Day 18: Why it's better to be Turkey than a chicken
June 18, the International Media Center, 11:21 a.m.
It is raining so hard outside that the Media Center has been invaded by a half-dozen birds -- sparrows, I think -- seeking shelter. My sense is that while Senegal remains in the tournament, and African journalists remain here in full force, this might not be the safest environment. This from today's International Herald Tribune:
"I went to make offerings for Senegal and killed a chicken. God has respected my wishes." -- Senegalese student Daniel Dabo on helping his country advance.
I feel worse than yesterday and have decided against traveling up to Miyagi to see Japan play Turkey. I need to try to score some tickets for the semifinal and final for my friends George and Dom, who are coming in tomorrow just in time to drink vast quantities of alcohol before the England vs. Brazil game Friday. In his e-mail to me today, George promised to bring me something for my flu, "unless of course you can get Guiness over there." Must feel better quickly. After a few calls and e-mails, my friend Cam comes through and finds two Category One tickets (best seats in the house) for each game for about $2,500 total. That might sound like a lot of money, but you should check on the price of Knicks tickets -- even this year, $625 would not have got you anywhere near courtside.
I spend some time on the web -- all the essential sites, New York Times, Times of London, Chelsea Football Club. They've just announced the Premier League schedule for this season on the latter, and I might have a bit of a problem. Chelsea at home to Manchester United (arguably the biggest fixture of the year) on Aug. 24, my wedding day). I quickly try to figure out if there's any possible way, with the time difference, I could make it to the game (3 p.m. London) and back to Long Island (4.30 p.m. ceremony) and come to the conclusion that the only possible solution is to move the wedding. Crap, the invitations have already been sent, flights and hotels booked ... I'll have to order the game on DirecTV, but if it's not on, I'll have to watch it in Manhattan, then quickly drive out that afternoon. Assuming there's no traffic, I should make it. Phew. I start fantasizing about my speech.
"Today is the greatest day of my life, and I am the luckiest man alive ..."
"... John Terry's injury-time winner past Barthez from Zenden's perfect left-footed cross has filled my heart with joy, and I will never forget this day, this date and that you were all here to share it with me."
Maybe not. But a boy can dream. This really could be our year to beat Man U at home.
Press Room, 3:30 p.m.
Japan and Turkey are about to kick off in atrocious conditions, and I must admit to feeling a little guilty about not being there to cheer on my boys in blue, and especially the superbly hard TODA! I check out the starting lineups and can't believe I left FATIH (FATTIE) and TUGAY (TOO GAY) off my best names in the World Cup list.
An English journalist has dubbed the Japanese and Korean Republic style of football as "Friendly Football," apparently because there's so much speed, movement and switching positions, that rather like friendly fire on a chaotic battlefield, it's easy to hit the wrong man with your shots (that is, passes). But today the speed and chaos seem to be missing, dampened by the rain, and Turkey, playing, let's face it, moderately dull football, never looks like losing. Japan is playing damp, soggy football.
Japan loses 1-0 and the sight of TODA! crying floods of tears breaks my heart. Buck up, mate, you won't be playing in the J-League next season. With any luck, you'll be at Chelsea.
The Official FIFA Computers, 5:55 p.m.
In the media center, there are about 75 computers set up by FIFA for the media to give us everything we need to know about the tournament, every possible statistic, press conference transcripts, tournament histories, city info, player biographies, etc. I'm trying to figure out a way to rank the remaining teams left in the tournament by taking into account their record so far, their world ranking (a fairly ludicrous barometer, as Colombia, ranked fourth, didn't even make it to the World Cup) and my expert analysis (I had $250 on Cameroon). This is where I come out, before tonight's game between Italy and Korea:
Davies' Dubious Day 18 World Cup Power Rankings
As the German coach, Rudi Voller said yesterday, "if the best team always won, Brazil would have been champion not four times, but 14 times." Their lineup -- Ronaldo, Lucio, Denilson, Junior, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos, Edmilson, Dida and Cafu -- sounds like disciples in a Portugese New Testament, but they play like soccer Gods. They truly love football, and anyone who loves football, loves watching them. No one has their level of skill and sheer class, but England is capable of beating them -- not over a seven-game series, but once every three or four games. Let's hope that's Friday. If not, and the U.S. are out, I'll be rooting for them.
I'm going to give them the edge at No. 2 so I won't be accused of blatant homerism. Their first half against Ireland was about the best football I've seen played in this tournament. Their disappearing act in the second half and poor discipline are more troubling, but I have to think Spain reaches the semis. Everyone on their squad can play -- Iker Casillas, their No. 2 keeper is doing an amazing job in for Canizares, who cut his foot in a bizarre Eau de Cologne incident before the finals.
Arguably playing the best defensive football in the tournament, having given up just one goal in four matches. They are playing an unspectacular but disciplined route one game -- long balls from their midfield quarterbacks to their speedy receivers Owen and Vassell and their tight end Heskey. And their central midfield -- Butt and Scholes -- is forcing teams to beat them on the flanks. Unfortunately, that's where England's Achilles' heels, knees and feet are located. Mills, Ashley Cole, Sinclair and the still injured Beckham and Dyer are the keys to the game against Brazil -- they win or lose on their performances. Up front, Owen and Heskey will cause you problems.
This hurts. But you can never discount the Germans. They are no longer unbeatable. England beat them 5-1 last September in Germany, and Robbie Keane's last-minute goal against them in the opening round helps to dispel that aura of invincibility that seems to have historically surrounded this team and intimidated their opponents. They are, though, technically very strong, quick and punishing in attack. Watch out for Ballack -- he hasn't really exploded yet -- and Klose, who has. The U.S. scored two against them in a friendly back in May. Unfortunately, they conceded five.
Senegal (ranked 42nd in the world coming into the World Cup), must rate just ahead of the US (13th in the world according to Fifa, unlucky for Portugal and Mexico) as the biggest surprise of the tournament. They ooze class all over the park, though. El Hadji Diouf stands out, but so do Henri Camara, Aliou Cisse, Khalilou Fadiga, the Diops, Diao, Diallo, Coly and Thiaw. Wow! They are prone to losing their shape and discipline, especially at the back. But I fancy them over Turkey, and they can present anyone with problems. Just ask France.
I have been blown away by how well this team has played -- quick, decisive and merciless on the counterattack -- but it is Bruce Arena who has truly earned my respect during this tournament. He has employed, motivated and changed his personnel superbly. No other coach here has gotten more out of his team, switched tactics and lineups more effectively. Many so-called soccer expects in the U.S. regard this guy as bush league, out of his depth, but U.S. Soccer is lucky to have him, and my guess is, will be lucky to keep him after his performance here. The U.S. has a quick enough offense to score against anyone. It is true, they will never be underestimated again, which might be Portugal's and even Mexico's excuse and will make it harder for the U.S. in the future. But this team will only get better, because there is still room to upgrade in a few positions.
7. KOREAN REPUBLIC
This team is not far behind the U.S. (especially after their 2-1 overtime shocker over Italy in the second round) and, as a unit, push themselves to the limit, playing a disciplined and physical game which makes it incredibly hard for teams to play against them. What they lack is scoring punch. Their finishing can be woeful.
I just can't get excited about this team. They are solid, and in Sas and Hakan Sukur possess extremely quick scoring threats. But you struggle to come up with a perceptible style to apply to their game; it seems somehow disorganized. But perhaps that's what they thrive on -- they mess with their opponents and disturb their rhythm. No fun to watch, but could still make the semifinal. They will bother Senegal.
I'm sure that will arouse some ill feeling. Excellent.
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.