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Day 15: You're going home with the Argies
June 15, between cars 2 and 3, Hikari 288 to Niigata, 4:35 p.m.
I don't do mingers. That's what it says on the T-shirt of the young Japanese football fan (ubiquitous George Cross painted on both cheeks) sitting on the floor in front of me. I am sitting on the counter next to the basin in the bathroom, and all in all there must be 25 of us crammed in the space between the two cars. It's a two-hour-10-minute ride and normally my idea of hell. But at the other end, there's football.
"I don't do mingers" is probably the best English language T-shirt I've seen since I've been here. On the whole, like NBA tattoos, they make little sense. "Born of Surf Beach Radical!" they scream. Or "Attack Wide Football!" Or "Make Hit Every Day!".
I can't see a window, I can't feel any air, I'm feeling claustrophobic. I put on my Walkman, shut my eyes and daydream surreal England goals for tonight's game:
2. Sol Campbell attempts a short pass out of defense to Trevor Sinclair but overhits it slightly, looping it all the way down the field, into the Danish penalty area, over the Danish keeper's head and into the net. "I meant that!" he yells "I bloody meant that!"
3. David Beckham scores with his head, messing up his hair.
4. He then scores from a novel free kick, picking up Denmark's Stig Tofting by the ankles and swinging him like a golf club at the ball and connecting right off his chin with a power fade around the wall into the top right corner. Sweet!
5. Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt, the Ginger Ninjas (who almost certainly do do mingers), run straight through the heart of the Danish midfield and down the middle of the Danish back line, pulling a series of clever back heels and give-and-go's at Benny Hill speed. The Danish players look too directly into their faces and pass out. The goalie looks from one to the other and screams before convulsing and falling flat on his back. Scholes squats and Butt rebounds it in off his backside. The crowd goes wild!
6. Sinclair runs down the left wing and does not cut inside, crossing the ball with his left foot into the ... the ... the ... center circle where Rio Ferdinand scissor kicks it in off the post and home from 60 yards. He runs toward the sideline to celebrate, rips off his shirt, drops to his knees -- he's wearing a sports bra.
7. With Beckham sent off for the Tofting goal -- or maybe he's voluntarily left the field to see the emergency FIFA hairdresser -- goalkeeper David Seaman steps up Chilavert-style to take a 30-yard free kick. He pirouettes a couple of times, squats, does some of that Russian dancing, stands up, sings the theme from "Arthur" ("If you get caught between the moon and New York City ..."), removes his pony tail and, waving it above his head, steps up and hits a knuckleball with the end of his boot that buzzes around like a bee until it explodes in midair -- "Poof!" -- into three balls that each fly past the keeper into the net. Seaman is credited with a hat trick.
8. Ashley Cole removes his right leg and hops down the field like a pogo stick to head home a Danish goal kick from just inside his own half.
9. Joe Cole enters the game and runs the full length of the field balancing the ball on his head, stops and calls his shot, double drag back, into the air, overhead kick, off Tofting's knee, into the ref, off his back, hit Emile Heskey on the back of his enormous head and into the left side netting of the goal. And he does it, by Golly, he does it!
10. Robbie Fowler comes on for Heskey, who's been playing half the game facing the wrong way and running toward his own goal unleashing shot after shot at Seaman. Fowler looks a little heavy and, as I raise my binoculars, I see he's actually still eating a McDonald's burger and drinking a Heineken as he runs on the field. He sits down in the Danish penalty area and finishes his quarter-pounder with cheese, Danny Mills goes mental and runs toward him to give him a good kicking, Beckham, back on the field now sporting a Kevin Keegan 1970s curly perm, aims a right-footed sniper shot from 70 yards, which fells the Leeds right back, careens off Fowler's gut and into the net. Way-hay!
England 12, Denmark 0.
The phone rings. It's Taki. Germany beat Paraguay 1-0. I announce it to my fellow cattle. Universal rolling of eyes and groaning. The Japanese have picked up the not-so-subtleties of this game rather quickly.
Media Tribune, Niigata "Big Swan" Stadium, 8:30 p.m.
