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 reports from Germany (and back home in New York). Check back for more updates.
Row one, Block 105, Seat 124 -- from my Blackberry
Apparently, the burghers of Munich drink more beer than any other population on Earth but with the Australians in town, I have a feeling we're about to see some kind of beer world record. This stadium reeks of the amber nectar. And the Australian fans away to my right are totally in the mood, heaping piles of abuse on Ronaldo and the Brazilians, at one point even chanting "boooooring" -- sacrilege in the old-world football order.
But the Australians, like the Americans last night, represent the ruggedness of the new world. I'll spare you the frontier thesis. But something's up in the world of football, and I think it could be the thrill of the new.
Or then again, maybe not; 1-0, Brazil.
Minute 59: The Brazilians are warming up every sub they have. Australia don't have much left on the bench. Two guys from Men at Work and "The Crocodile Hunter."
65: Despite a 1 to 0 lead, the Brazilians look flat, their goalie looks weak and their fans are virtually silent.
67: Kewell almost scores on a breakaway. Inspired sub by Hiddink. Perreira responds getting ready to bring in Robinho.
71: Nice save from Schwarzer; Australia almost in at other end. Their fans are going bits. Which is Blackberry for nuts.
73: Robinho and Gilberto Silva on Ronaldo off may I recommend the roast pork in the media restaurant, Ronnie? Spectacular.
75: If the score stays here, Australia have not hurt their chances at all. In Brazil, the media will call for Perreira's head.
77: My friend Deaton points out that Brazil have more spark with Robinho in the game and gives me 50 Euros for giving him Page 2 credit.
81: End to end stuff which is a great name for a football-themed X-rated movie.
83: In my view, this is shaping up to be the best World Cup since 1970. Bold. But defensible. Australia almost score
85: And now they almost score again. Wowzer.
88: Brazil make a meaningless substitution. Total time wasting but a great play.
89: Goal for Brazil. They don't deserve it, but how great that they have a guy named Fred.
91: Kaks almost adds a third.
93: The final whistle. Well-played, Australia. But more money will be going on Argentina over the next few days.
"Working" Press Room, FIFA World Cup Stadium, Munich, 4:55 p.m., June 18
Cue the imaginary music and graphics, because I'm back in Munich and here is what I'm for and against today in its new and improved format:
For: Cueing imaginary music.
Against: Cueing imaginary graphics.
For: The Croatian journalist throwing a fit in the press room.
Against: Men playing football in pajamas.
For: Praising the fans.
Against: Attacking the ref.
For: Narrow toilet paper.
Against: Narrow bathtubs.
Never in the history of humanity has so much yellow and green congregated in one location. The walk to the stadium made my eyes hurt, the Australian and Brazilian fans all dressed so brightly in the same colors, like a sea of sweaty, human, liquored-up corn on the cob. The Croatia-Japan match just finished in a 0-0 tie, leaving Australia in the driving seat for qualification in Group F. A Croatian journalist is literally crying in the corner in fetal position, having been warned by a FIFA official that he has to stop screaming and making a scene.
The match today is pretty meaningless -- it is almost certainly all going to come down to the Croatia vs. Australia match on Thursday. But who knows what could happen today? I'm wearing one of my flux-producing World Cup shirts again -- Brazil, for the second time. I just couldn't bring myself to put on the Australian one. And anyway, it is my first chance to see Brazil in the flesh since the last World Cup final in Yokohama, Japan.
This morning was uneventful. I arrived at my hotel near the Stuttgart airport at 4 in the morning after getting lost leaving Kaiserslautern. I slept for five hours, dreaming of Monty winning the U.S. Open (because it will never happen in reality), tried to take a shower but couldn't make it work, so literally squeezed into the narrowest, shortest of bathtubs for the most unrelaxing bath of my life. I'm going to spare you the details, but an 8-year-old Chinese acrobat would have had trouble taking a decent wash in that thing -- and there was literally suction when I pulled myself out.
I have, however, officially become used to narrow toilet paper. And you know what, it's better for the environment.
I've read a bunch of the international press on the U.S. vs. Italy match, and not surprisingly, they see it a little differently than the press back home. No mention of the rousing performance of the U.S. fans (will never get over what I witnessed; for me, much more notable than the three red cards) and only grudging acceptance of how well the U.S. team played. The match was essentially seen as a violent encounter with an extraordinary number of fouls. The referee's overeagerness to pull out his whole palate of cards (I'm sure if he'd had other colors he would have used them) was seen in that context, and in the context of the specific instructions given to referees at this World Cup, namely, clamp down on flying elbows, two-footed cleats-up tackles and tackles from behind.
