By Michael Davies
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.

The Working Press Room -- FIFA World Cup Stadium, Nuremberg

You know the graphics and music drill.

For: Ghana.

Against: Referee Markus Merk.

For: Bruce Arena's class in the postmatch press conference.

Against: USA possessing no star player of genuine world-class talent.

For: Americans speaking German.

Against: The rest of the world rooting against the U.S. Just boring.

This is from the English newspaper, the Guardian, in reference to the U.S. team: "The most patronised and, possibly disliked, side in the World Cup were sent packing."

This isn't saying the country was unpopular. This is saying the team were unpopular at the World Cup. And patronized. Why? What have they done? I just don't get it.

The press room is almost deserted, so I've been scanning the international press. And watching Claudio Reyna and Steve Cherundolo being interviewed on German television. Fluent German. Impressive.

But mostly I've been dealing with the total bummer of a letdown that I'm sure all of you are feeling at home. My commiserations.

U.S. fan
Bongarts/Getty Images
The sting of defeat is harsher when the expectations are high.

But let's get a few things straight. The ref, Markus Merk, made a controversial call in awarding the penalty to Ghana at the end of the first half. Other refs, perhaps the majority of them, wouldn't have called it. But that isn't what decided the game, or the USA's World Cup. The most damning statistic of the team is this:

Of all 32 teams in Germany, the U.S. will finish No. 32 in terms of shots on goal with four. The next worse is Trinidad and Tobago with seven. Iran have 19. England, 21. Germany lead the pack with 27.

If you don't have a playmaker, you rarely get good service to the forwards; if forwards fail to get clear-cut chances, they can't shoot on goal; if you can't shoot on goal, you don't score; if you don't score, you don't win; if you don't win, you don't advance.

Don't get me wrong, the U.S. have quality all over the pitch, but they lack that one star player. The guy who can grab the game by the scruff of the neck, make the last pass, get into scoring position. That could be Landon Donovan. Against Italy he showed the potential. But I don't see it happening.

The international press were largely fair to the U.S. in the game. Most agreed that the penalty decision was at best, debatable; at worst, just plain wrong. But 1-1 wouldn't have done any good, anyway. Ghana still would have gone through.

Bruce Arena showed real class in the postmatch news conference. He felt the penalty was a bad call. But he also thought the card on Essien was shocking. It wasn't even a foul, he said. He pointed out some players he thought performed well, including Clint Dempsey, who really caught the eye. And he noted, in answer to a direct question, that this was not one of Landon's best games. As to his future, he seemed to indicate that:

(A) He has other offers;
(B) He's not sure he wants to go through this again;
(C) It's not his decision anyway.

Bruce Arena
Bongarts/Getty Images
With the U.S. defeat, it's likely the end Bruce Arena's reign as U.S. coach.

I think he's going to get canned. Not fair. But I think that's what U.S. Soccer will do. Bring in a big foreign coach -- Scolari? Hiddink? Klinsmann? -- and let Bruce go and coach a club team somewhere. Italy? England? Holland? Germany?

I also hear that Larry Brown might be available.

Asked about the future of football in the U.S. after this loss, Bruce was emphatic. It's bright. Really bright. I'm sure that no one who reads this seriously needs any convincing that football is here to stay and massively on the rise. I will write about this more in the next few days. But let me give you a preview.

Adidas
Nike
Puma

That's all that matters. The young love soccer. These brands want the young. The young all over the world worship the same stars, the same game, the same footwear and apparel. All the game in the U.S. needs is TV ratings. And the ratings for this World Cup have been phenomenal. On ABC, ESPN and ESPN2, and let's also give a shout out to our friends at Univision, ratings for this World Cup have smashed records. None of these ratings reflect any credit for people watching at bars. Based on my experience in New York, and from what I hear from friends around the country, the bar and pub traffic has been way bigger than '02. This Web site has also broken records for its World Cup coverage. In fact, it has recorded some of its best days ever over the last week and a half.