I really do not feel well. Maybe it's motion sickness, but I've never had that before. I just walked around the stadium three times in the rain, playing my daily game of who wants to tell me in English how to get to the %&*$#@* media center. The England fans just sang "God Save The Queen" so poorly, they were finished three lines ahead of the band. I look through my binoculars, expecting to see very nervous English faces -- the British media has largely decided that these are boys, too scared, too English to seize their opportunity, as Tim Henman Simon Barnes wrote in The Times -- but they don't look like scared boys to me. They look like working-class hard men, determined, well-prepared pros who are really looking up for it.
It occurs to me that most sportswriters, especially those who've never played a minute of competitive sport at any kind of representative level in their lives have absolutely no idea how tough you have to be to make it to this level. These "boys," the 11 men who have been chosen out of thousands of professional footballers to represent their country, simply don't have the same kind of middle-class, English-public-schoolboy insecurites of the people in the press box.
In the stifling heat of Osaka on Wednesday, when England was clearly struggling in the conditions but was satisfied, quite rightly, to sit back and stop the Nigerians from scoring, a journalist two rows behind me -- the kind of guy you just want to beat up when you look at him -- was screaming at the England players, "PUSH UP! COME ON, PUSH UP ON THEM, FOR CHRIST'S SAKE!" every time Nigeria had the ball. Finally, I turned around. "You %&*$#@* get out there and push up on them," I said. He looked sheepish. I felt better.
The Denmark game kicks off, I write two headings side by side in my notebook: GOOD THINGS and BAD THINGS.
GOOD THINGS: Rio Ferdinand "scores" after 3.
BAD THINGS: Everything Heskey does for the first 11.
GOOD THINGS: Heskey makes a brilliant run on 12 ...
BAD THINGS: ... and hits it right at the 'keeper. "WHY CAN"T YOU EVER SCORE FOR %&*$#@* ENGLAND, YOU *#@&?!?" screams a journalist from behind me.
GOOD THINGS: Sinclair to Butt to Michael Owen -- 2-0!
BAD THINGS: Denmark almost makes it 2-1 on 24 -- just past Seaman's left post.
GOOD THINGS: Tofting's yellow card for descent -- I like a bit of descent.
BAD THINGS: WEATHER ADVISORY -- monsoon, HAIR ADVISORY -- Beckham's Mohawk flattened, looks like a comb-over.
GOOD THINGS: England fans start singing to the Danes "You're going home with the Argies."
BAD THINGS: England has hardly touched the ball since it scored its second goal.
GOOD THINGS: Someone alert the media (oh, they're here), Heskey, yes, HESKEY, scores on 45. England fans start singing, "Are You Scotland in Disguise?" at Denmark ...
BAD THINGS: ... who promptly reply with, "No, we're not, but we did dish out a fair amount of good, old-fashioned, Viking rape and pillage up there during the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries." Gravesen unleashes a vicious shot and almost scores.
GOOD THINGS: Score at halftime -- England 3, Denmark 0
BAD THINGS: England's entire second-half performance.
GOOD THINGS: England fans aren't watching -- they've got a conga line going, and they're singing, "We're going to have a disco."
England wins. I feel better.Michael Davies, a native of London, is executive producer of ABC's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." He'll be filing five diary entries per week from the World Cup for Page 2.
Complete 2002 World Cup coverage
Davies Day 14: A World Cup twisted from its roots
Davies Day 13: Ending on a low note
Davies Day 12: Fast train to nowhere
Davies Day 11: It just keeps getting better
Davies Day 10: Seeing red, white, blue ... and green
Davies Day 9: Cheering for jolly old Nippon
Davies Day 8: Nobody knows anything
Davies Day 7: Soccer is the curse of the drinking class
Davies Day 6: I've got your U.S. boys' backs
Davies Day 5: Turning Japanese
Davies Day 4: Satellite Stadium, take a bow
Davies Day 3: Where's the passion?
Davies Day 2: Ga-ga over the boys in green
Davies Day 0 and Day 1: The 'other' football