|The dreaded Niigata sickness
By Michael Davies
Special to Page 2
Day 16: Goodbye, you Boys In Green
June 16, the lobby of the Pan Pacific Hotel, 4:35 a.m.
I finally make it back to my hotel six hours and five minutes after leaving the stadium and just don't have the heart to tell the assistant concierge that I will not be leaving for Oita in the morning. She has stayed long after she was supposed to leave to hand me the envelope with my air, train and hovercraft tickets and all the details for my three-day trip to Oita, Osaka and Kobe. I'm just too tired, I have to write and for just one instant, I feel a little footballed out.
I get back to my room to find an e-mail waiting for me. Are you George Waud in disguise? says the subject line. I open it, sensing its contents, and yes, George Waud, my best mate, international playboy, fellow Chelsea fan and upper-class football yob is coming to Japan for the England-Brazil game. I need to feel better. This will require all my strength.
Media Center, Press Room, 3:30 p.m.
While the game is fantastically entertaining, I can't stop thinking about the German legend Franz Beckenbauer's comments in the paper Saturday. He basically said that it was useless for the game for us to be watching a bunch of overtired European-based players, struggling in the heat and humidity to play half-decent football.
There is considerable truth to what he's saying. Teams like Manchester United, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are far superior to all of these teams, and the football they play week-in and week-out is technically far superior. The World Cup is played at a level below top European club soccer. It is slower, and most teams have hardly ever played with each other before. This partly explains why teams like Japan, South Korea and, to a lesser extent, the United States are doing so well here. Their players have far fewer European club commitments, are less exhausted (many European players have just concluded a punishing 60- or 70-plus-game season in mostly cold weather) and have played with each other as a team more often. But that is what is making this World Cup so compelling. So stuff it, Franz.
The other rule driving me crazy is the one that says an injured player who is treated on the field has to be removed from the field and called back on by the referee before he can play again. This rule was adopted to punish players who fake injury to waste time or sucker the referee into carding opposing players. But more often than not, it punishes players who have been legitimately hurt and gives an advantage, however temporary, to the team that committed a horrible, injury-causing foul.
And while we're on about rules, I have some other suggestions:
10 rule changes that will never happen
2. Prizes for hitting the post or crossbar. Not much consolation for Svensson, but think how good Henri Camara would have felt about his in-off-the-post golden goal in extra time. "And Camara has scored, in-off-the-post, to send Senegal into the quarterfinals, and he'll be driving off in a brand new Chevy Blazer!"
3. Before second half, both teams hold center circle council and vote off their weakest link.
4. Mikes on goalies and strikers on penalties -- I want to hear the pre-kick taunting.
5. Goalies can't use hands -- it would be so cool to see them diving to intercept 60-mph power shots with their heads.
6. Fans vote on how to end games after extra time, using mechanisms at their seats (sound familiar?) -- another extra time, penalties or obstacle course.
7. In penalty shootouts, Fevernova replaced by Whiffle Ball.
9. Designated corner-kick teams run on the field on every corner -- lots of guys who are 7-foot-tall and have really big heads. USA would be No. 1 in the world -- Shaq could score every time.
10. At end of games, players must exchange shorts as well as shirts -- viewing figures among women and gay men will go through the roof.
Room 1412, The Pan Pacific, 8:30 p.m.
The penalty shootout is no way to end a World Cup game and is painfully harsh on Ireland, certainly the last team that deserves to exit in such an arbitrary fashion from this tournament. But it's always good television, the shootout. I loved and loathed every second of it -- and the cutaway to Mick McCarthy ... that was the unmistakable look of a manager who just knows his team has not spent enough time practicing penalty kicks.
Goodbye, Ireland. You deserved better. You deserved Roy Keane. Now you can go home for lashings of runny eggs, bacon and beer.
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.