|A World Cup twisted from its roots
By Michael Davies
Special to Page 2
Day 14: From sleepless to speechless
June 14, "Bird", the jazz club/bar at the Mayoko Inn, 2:15 1.m.
1. Aoki is 46 years old, owns the bar, gets drunk every night, loves Charlie Parker (hence "Bird") and rides a bicycle to and from work.
2. I am not Mexican.
3. If I come back ever again, I drink for free.
That's about it, but it really doesn't do the evening or conversation justice. Aoki, a charming man, buys me champagne, laughs at everything I say and has me write him a note and sign it, which he then tapes to the wall behind the bar. The club is supposed to close at 3 a.m., but I finally leave at 6. They walk me to the elevators and bow deeply as the doors close. I run to my room, brush my teeth, wash my face and hands and put on deodorant (aha! What my mother always called a whore's bath). I check out and get in a taxi bound for the docks.
ANA Flight 187, to Osaka, seat 14C
June 10th -- U.S. vs. South Korea match is most-watched soccer telecast ever on ESPN2
The 2002 Men's World Cup match very early Monday morning (2:20 a.m. ET) between the United States and South Korea was seen in an average of 1.36 million television homes -- the most-watched soccer telecast ever on ESPN2 -- based on a 1.62 rating, according to Nielsen Media Research Data.
Moreover, the U.S.-Poland game, which kicks off in about 12 hours, will be on at 7:30 a.m. ET; this was at 2:30 a.m. I expect more records to be broken. If not, more ranting.
The Media Tribune, Nagai Stadium, Osaka, 3:25 p.m.
Perhaps I'm tired, or perhaps, like Inamoto today, I'm just trying too hard. I decide to focus on just one thing, and that thing, dominant in the center of the park, is the red-coiffed enforcer from the Shimuzu S-Pulse -- TODA! That is the only way to spell Kazuyuki's name. TODA! TODA! Mighty TODA! Hard tackler TODA! Oozes confidence on ball. The glory will go to Hidetoshi Nakata, to Junichi Inamoto, to Takayuki Suzuki, but the center of this game, this team, its heart, its soul, its spleen, is TODA! And maybe TODA! will play for Chelsea next season. Japan wins 2-0.
Back in the media center I get involved in a conversation with a couple of Brazilian journalists. They tell me they're scared to face England in the quarterfinals, but I don't believe them. They ask me what I think of the Japanese team, and I tell them that for me, it's all about TODA! They tell me they were also impressed.
"Do you think he will go to Europe?" one of them asks.
"Oh, yes," I reply, "It looks like he's going to Chelsea." This is, of course, complete and utter crap, but one thing I learned during my years in Hollywood is sometimes you have to create some heat to make something happen. Tomorrow, it is highly likely that Chelsea Football Club will receive some calls from Rio de Janeiro. Maybe I should have told them he was going to Manchester United. It is still way over an hour until the 8:30 kickoffs of tonight's crucial and final first-round games that will decide Group D. I have an uneasy feeling -- perhaps it's the tuna curry sandwich I bought at the airport in Oita.
Nagai Media Center, pay phones, 8:35
There must be something wrong with my binoculars -- after five minutes the United States is already two down and have had one disallowed.
The Bathroom, International Media Center, 10:35 p.m.
In fact, I am sugarcoating this -- that is the worst I've ever seen this U.S. team play. I am happy, unbelievably happy for this team, for everyone involved in soccer in the United States and for the world of football, which will benefit from the growth of soccer in the United States. But I am also disappointed in the team I find myself bragging about to the miserable foreign press. Tonight, the Americans looked like the team the rest of the world thinks it is -- defensively naïve, physically pushed around and both unimaginative and profligate in front of goal. Yes, the United States might have scored three rather than one, but by the same token, Poland might have scored five.
And still, the United States only made it by one inch, maybe less. Such are the margins of this World Cup. Late in the second half, someone Portuguese, one of only nine left on the field, hit the inside -- the inside! -- of the post with a shot from 16 yards. When it didn't go in, he actually started crying. But that was not their only chance. The action flowed end-to-end, and both teams looked like they'd be scoring every time they entered the opposing box.
In the end, though, tonight -- again, as was the case in its staggering loss to the United States in its opening game -- was just not Portugal's night. As Paulo Bento, their Sporting Lisbon midfielder, so poetically put it in the Mix Zone (interview area) after the game: "The tree was twisted from the roots; this match felt wrong from the beginning."
This whole World Cup is twisted from its roots. But I find it glorious. I like trees like that.
Dammit, my leg's just fallen asleep.
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.