In the wake of the World Cup, U.S. fans are going to get a chance to see some of the biggest stars from Barcelona and Chelsea and several other European teams playing preseason in July and early August. They're also going to see their new heroes like Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan playing in MLS.

This World Cup might represent the end of an era, the Arena era, but it's the beginning in many ways. The World religion has arrived. The Internet has been the perfect vehicle to spread the gospel and feed the faithful. The U.S. fans have behaved just like fans from other countries. They've traveled here in numbers. Chanted the chants. Sung the songs. And got behind their team when they needed them, even in this crappy atmosphere-killing stadium today. Football will not usurp the NFL, or baseball or the NBA, but the World Cup will beat -- does beat -- the regular-season television ratings of all those sports, except for the NFL. Yes, the World Cup is the football brand leader. But following right behind are the pitter-patter of multinational sneaker companies. This is their huge growth market. The global game is their most important commodity. They will not let it fail now in the U.S.

Get ready to see more of Gerrard, Saviola, Rooney, Robben, Ronaldinho, Ballack and Totti. And a young American kid, who's watching this World Cup somewhere, will think he's that good. Who's sure he's got next.

The "Working" Press Room, FIFA World Cup Stadium, Nuremberg, 3:55 p.m., June 22

For: A beautiful 160-kilometer drive to Nuremberg.

Against: Not being able to track down the guy who's meant to get me my ticket.

Not: Priceless.

So after driving all the way here, I can't get into the stadium. The guy who usually has my ticket doesn't have it, I can't track down the guy who does, and so I've parked myself in the media center next to two screens carrying both games -- U.S. vs. Ghana in Nuremberg and Italien vs. Cechien in Hamburg.

Quick picture of me in my U.S. shirt. Snap. Load. Send to ESPN.com. Take off immediately so I don't cause any bad luck.

Bad sign No. 1: Italian and Czech players are smiling at each other before the kickoff. Remember, a tie in that game would be disastrous for the U.S.

1: And we're off, but there's no clock on the feed so these times are going to be approximate. Good sign: Seven consecutive cuts to shots of really miserable-looking Bruce Arena.

2: McBride wins first header, excellent sign, and does not crack open his bionic face revealing wires and transistors.

3: Oh, man, now they've turned off the feed from Hamburg. I have officially fallen out of love with the Germans.

4: Essien fouls Reyna from behind, tries to run away from ref trying to give him yellow card, fails. He will miss next match -- pointless, making it through to play Brazil without him; Ghana might as well give the U.S. a chance instead.

5: So the card for Essien could not be better for the U.S. Now he has to be careful. But attention U.S. players: look out for inevitable make-up call.

6: Screaming in German at someone to put the Italy game on.

7: Dangerous free kick to Ghana -- cleared. Phew.

8: You know what? You can just tell this is going to be an awesome match. Wish I could report on the atmosphere inside the stadium. It sounds very pro-Ghana from in here.

9: Good Ghanaian (is that how you spell it?) attack breaks down with offside.

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Day 6: Sweat and sausage
Day 5: Back in the U.S.A.
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10: OK, the Italy match is on, but on a TV so far away I can't see the score.

11: Eddie Lewis chases long ball, which is played nonchalantly by the Ghanaian keeper, Kingson.

12: Foul on McBride, followed by poor offside call on McBride, and McBride does his funny little run back to the halfway line. When they rebuilt him, they obviously didn't correct his funny little run.

13: Lewis goes down, grimaces nicely, almost rolls, clutches, gets up slowly, walks it off -- Emmy worthy.

14: Arena looking in vintage miserable form. Still trying to work out who his assistant looks like. I think it might be Major Dad.

15: Lewis goes to the corner to see the cut man, and the U.S. win a corner. Up comes the Gooch looking dead hard.

16: Dempsey heads the ball right at the keeper.

17: Can't believe I'm in here and not in there. Might need some sausage to calm me down.

18: Gooch needs to be careful. The U.S. need him available for the next game. Definitely the Ghanaian crowd booing the referee for keeping his cards in his pocket.

