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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.
"Working" Press Room, FIFA World Cup Stadion, Cologne, 11:40 p.m. June 20
Take the pain and frustration you felt on Saturday at the Uruguayan referee in the U.S. vs. Italy match, redirect it towards your team, multiply it by 10 and subtract any residual happiness you felt at gaining a point against one of the stronger teams in Europe. That, my friends, is what it feels like to be an England fan.
For: England's first-half performance
Against: England's second-half performance
And now I have to face my in-laws in Stockholm on Friday doing that funny, Swedish, breathing-in thing and telling each other how unlucky they were to hit the woodwork twice in the second half. And the truth is, as much as I think England should have been up 3-0 by halftime, England got lucky. They defended horribly, scored a goal against the run of play and looked vulnerable from every set piece.
Thank God for that Lion in Munich. I'm going back there tomorrow afternoon. Several times.
(By the way, if anyone has any information on what the significance of that lion actually is, and what it actually means to rub it, could you please let me know? What if it's some fertility thing? I already have about 15 daughters under the age of 2 at home, so don't really need another.)
Anyway, drumroll please, here are my England player ratings in ascending order of pantsness. And at last, I am pleased to announce, one England player made it through the entire match wearing absolutely no pants.
Davies' Rankings of the England Football Team in Ascending Order Of Pantsness
Absolutely No Pants
Man of the Match by a mile. Superb on the left all night. The absolute focal point of England's attack in the absence of a fully fit Rooney and any semblance of an attack down the right. Scored a sublime (word of the tournament) goal -- perhaps the best of his career, and certainly the best England World Cup goal since Owen's against Argentina in 1998. Also responsible for England's only decent move of the night down the right. A beautifully delayed and weighted cross for Gerrard to score. His stock has risen mightily this tournament. And thank God he plays for Chelsea.
I don't think Hargreaves will be booed again by the England faithful. Finally showed what he can do for England playing in his preferred position. Ran all night, covered acres of terrain, tackled hard, won ball after ball and hardly a turnover. Hope it came across on television how well he played. Seemed to work better in the 4-4-2 than the 4-1-4-1 which England deployed when Gerrard came on. But also he may have tired.
Girly Capri Pants
Carragher was England's most solid defender. He just breeds confidence. Limited offensively but "A" for effort. Always trying to get involved. Rooney showed glimpses of that rare combination of awesome power, control, vision and hardness. He tired though, as should be expected, and Sven was right to remove him for Gerrard. His continued rehabilitation is one of few positives for England to hold onto.
Peter Crouch never looked like scoring. Lampard has had way too many shots in this tournament not to have scored. But in a free role, he created very little, especially in the second half. He seems to have forgotten how to run with the ball. Beckham manages to avoid an absolute pants rating for considerable work rate and one sublime ball to Rooney (from the left, deep in his own half), but otherwise got nothing going all night -- I have been his staunchest defender in the past, but Aaron Lennon is knocking hard on the door. Terry, Ferdinand and Campbell are going to have to take some responsibility for England's poor defending off set pieces. Ferdinand might be carrying a groin strain and Campbell looked somewhat hopeless as his replacement. My vote would be to pair Carragher with Terry and move Beckham to right back. Robinson can hardly be blamed for the goals but it is at least in part his job to marshal the defense. He also didn't make a save all night, and looked somewhat nervous on the ball.
He falls over a lot. Seriously, no one looks more out of his depth out there. Good at tracking back and tackling. When he doesn't fall over. Shows no interest in getting involved with the attack or passing forwards.
The challenge and fall happened right below me but was obscured by a camera. He did look to be in agony, though. A journalist told me that he heard he passed out from the pain. Probably bullcrap, but worrying nonetheless. England can win without him, but cannot afford another injury to the front line.
Will England get better? They're going to have to. I think Hargreaves has won the midfield job, perhaps at the expense of Lampard. England might have to bring him off the bench to improve their second-half performance. Rooney is getting stronger, Joe Cole is playing like a star, Gerrard is scoring goals and Crouch is very tall. They need to practice set pieces. Sven will not tolerate such weakness in that area.
