Unanswered prayers
By Michael Davies
Special to Page 2

Day 21: Good, now I can just relax and enjoy some football

June 21, 6:05 a.m., room 1412, Pan Pacific Hotel
George Waud snores. Not that occasional or intermittent kind of snoring that many people, or rather their partners (mine included), suffer from. But a consistent, loud, all night, from the second he falls asleep kind of snoring.

I know, I'm awake and have been all night. It has been my turn to take George, Dom having got absolutely no sleep the night before this. We're passing him between us like an unwanted spaniel. I have decided not to beat the crap out of him even though I told him I would if he kept me up. I have just let him sleep -- except for one time about an hour ago when I jumped up and just whacked him in the head with my pillow -- not to stop him snoring, it was purely punitive. But I feel sorry for his future wife, his unborn children and his neighbors, past, present and future. I am going to buy him d-snore. He's still my best mate, but tonight, I can't stand him.

I get out of bed, open the curtains, the sliding doors, and walk out onto the balcony overlooking Yokohama Bay. It is warm, already, and sunny. Most Englishmen were praying for rain -- this is samba weather.

Let us pray.

I pray that this dawn brings me a seat on the bullet train so I can sleep.

I pray for clouds and rain.

I pray that the three Rs, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho play more like the three stooges.

I pray for Michael Owen's groin.

I pray for Danny Mills and ...

I pray for Emile Heskey.

For they, I believe, will be the keys to the game.

I pray for the Ginger Ninjas, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes, both Coles and first-half England goals

I pray for biased refereeing in England's favor

I pray that if England loses, the players do so with class and that this game is every bit as good as their last World Cup encounter in 1970.

I pray that the U.S. team will beat Germany.

I pray that Germany go home crying and are so embarrassed that they're never allowed to play in the World Cup or Euro championships again.

Oh yeah, and begrudgingly I pray that George does get a ticket for the England game.

11:35 a.m., Shinkansen bullet train to Kanagawa
I gave George the cell phone that my airline, ANA, very graciously lent me for my trip, and I check in with him. He left earlier (refreshed after a glorious night's kip) with Dom to try to get their tickets. And they've scored. They're already at the stadium, on their way to the VIP lounge to await the arrival of H.R.H. Prince Andrew.

David Beckham, David Seaman
English captain David Beckham, left, tries to lift the spirits of goalkeeper David Seaman after the loss to Brazil.
I'm a little worried about George in the VIP Box. Firstly, he doesn't have a jacket. He tried on all of mine last night, but they were at least two sizes too big. So he's wearing his vintage England shirt. Secondly, I'm not quite sure how the FIFA officers, international dignitaries and captains of industry will react to all those football songs George has been practicing for days. Especially confusing will be when he breaks out his favorite, "Chelsea Boot Boys, Chelsea Boot Boys, Woa-oah! Woa-oah!" That always stumps my friends in New York when he comes to stay.

I do actually have a seat on the train by the way, but the car is wall-to-wall people, sitting and standing anywhere they can jam themselves. I get into a conversation with a guy in an England shirt sitting right in front of me. But I regret it. He's so full of crap. Doesn't rate Heskey, doesn't rate coach Sven Goran Errickson, doesn't rate David Beckham, doesn't rate Sol Campbell but thinks England will win 3-0. I busy myself in the e-mail I printed out at the hotel and brought to read on the train.

My friend Jim sent me a great parody of American football writing from the English Guardian:

A zip-two shutout for Team USA saw Mexico bested and the U.S. elevated to eight-left status at soccer's World Tournament Monday. Cobi Jones' 40-yard speed-play upfielded for Landon Donovan to put through the scorebag on his head -- equalling jubilation in the U.S. locker room. Bradley Friedel's blanking left Mex facing a negative score-stat scenario and brought America to a 9-6-5 close-out on the road. Friedel, rostering for Kasey Keller, performed big when Mexico's offensive hitman Blanco had a net-shot opportunity late in the third quarter.

And it continues about England ...