19: Essien is everywhere. He is like narrow toilet paper.

20: Well-played Jimmy Conrad -- gets his head in where it hurts. Corner to Ghana.

21: Now I hear the U.S. fans. Must say, on the walk to the stadium they were very quiet.

22: Steal. Goal to Ghana. Beautiful finish. Was it a foul? Reyna down. Need to see a replay. Arena miserable. Reyna being stretchered off. But replay seems to show it was clean. But I'd like to see another angle.

24: Now we're going to see what the U.S. are made of. Arena has to do something.

25: First he has to figure out if Reyna is out.

26: No, he's not -- he's up, he's walking, he's fine.

27: U.S. subdued. Fans subdued. But the good news is I've tracked down my ticket; will go in at halftime.

28: Awesome pass from midfield, Ghana almost score again.

29: To put this in perspective. If the score stays this way, Ghana will go through at the expense of either Italy or the Czechs. But without Essien in the Round of 16.

31: U.S. have had one shot that I can remember.

32: But they're leading in cards. One to two.

33: This is better form for the U.S., but the attack goes nowhere. Ghana are dominating central midfield. Dominating.

34: Bad miss under pressure from Landon Donovan. Under pressure. But still a poor effort. Arena looks exasperated.

35: Great challenge from the goal scorer, Draman, but called for a foul just on the right side of penalty box.

36: This is Eddie Lewis territory. But punched away by the goalie.

37: Break on for Ghana. But they slow it down.

39: Excellent break by the U.S. down the left. But no one can get on the end of it in the area.

40: U.S. need to adjust somehow. They need more players forward. And now Reyna is coming off and DC United's Ben Olsen is on. Let's see how they line up.

41: Dempsey makes great run, but broken up again by Ghana with wonderful tackling.

42: Essien makes run to goal. Touched, goes down. Free kick is lame.

43: Ghanaian's are shading possession 52 to 48 percent, but that doesn't matter because Beasley breaks down the left, curls beautiful ball into Dempsey and it's 1-1. An emphatic strike and the USA's first real goal of the tournament. Meanwhile, Italy are leading 1-0 in Hamburg. The U.S. need one goal.

44: Great tackle by Beasley -- just watched replay. Close to offside but we'll take it.

45: Horrible clearance by Bocanegra and the Gooch goes over the back of the Ghanaian forward. PENALTY. That will be controversial but most of the calls have gone the USA's way to this point. And once again: What was Bocanegra doing?

46: The captain Appiah steps up and hits it top left. Keller goes low right. GOAL.

47: Yes, it's looking grim, but a lot happens in world football.

48: Whistle goes and USA fans are furiously booing the ref. Interested to see some more replays of the penalty call. But the ref was very well placed.

49: Halftime stats: Ghana have more possession, shots, complete passes, fouls committed and cards. And goals. U.S. will be feeling bad about the decisions but they have not looked like the team who played against Italy.

Halftime -- watching replays.

No idea if it was a foul against Reyna for the first goal. I've watched it four times in slow motion and can't tell, so not sure how the referee could have.

Same with Gooch foul on Pimpong for the penalty. It was clumsy, but I've seen worse. Big problem is, Gooch is on the wrong side of the player because of horrible non-clearance by Bocanegra. Ref was well-positioned and called it immediately. He's a German, so he's a stickler for rules.

Dempsey was definitely not offside.

SECOND HALF

46: OK, I'm in. It's the worst stadium I've been to over here. The running track around the field kills the atmosphere. U.S. and Ghanaian fans in reasonably sized sections at either end of the ground. But lots of neutrals.

48: U.S. fans chanting for Eddie Johnson.

49: And he's up to warm up with half the squad. Based on the low fives he's getting from his fellow players, he's coming in.

52: Free kick to U.S. on right of area in front of U.S. fans.

53: Donovan zings it in, it goes loose, out for a corner. U.S. fans boo Ghanaian who goes down. They're learning.

54: From here that looked like a bad whiff by Beasley.

55: But an excellent save by Keller.