So with no further ado, and because I've got to drive all the way to Dusseldorf, here are my:
World Cup Diary Completely Biased Power Rankings (with NEW -- added inconsistency!) of the 32 World Cup teams after they've each played two matches (and in the case of Germany, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Poland, England, Sweden, Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago, three):
(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) Brazil: Still a little flat against Australia. But at this World Cup, two wins, whoever they're against, gets you a ranking. And also if you're the best football team in the world.
(3) Germany (up 2): Right now, with their defense organized (Huuuuuth), Frings and Ballack controlling the middle, and all of their strikers scoring, they look like the only European team who can challenge the South American superpowers. Sweden will be worthy opponents, but I do not see Germany struggling as much as England. One note of caution. Ecuador rested a number of key players -- is anyone they've played actually any good?
(4) Spain (down 1): Most impressive European team in first game, almost whiff big time in second against lowly Tunisia. Seem capable of playing fluid attacking soccer, but it is defense that they will need from this point forward.
(5) Holland (up 1): They scored two great goals against the Elfenbeinkuste then kind of lost the plot. I am not convinced. But they're moving up because of results elsewhere.
(6) Portugal (up 2): Inconsistent against Iran. So much potential throughout the squad, but rather like England, not firing anywhere near on all cylinders.
(7) England: They drop below Portugal but maintain their position because of Ecuador's loss. But England have played only one half of quality football all World Cup. They will have to play like that every half just to reach the quarterfinals.
(8) Italy: Everyone in the U.S. is rooting for them now and surely they have the talent to beat a weakened Czech Republic.
(9) Ecuador (down 5): Yes, they rested key players. But you lose 3-0 and you drop five places.
(10) Switzerland: Four points from two games. A point against South Korea and they're through.
(11) Czech Republic: 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) Sweden (up 3): Such a strong physical team. What they lack in speed, and even individual star power, they make up for in work rate, fitness and physicality. I would love to see the U.S. play more like them. Because with their extra speed, the U.S. could dominate if they brought it like the Swedes every game.
(13) France: I don't want to count them out, but I'm starting to lean heavily. Two draws and actually in danger of not qualifying if they slip up against an unpredictable Togo.
(14) The USA: I would love to rank them higher, but they still only have one point. They need three more for that epic performance against Italy not to be forgotten. But one word of caution before Ghana. The U.S. are yet to score a real goal. Bring on Eddie Johnson.
(15) The Elfenbeiners (down 3): Brutal group. I love them, but they lost two straight and they're out of the tournament. These ratings are not only biased, they're also inconsistent. They're moving down.
(16) Ghana: 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. It's all about Michael Essien. What will the U.S. do to take him out of the game?
(17) Mexico: Their performance against Angola was total Pantalones. They now need a result against Portugal to be sure of qualifying.
(18) Ukraine (up 10): As I said, this is a great team who are my wild cards to go unexpectedly far. Yes, it was Saudi Arabia, but as we've learned, it's not easy to beat anyone in this World Cup.
(19) Australia: Maybe they are as good as they think they are. Played wonderful football against Brazil -- teams have played worse in this World Cup and got a result. But that was Brazil. Not a fluid Brazil, but it was still Brazil.
(20) South Korea: Four points from two games. I guess I have to move them up. But I don't rate them.
(21) Croatia: 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 Australia on Thursday to qualify for the next round.
(22) Paraguay: They're going home after two narrow losses and a win. Tough, but I still think they deserve this ranking. Or maybe I don't. They could still move up without even playing.
(23) T and T: To my Trinidadian friends, you brought Caribbean passion to the World Cup and you can return with pride. Now go practice so you can make Caribbean football and CONCACAF stronger.
(24) Angola: If they beat Iran by two, they could make the next round.
(25) Poland: Very disappointing for the second World Cup in a row. Way too talented a team to play this badly at the Finals.