Beck, leader of the England team on converted set-plays, is lended from the Manchester Hot-Rods franchise over the summer semester. The midfieldman scooted through backfield Saturday to slap back upcoming Danemark on a zip-three reverse. Meatball sandwich Beck was left staring at a rap-sheet at World Tournament France four years back when he was sin-binned for stud-checking Argentine centre Diego Simeon. Now he has bungeed back to claim the top-dog collar on England's special team outfit. Freshman Daniel Mills, 24, known for landing big defensive hits, will be used on wing-plays allied to rookie Trevor St Clair to jostle Brazil's tight end -- mostly strikerback Dennis Nielson. Head coach Gordon-Eric Son hints power-strikes will hit upstarts Brazil early. He hopes goaltender Dave Seaman can perform his third smother-shut of the series.

And it concludes:

The soccer World Cup, a regional show based on Major League Soccer, concludes June 30 at the Grand Series finale in Japorea.

The Media Tribune, Shizuoka Stadium, 3:30 p.m.
The entire England-Brazil game is a blur. I am running a fever, I'm sure. I feel like crap or maybe it's just nerves. Or maybe it's just so bloody hot.

The national anthem is sung way, way too fast. Prince Andrew is on the big screen. The whistle. Heskey is playing out of his head -- I'm dreaming -- my prayers have been answered. And Owen's groin? No problem, but Brazil looks dangerous. And then Heskey plays a perfect ball, but no Lucio's got it, now he's lost it and Owen scores. I jump up and shake my arms so hard my watch falls off. I look at the scoreboard, ENGLAND 1 - 0 BRAZIL, and the fans to my left are singing "1-0 to the Ingerland, 1-0 to the Ingerland."

I can see John Barnes. We have to hold on until halftime. Look, Beckham just jumped out of that tackle thinking the ball would go out, it didn't, but Scholes has it, no he hasn't, Rivaldo, Rivaldo, step over, step over, Ashley Cole's dizzy, where's he going, left, to the right, to his left and David Seaman's going to save it, it's going wide, no it's not, it's a goal, I clap. I don't remember halftime.

I remember the free kick, Ronaldinho keeps moving the ball farther foreward. Seaman's coming for it, no he's going back, the ball's not stopping, it's going over the top, into the top netting, no it's not, it's a goal. Oh .................. it's a goal .................. Oh no.

Earnie Stewart, Landon Donovan
Earnie Stewart and Landon Donovan face the end of the Americans' incredible road.
What's happening, I can't see, wait a minute, where's Ronaldinho going? Brazil are down to 10 men, but England can't do anything, Brazil are superb at this, the whole half's almost gone and the ball has hardly been in play and what's Campbell doing trying to knock it in the area? And again? Come on, England.

Brazil is better, its players are just better, we look tired, we look very young, and Beckham just can't lead from here because he's pinned all the way back there, and Kieron Dyer's too small and Mills is just a step too slow, and Teddy Sheringham and Darius Vassell ... and it's over.

Brazil was the better side in the second half. Even with 10 men. England played the Brazilians level in the first. All three goals were defensive mistakes -- but England's back line was pretty blameless. I feel bad for Seaman. He'll accept responsibility though. He's a pro. England will build from this. A win would have flattered them. This team, at last we have a team and we know, and the players know, who they are. They can play together now, and build confidence and understanding. I'm going to Portugal for Euro 2004.

8:05 p.m., the Tokkaido line, 11 stops from Yokohama
The trip back from Kanagawa is a nightmare. No seat, and a car full of the more mean-spirited variety of England fans -- harassing Brazilian women and trying to goad their boyfriends and husbands into starting something. But as the miles pour on and the beer and afternoon heat starts to make them sleepy, they lose interest, but I can't breathe -- so I change trains half an hour from Yokohama and take a local train -- slow but empty, save for some Japanese schoolkids on the way home from orchestra practice, we stop 16 times on the 90-minute journey to Yokohama.

International Media Center, Yokohama, 9.05 p.m.
I run into the media center, picking up the starting lineups at the pigeon holes just in time to see Michael Ballack's goal. There are groans in the press room. This is weird, these people actually want the United States to win.

A guy I recognize from Sapporo, a Russian I think, turns to me and says, "Can you believe it? This German team, this disgrace is going to make it through into the semifinals? Come on, USA!" It's amazing how the world unites after awhile when it's the Germans we're up against.

"How was the first half?" I ask. "All your America."