56: U.S. need two. I want to see Arena do something.

57: Dempsey looks the pick of the U.S. players. My guess is that any U.S. score will come through him.

58: U.S. subs still warming up behind Ghanaian goal.

60: U.S. need more ball in central midfield … Olsen cut down in full stride.

61: Big cheer from U.S. contingent for Eddie Johnson … on for Cherundolo … that's the move I was taking about.

62: U.S. essentially playing 3-5-2, which is the formation I used to play in primary school.

63: Draman breaks dangerously down the left but all for nothing … lashes a wild shot into row 96.

64: Key to game … U.S. need to get a handle on central midfield and get width. Right now they're getting neither.

65: Until now -- Lewis down left crosses to McBride who hits post with fierce header. Great effort.

66: Bocanegra has it deflected over the bar.

67: Dempsey heads powerfully just over the bar -- six points.

68: Blogging a game on your crackberry and watching the game at the same time is insanely difficult.

69: For instance: I have no idea if Eddie Johnson was really offside just then and it happened right in front of me.

70: But Eddie Lewis just was … I saw that.

71: Incidentally, my parents met in a conga line in a night club in Ghana. I guess I owe my existence to the West African nation, but my heart is beating for the U.S. just like when I watch England. Weird.

72: And the U.S. are starting to dominate … and then I look up and Ghana have a shot blocked that was headed right for goal.

73: Neutrals starting to chant for Ghana. Bastards.

74: Convey on for Lewis. I like the change. Don't know why he was left out in the first place.

75: Keller is screaming at a Ghanaian player down on the ground. That won't make him popular. Not a nice image. Especially when he's stretchered off and looks like he can't return.

77: Ghana playing with 10 men; here is the USA's chance.

78: And now the goalie's down. USA fans booing, but it was a hard fall. And Draman is being replaced after being screamed at by Keller.

80: Convey fouled on edge of box … but woeful delivery by Landon … wide of the upright, no points in any code, except in maybe Aussie rules.

81: U.S. has 10 minutes to score twice.

82: The U.S. have played a much better second half but only one shot on goal and that was McBride's header that hit the post. Bottom line is, in three games, not enough clear scoring chances.

83: A Ghanaian player goes down off the ball like he was shot. I think it's Pimpong. And if it's not? Still a great name.

85: U.S. takes corner and amounts to nothing.

86: Oh, lo and behold, Pimpong has recovered … I think I saw Benny Hinn on his medical staff.

87: What the U.S. seem to lack is a player to take control of the game in the center of the park. They miss Reyna. Donovan is playing forward.

88: The Ghanaian fans are starting to celebrate away to my left.

89: But here comes Donovan, over to Olsen, great tackle by Otto Addo … kind of like Lucy stealing the ball from Charlie Brown. Olsen flies through the air as he kicks thin air and lands on his backside.

90: Arena just looked up in my direction … I get chills.

91: The U.S. will think that every decision in their World Cup has gone against them, but that wouldn't be fair on the Ghanaians, who have played their hearts out. And this is a top referee.

92: One last chance for the U.S., but it breaks down. Everyone waiting for the whistle.

93: And there it is. Ghanaians go crazy. And rightly so; this will go down as one of the biggest days in their history. U.S. players look devastated. But cross to their fans, who give them a rousing standing O. Arena nowhere to be seen. He might be being interviewed, or lodging an official complaint. Personally, I think that's the end, for now, of his time with the U.S. national team. But that would be a mistake. My gut, initial reaction is that he lacks one great star player. Every other nation has one. And that's just not his fault. Donovan might grow into that. All around the pitch there is quality, but no Essien, Nedved, Gerrard, Ballack, Ronaldinho, Saviola, Figo, Robben.

The Italians win 2 to 0. The Czechs are going home, too. We have come so far from that Monday night a week and a half ago in Gelsenkurchen. I still can't believe that Ghana qualified from this group. But without Essien (suspended with his second yellow), they surely can't stretch the Brazilians. Italy get either Australia or Croatia.

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