After having watched some replays on German television, I am convinced Pablo Mastroeni's red card was justified, or at least inevitable based on the briefing of the referees and the fact that he had already sent off an Italian. The U.S. will learn from that.
The disallowed Beasley goal was also a correct call.
I will, however, never believe that Eddie Pope's second yellow was justified. It was a foul, but not a yellow. A simple case of a ref trying to stamp his authority on a game early in the half and not realising he was killing the game.
If you want to read a different point of view, try Rob Hughes in the Times of London.
It's great to see the coverage from the U.S. (watched some of the live studio show on ESPN.com) reflecting the passion of the players and fans. Eric, Alexi and Giorgio in the studio? That's a cocktail. But the scapegoating of the ref, the bringing up of his past suspension (when no one seems to have any idea what it was for) is a British import the U.S. can do without. It doesn't change anything. The U.S. got a great result because of their players. Bruce Arena, I thought, handled the postmatch press conference with real class.
OK, almost time to go see if Brazil can match Argentina. But first, here are 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, Paraguay, Argentina, Serbia-Montenegro, Holland, The Elfenbeinkuste, Mexico, Angola, Portugal, Iran, the Czech Republic, Ghana, Italy, the United States, Japan and Croatia):
(1) Argentina: What is higher than No. 1? Ladbrokes have them at 4-1 but I wouldn't bet against them if they continue to play like this.
(2) The USA (up 18): After Saturday's performance against Italy and the performance of the fans, the U.S. get the completely biased home-nation ranking treatment and England go where I really rate them on present form. Inspiring stuff from the Septics ("septic tank" equals yank in cockney rhyming slang). But one word of caution before Ghana. The U.S. are yet to score a real goal. Bring on Eddie Johnson.
(3) 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. I am rooting for them to demolish Australia.
(4) Spain (up 1): 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.
(5) Ecuador (up 1): Those two wins are impressive. No one wants to play them now. England might have to.
(6) Germany (up 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.
(7) Holland (up 2): They scored two great goals against the Elfenbeinkuste then kind of lost the plot. I am not convinced.
(8) England (down 6): But kind of where I've always had them. However, one good performance and they could be top four. On merit. A European team really needs to lay down the gauntlet to the South Americans.
(9) Italy: They deserve to move down further after their performance against the U.S., but no one else has stepped up. U.S. exposed their lack of speed, fitness, inventiveness, composure and belief.
(10) Portugal: Inconsistent against Iran. So much potential throughout the squad, but rather like England, not firing anywhere near on all cylinders while grinding out wins.
(11) Czech Republic (down 8): So another theory could be that the U.S. played their worst game in recent history against them last Monday and made them look way better than they really are.
(12) The Elfenbeiners (down 1): Out of the tournament but one of its strongest teams. A brutal group.
(13) France (down 1): 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 (down 1): 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) Ghana (up 10): So maybe they do have goal scorers. A win against the U.S. on Thursday, or maybe even a point, takes them through to the next round.
(16) Switzerland (down 2): Just for being Swiss. But nowhere near as boring as you'd think based on where they're from and how they played against France.
(17) Mexico (down 2): Their performance against Angola was total Pantalones. They now need a result against Portugal to be sure of qualifying.
(18) Croatia (down 2): They are way too talented a team to be ranked this low, but an unconverted penalty and lack of creativity in front of goal gained them only a point against Japan. They must beat Croatia on Thursday to qualify for the next round.
(19) Australia (down 2): 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. Brazil will pose a tougher challenge.
(20) South Korea: The weakest of the winning teams after one match played. 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.
(21) Paraguay: They're going home after two narrow losses. Tough, but I still think they deserve this ranking. Or maybe I don't. They could still move up without even playing.
(22) T and T: 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) Angola (down 1): If they beat Iran by two, they could make the next round.
(24) Poland: 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.
(25) Japan (down 1): Another disappointing performance against Croatia. The World Cup is over for them unless they can beat Brazil and other results go their way. Those six last minutes against Australia cost them dearly.
(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) Serbia-Montenegro (down 6): The worst beating any World Cup team has taken since Saudi Arabia lost to Germany 8-0 in Japan four years ago.
(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 3½ 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: Played better. But one OK loss and one bad one still equals two losses. Buh-bye.
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.