(26) Japan: 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.
(27) Tunisia: I care so little about this team that they have two points and I'm still moving them down.
(28) Serbia: The worst beating any World Cup team has taken since Saudi Arabia lost to Germany 8-0 in Japan four years ago.
(29) Costa Rica: Played better against Poland but just not that good. Just like T and T, we desperately need Costa Rica to improve to make CONCACAF more competitive.
(30) Saudi Arabia: Just boring and crap. They should be lower.
(31) Togo: Bye-bye, Togo. Do not pass Go. Do not collect a $200,000 per-player fee. But we'd quite like it if you got a point off France before you go.
(32) Iran: Played better in their last match. But one OK loss and one bad one still equals two losses. Buh-bye.
"Working" Press Room, FIFA World Cup Stadion, Cologne, 7:20 p.m., June 20
Fly the imaginary graphics and cue the imaginary music (but not too loud today, because I have a whopper of a hangover).
Against: My mother-in-law
Against: Everywhere else in Germany (except maybe Cologne and Berlin, which I haven't been to yet)
To be filed under "German obsession with things that are abnormally narrow":
Abnormally narrow elevators.
Back in the airy Stadium Media Center in Cologne, and it's hot, or is it just me? These aren't sausage sweats unfortunately. Took a day off in Munich yesterday and ended up at a phenomenal cocktail bar in the Odeonsplatz -- Schumann's. You must go to Munich sometime. A beautiful, friendly and fascinating place. You must go to Schumann's -- they make the best cocktails in town. Just don't try one of everything. Big mistake.
I'm sitting in front of the dispatch boxes waiting for the starting lineups for tonight's crucial last game in Group B -- my beloved England, vs. the most oppressive, unpleasant, dangerous country on Earth, the country of my mother-in-law Sweden.
But it doesn't really matter who plays, because we're going to win. Not because, in some cunning piece of reverse-shirt-wearing psychology, I'm wearing a Sweden shirt. Because I'm not. I'm actually wearing the colors of Ecuador and people keep on commiserating with me -- I mean, seriously, could anyone look less Ecuadorean? England will win because I touched the lucky lion outside der Residenz in Munich.
Now if you're confused by this, I don't blame you. I was pretty confused too. There I was, trying to take this photograph of a beautiful sausage shop just near the Mariensplatz:
And suddenly I notice that just up the street, all kinds of people are walking, cycling, running by this bronze statue of a lion outside der Residenz (apparently some tasty house that a bunch of kings and senators used to live in -- now you know some German history). They all stop, reach up and touch the little lion below it. Look, here's the statue. The shiny bit below the main statue is the lucky lion. You can see it's all shiny because so many people rub it:
This guy rode past on his bike and touched it:
She's touching it:
This guy thinks it's so lucky he's taking a picture of his girlfriend touching it:
So what the heck. I walk over and grab a nice long feel:
And frankly, England are going to need some luck. We have not beaten Sweden in a competitive international since 854, and that was a come-from-behind pillage against the Vikings at Ipswich. And here's tonight's start list -- Rooney, who's still injured, up front with Owen, who might still be injured too. No Gerrard in midfield because he's carrying a yellow card. Hargreaves holding midfield (no one will be booed louder by the England fans, mostly because he's Canadian, talks funny, has never played in the Premiership, speaks German and has a bad haircut) and Carragher covering for the injured Neville at right back. Sweden are playing four guys on one yellow card -- looks like they think their World Cup is over if they lose or tie this game and have to play Germany next.
Three words on Germany's performance earlier against Ecuador: Gott in Himmel. Which loosely translated means "Holy crap." You'll see Germany climb in my completely biased power rankings later.
Anyway, time to run. I can hear the 30,000 English fans who are apparently here starting to go ape in the stadium. I'll quickly call my mother-in-law and wish her luck (with my fingers crossed). Seriously, she's an amazing woman. If you're going to have a mother-in-law, I strongly recommend a Swedish one.
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.