I don't tell him I'm not American. Don't tell the INS.

David Beckham
Promising days are definitely ahead for Beckham and England.
I watch the first-half highlights, which they replay again and again in the media center so journalists can sound really clever and know exactly what happened and who did what on each highlight. My God, the U.S players. were all over them. Oh my God, Landon! Oh my God, Landon again! Christ, he should have scored and look, he knows it.

The second half starts, and it's all the United States again, and the Africans away to my right, who seem to watch every single game in the press center, in fact I think they might be sleeping here, are positive the ball crossed the line from Greg Berhalter of all people -- GOAL they shout. From the replays it was, in fact, a clear hand ball on the line on Torsten Frings. But the ref is only human. And this one's Scottish, so he's more human than most.

The U.S. team has chances, no one better than Tony Sanneh with that free header in the dying minutes, but they look gradually less and less threatening as the half continues. The Germans are just crap, though. Horrible. You might have gathered by now that I'm not a fan of the Germans, but you at least expect them to be good, annoyingly good, technically good, teutonic and marginally creative. This side are just pants.

The game ends. 1-0 to Germany. Landon Donovan looks like he's crying, perhaps he thinks it's his fault, like Seaman, but it isn't. That young man has signaled his arrival, as has his team on the world stage. And how does the U.S. team know it's arrived at the top table? The Americans just got their hearts broken by the Germans after outplaying them. Welcome to the glorious world of international football, America.

Despite the jealousy, the parody, the patronizing comments of the international experts about your talent, your understanding, and your country's appreciation for the game, the smart money, the consensus among most journalists I've spoken too, is that you are here to stay. Can you make it to the upper echelon and contend for the World Cup in four or eight years time? A week's a long time in football, years, nobody can foresee.

But here are:

10 Sure Things That You Guys Can Feel Good About After Your Performance In The World Cup

1. The sports pages have to write about you now.

2. Better teams will want to play you and will play harder against you.

3. Crowds will be bigger at your games.

4. Your fans will come up with better songs.

5. TV ratings will be bigger, too.

Landon Donovan
Cheer up, Landon. You're the future of U.S. soccer.
6. European teams are going to want to buy some of you. Are you going to go over there and develop your game and future? Or stay in the MLS and develop the U.S. game and its future?

7. You have stars and young guns, but none bigger than Landon.

8. And Landon, you're going to make a lot of money.

9. And Landon, a lot of boys (and girls) are going to have your poster on their bedroom walls.

10. And Landon, this is a lot of pressure, I know you're only 20, but you're more than just a poster boy, you are the embodiment of the future of this game in the United States. Until the next World Cup. Then maybe you can get DaMarcus Beasley some more playing time. Or that prodigy, Santino Quaranta.

I check the FIFA computers and read the postgame interviews from the England-Brazil game. England was gracious in defeat -- down but all about the future. Seaman was in tears and apologized to the British people. I go online. There's a great photo of Beckham consoling him. I start to read the game reports at some of the papers and football sites. Too negative. I go back to the hotel.

11:45 p.m., Pan Pacific Hotel
I step out on the balcony and look over the bay, all flashing lights, and traffic heading over the bridge to I don't know where. I should be sadder than I am. George even lost my cell phone, saying sorry "it was pickpocketed." But I am full of hope. Young England will contend for Euro 2004, and the World Cup in 2006. It is scary how young this team is. And the next great team coming up behind them might be the United States.

Best of all, though, and this is perhaps the greatest achievement of this U.S. squad and this amazing World Cup. When I get back to New York, my friends and co-workers might not find my obsession with football so odd, so English, so strangely foreign.

And I've been in Japan for three weeks now, and this place doesn't seem so foreign either. But I miss New York. And London. Both my teams are going home.

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.



Michael Davies Archive

Complete 2002 World Cup coverage

Page 2 Quiz: Guess the Face of the World Cup

Johnson: Getting a kick out of soccer

Davies Day 20: Heaven, hell and a guy named Hector

Davies Day 19: South Korea alters power structure

Davies Day 18: Left at the altar

Davies Day 17: Dawn of a new day for U.S. soccer

Davies Day 16: The dreaded Niigata sickness

Davies Day 15: Kids, don't do mingers

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

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