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.

Ekedal, The Swedish Archipelago, 11:25 p.m., June 23

Outside it is still light, like 8:30 p.m. in New York City, and it won't get any darker. The tideless Baltic laps gently against the boat dock at my mother-in-law's house, where I have come for a day and a night to make reparations for my previous transgressions against her good Viking self in Diary Day 12.

No need for graphics and music. I'm feeling too close to nature. Here is what I am for and against tonight.

For: The Swedish archipelago.

Against: The way Swedish people breathe in loudly when they're agreeing with you on a serious issue.

For: My Swedish uncle-in-law, Anders.

Against: His complete certainty that Ghana will win the whole thing.

For: Constructive criticism on my diary.

Against: E-mails from my best mates with the subject heading "What A Load Of Bollocks."

So finally the group stage of the World Cup finals is complete. It's been a marathon, to be honest, has dragged a little, but now the really big games (i.e., not Tunisia vs. Saudi Arabia) come fast and furious. So here are the last 16 matchups, with my completely biased (TM) rankings of all 16 remaining teams in parentheses, and my pick to win each game.

(3) Germany vs. (9) Sweden
If they played this game 10 times, I think Germany would win five times, Sweden three and twice they'd tie. Which one of those 10 games will they play tomorrow? A betting man would say to pick Germany. But I still have a lingering suspicion that no one who Germany have played so far is actually that good. It took them 91 minutes to beat Poland. Sweden are way better.

Previous Entries
Day 14: Down goes the U.S.
Day 13: A long walk spoiled
Day 12: Another pants problem
Day 11: Rank and file
Day 10: Sea of yellow
Day 9: America, the beautiful
Day 8: Cheer up, America
Day 7: Pants ... again!
Day 6: 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

Pick to win: I wish Sweden, but I think Germany.

(1) Argentina vs. (14) Mexico
If they played this game 10 times I think Argentina would win 11.

Pick to win: Argentina, Argentina, Argentina.

(6) England vs. (12) Ecuador
I am sure England will turn this into squeaky bum time, but I don't see how Ecuador can control the midfield against Gerrard, Lampard and maybe Hargreaves. Have they seen anyone as skillful as Joe Cole, as powerful as Rooney, as prone to falling over as Ashley? Can they dance the robot? They won't get to.

Pick to win: Ingerland.

(7) Portugal vs. (5) Holland
On paper, the most competitive matchup in the last 16. In reality, probably the dullest game of the round.

Pick to win: Holland on penalties.

(8) Italy vs. (16) Australia
Weird and wild win for Australia against the Croatians in pajamas. But it's time for them to go home now and concentrate on Aussie rules and rugby.

Pick to win: Italy, going away.

(10) Switzerland vs. (15) Ukraine
It's a long shot, but I can conceive of the winner of this game going all the way to the semifinals. Just remember, though, the Czech Republic were my outside bet to win the World Cup. And we all know where they are now. The Czech Republic.

Pick to win: Switzerland.

(2) Brazil vs. (13) Ghana
Though my uncle-in-law Anders is convinced that Ghana are going to win the whole thing (and then he inhaled loudly), he's wrong. Without Michael Essien, they're not going to make it past a confident and improving Brazil.

Pick to win: Brazil by several.

(4) Spain vs. (11) France
For me, this one just has "World Cup classic" written all over it. And I think you're going to be surprised with my pick. As am I -- I just puked a little in my mouth.

Pick to win: France -- they're starting to come good, just in time.

Back in Munich Saturday. Germany vs. Sweden at 11 a.m. Eastern. Schlaf Gut!

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.




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WORLD CUP DIARY