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Bridgehampton, New York, July 4, 6:10 p.m.
Sometimes, when watching football between two teams I care for notsomuch, I just sit back and wait for my rooting interest to develop. Perhaps one player, one coach, one move will attract my admiration or scorn. It took about two minutes and 15 seconds and three shots for me to completely forgive Italy for their shocking and violent display against the United States. One shot of Tim Borowski ardently singing the national anthem with all that blond-haired, blue-eyed German tele-evangelism. One shot of Jens Lehmann taking a goal kick with his just slightly too short shorts and "quite useful at chemistry in high school" demeanor. That followed by a slow-motion replay of Lukas Podolski taking a stupid dive two steps after a minor kick in the shins from my favorite Italian player, the hard Gennaro Gattuso -- who played in Scotland for one of the coldest leagues and actually enjoyed his time there.
I cheered for Italy for more than two hours straight. I held my breath on every German possession, I cursed at every German player, I cheered every Italian move, how quickly they played the ball, how dangerous they looked going forward, but then after 60 minutes, the Germans seemed fitter, stronger, perhaps it was their Californian fitness instructors and psychologists (Chuck Norris? Jamie Lee Curtis? Tony Robbins?). But then, because by this time I had drunk so much Peroni I deserved a passaporto, we brought on Gilardino and in extra time, Del Piero. We looked livelier, we hit the post, we hit the crossbar, and that sniveling little Podolski missed a header that will haunt him until Euro 2008 and beyond.
And then bliss.
My favorite moment in football history not provided by Chelsea, England or Archie Gemmill.
A curling left-footer from Fabio Grosso that was sheer perfection, a moment stolen from his childhood dreams, gifted to him by providence at exactly the moment in time and space to realize the always-in-too-tight-shorts nightmares of a young chemistry whiz, Jens Lehmann. An adidas ball curling from a Puma-clad Italian beyond his outstretched paws, fluttering in the net behind him, he, slumped, a rag doll of orange, black and three stripes of white on the Dortmund turf, a collective beer and pretzel scented exhale from the 40,000 Germans in the crowd, the millions at home and in bars all over the country. That "dong" of a realization that you're not going to penalties this time you bunch of overconfident suckers. An Italian Tweety bird ripped from the jaws of a German Sylvester. You're not going to win the Weltmeisterschaft of which you have been so confident even as you pretended not to be. You have failed. You are not the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. You are South Korea in 2002. A home nation who overachieved and reached the semis. Bye bye. Auf Wiedersehen. Ciao.
Oh, wait a minute, let's just slot another one past you for good measure. Nice work, Allessandro. Had enough?
Italy 2, Germany 0.
Nil, nichts, zero, nul points. A big fat bagel.
Please show me more reaction shots of the German crowd, please, please. Please show me the Pope and just how happy he really is for Italy in the Vatican. Bet he kicked something. Please show me Borowski and Podolski and Klose and all the other Poles. Please show me Angela Merkel. I feel for you Michael Ballack and Torsten Frings, you are both sheer class and Torsten, you never should have been suspended. And Tom Morrisey, my half Irish, half German ESPN colleague, I feel for you. But other than that? I couldn't be more delighted that there will be no Germany or Brazil in the World Cup final for the first time since 1978, and only the second time in the modern era.
At best, the Germans will finish third. And they've rediscovered their nationalism again. And they just love to wave their flags and sing Deutschland, Deutschland, Deutschland. Great. We're all really excited.
Fly triumphant graphics, play some Vivaldi, because here is what I am for and against today.
FOR: Italian, Fabio Grosso's childhood dreams, Gerrard for Captain, U.S. World Cup Ratings
AGAINST: Not enough reaction shots of devastated Germans in the wake of the Italian goal, my daughter wanting to watch Elmo during the second half of extra time, my wife trying to make me look at real estate ads for houses in London from British Vogue as the winning goal was being scored, Arena bashing.
I have spent a great deal of time this weekend in live football withdrawal reading everything that has been written on both sides of the Atlantic about this whole World Cup. I am amazed at the volume of coverage in the U.S. Must be 10 times the newspaper coverage compared to 2002. Add in TV, Internet and the blogosphere (where this World Cup has truly found its medium) and the World Cup has now truly arrived on the American sporting calendar. I will save the TV ratings analysis for another day, but it is sensational.
A few random notes on my weekend reading.
We should go easy on Bruce Arena. It is way too easy to blame the coach. Let's remember his record with the men's national team. Let's remember his 1-1 draw with the World Cup finalists. And let's allow him his opinion on young American players and MLS. He has earned the right to have it even if you don't agree with him.
David Beckham was a superb England captain. Until the end. Gerrard or Lampard would make excellent captains. But I worry with all the Chelsea haters in English football how a John Terry captaincy would be received by the fans and media. And Gerrard might just need the armband to play his best football.
The MLS should continue to do everything it can to lure Beckham. And while they're at it, they should put out feelers to Figo, Zidane and Nedved. Nothing will benefit the young players of MLS more than to play and train with the world's best. In soccer-specific stadiums.
By the way, in honor of your 230th anniversary, can I revisit my greatest football idea ever? It's a free country, I guess I can. Every two years -- the off years from the World Cup and the Euro championships, 2007, 2009, 2011 and so on -- the U.S. should reinstate the U.S. Cup over July 4 weekend. England would be annual combatants in a four-team tournament played on the East Coast -- Boston anyone? England playing in their red shirts? Bring in the French and Spanish for some colonial color? The English Football Association can be persuaded on the grounds that we have to train our players to play in the heat of summer, FIFA can be persuaded because the U.S. have to get more top competition outside of CONCACAF to build the sport in this country, and especially with the top European teams. Nike would love it. ESPN would buy it. And it would be a great biannual event on a weekend with not that much great sport. Come on, I can see the promos -- read by the "In a World" movie trailer guy:
"In 1776 the Americans beat the English in a war. They got over it. In 1950 we beat them in what they call "football" at the World Cup. They have never forgiven us."
Happy July 4 everyone. Especially if you're Italian-American.
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.