorry. But I've got to call it like I see it.
70: I've written it before but I'll write it again: Fans are 12th men, and in this case, the 10th. This is one of the best football games I've ever seen.
71: The Italians are rattled, stupid card picked up by Zambrotta for a completely unnecessary foul on Cherundolo.
73: Excellent save by Keller and the crowd chant his name. Or Yankee power.
77: OK, there was the Miracle on Ice, but name me any other more outstanding underdog clutch performance by a U.S. team in modern history?
79: Kasey Keller does an Oliver Kahn special makes an average save look sensational.
80: Gattuso suddenly looks like Diego Maradona out there -- he can barely move.
81: The U.S. have won the battle of fitness. Eight outfield players running circles around nine. Never thought I'd see it.
84: I hate to say it, but it could get kind of ugly in Kaiserslautern tonight the Italian fans look embarrassed, angry and malevolent.
88: Just minutes away now if the Italians don't force a win.
93: Sorry, had my head in my hands. An incomparable performance by the U.S. national team in the modern era. And listen to those fans. Football just arrived in America, I think. The players and fans played and cheered with the true passion of a footballing superpower. The U.S. may not win this World Cup, they may not even qualify for the next round, but this performance continues to lay the groundwork for the future. In fact, watching the performance of those players lifted in communion with their fans, I think they just completed the basement and the first five floors.
The "Working" Press Room, Fritz Walter Stadion, Kaiserslautern, 4:35 p.m.
A plate of Media Centre Cafeteria Bockwurst sits on a paper plate in front of me, Portugal have just gone up 2-0 on the Philips HD plasma to my right and I am surrounded by the miserable international football press. Wilkommen in Deutschland.
Was having trouble staying awake on the 120-kilometer drive from the airport after another sensational flight on my Lufthansa Airmancavebus. Pulled off to an autohof, a rest stop, and picked up an inspirational "Torsten Frings Edition" of Coca Cola Light. Then my navigation system lady did something weird. First she reverted to German, after I'd spent a good hour on my last trip reprogramming the on-board computer to have her speak Italian, which, frankly, I find more attractive. And then she wouldn't let me get back on the autobahn. She instead directed me onto the B-271, also known as the WeinStrasse, a long winding road that weaves through the Pfalz wine region -- I can't imagine a more beautiful drive on a sunny June day in the world. I even drove through a town called Frankenstein. And you know what, it was the only ugly one of the lot. Sensational. But my God, it made me want a drink.
I arrived in charming Kaiserslautern. Parked and found a quaint little Chinese bar in the city center that served Fritz Walter beer. Fritz is everywhere here -- he captained the 1954 World Cup-winning German fussball team and is something of a national sports hero on the Babe Ruth level. He is particularly admired for playing his best football in the worst weather. His beer, however, is pants.
The atmosphere downtown was lively. Plenty of Americans, not surprising considering the huge military base nearby, but still outnumbered at least 3 to 1 by Italians. And the atmosphere was positive; not one fan I spoke to felt the U.S. couldn't get a result. So I have decided to wear my Czech Republic shirt for today's match. Here's my:
DAVIES' WORLD CUP DIARY BIZARRE RATIONAL FOR WEARING A CZECH REPUBLIC JERSEY FOR TODAY'S U.S. MATCH
(1) We need the Czech Republic to thrash Ghana, to defeat their spirit so they have no will to play in Nuremberg against the U.S. next week. Let's let the Czechs win the group. Let's figure out how to finish second.
(2) A decisive win for the Czechs (who play three hours before the U.S. and Italy) will also put pressure on Italy to play very offensively against the U.S. to try and match their goal difference.
(3) That will make Italy vulnerable, either to tightness, or to abandoning their traditional defensive-mindedness.
(4) If Italy play tight, or are forced to abandon the defensive lockdown (catenaccio, they call it, literally bolting the door) the U.S. can just get at least a point today.
(5) That would mean that Italy have to play for a win against the Czech Republic on Thursday because finishing second in the group will leave them matched up with Brazil in the next round. If they do that, I think they will lose.
(6) Italy are weakest, in my opinion, when forced into playing attacking football. However much a Zebra tries to change its stripes, it still has stripes.
(7) That would leave the Czechs on nine points, Italy would have four, and if the U.S. can overcome a defeated Ghana, they would have four also. Then it's all down to goal difference. U.S. are currently minus-3. Italy are plus-2. Assuming a draw today, that would remain the same by tonight. The U.S. would then have to beat Ghana by four and pray for a two-goal victory for the Czechs in Hamburg against Italy for them to advance on goal difference.
(8) Then Bruce Arena would just have to construct a game plan to beat Brazil in the last 16.
Am I drunk? No. Check the records. Things like this have happened before.
Less than four hours until kickoff now. The Italian journalists are already whining about the heat and the condition of the pitch. Get ready for their players to roll around on the field like they've been hacked across the legs with one of those steel balls with spikes coming out the side attached to a chain on a long stick like the ones you saw in "Braveheart." For a bunch of Italian boys, these guys in their uncomfortable polyester shirts are all-American whiners.
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.