Special to Page 2
Editor's Note: Michael Davies is blogging the 2006 World Cup for Page 2. Each day throughout the monthlong tournament, he will file reports from Germany (and back home in New York). Check back for more updates.
Tribeca, New York, 11:30 p.m. June 26
I think I forgot to do this for a few days so fly the imaginary graphic faster and swooshier than ever and crash the music over it with full Dolby THX surround sound.
Here's what I'm for and against today:
FOR: Frankfurt airport's selection of international newspapers, the Indian cricket movie "Iqbal," everyone I know back in New York and in Los Angeles having World Cup fever, outstanding U.S. TV ratings for Germany 2006.
AGAINST: Frankfurt airport security screeners, the English football press, penalty shootouts, ESPN and ABC not getting any ratings credit for the number of people watching in bars.
Drove about 240 kilometers in well under two hours to make it to Frankfurt airport from Stuttgart this morning. It was autobahntastic. The airport was miserable though, security screening after security screening after you get the picture. Which wouldn't be so bad were the male body checkers not so particularly thorough or, shall we say, not so cavalier in their enthusiastic patting down (and up) of one's "inner thigh."
However, I did manage to find every English newspaper known to man at the newsstand and I passed the flight laughing at the insanity ("we should still drop Beckham"), the inconsistent (let's stick with the 4-1-4-1 but play Crouch up front with Rooney errrr, that adds up to 12 players) and the inane, ("Lampard and Beckham do not even deserve to be in the squad.") blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
I've met the charmless oafs who write these articles, mostly before the actual game, and you wouldn't even listen to them in the pub. The same writers who were throwing up their arms at the selection of Hargreaves ("why does Sven think he's any good?") -- leading the fans to boo him in Frankfurt -- now believe he's England's answer in holding midfield.
"But we'd never give Sven any credit," said one of them, a journalist for supposedly one of the most "independent" organs of the English press, "that wouldn't sell any papers." Driven by a bunch of mostly lard-assed, pasty, whiney journalists who never even got selected for their Under-11 school B team, the English press have driven the public into a frenzy of wanting to win every game 5-nil. They seem to expect the game to be a series of fluent passing moves with the opposition pegged back into their own half.
This just isn't going to happen very often in international football, even rarer with an English team who, thank God, play defensive-minded football -- not a single goal conceded from open play -- are extremely hot, are playing on much drier pitches than they're used to against teams for whom a win against England would be at least a national triumph, or, at most, a significant piece of national history. Just look at some World Cup history. A lot of low-scoring wins -- even for the greatest teams in the world. Look at yesterday, 1-nil to Italy against Australia! The Ukraine (really important to keep the definite article) beat Switzerland on penalties. And Portugal beat Holland with one goal in the ugliest, most violent game of football I have ever watched.
So who would you have England be, members of the English media? Germany? Argentina? Well, we're not Argentinian or German, and frankly I'm happy about that. Who would you have selected in this squad that Sven didn't? OK, Tottenham's Jermain Defoe instead of Walcott. And how many games would you have played Defoe in so far? I can't hear you? None. OK. What is England's best "shape"? What? Drop Lampard? Drop Beckham? You are geniuses. I've watched this team train, I've seen how well they play, consistently, week in week out, all of them. If Sven dropped two of his absolute best players, he'd have a mutiny. And deservedly so. And then you'd slate him for dropping them, or handling his man management badly. Just like you slated the manager before, and the one before, and the one who's coming next and after that. Because you all think you know better. And you don't.
Good, got that off my chest.
Apart from reading the papers, I spent half an hour speaking to an Italian bodybuilder who was convinced that Silvio Berlusconi (media mogul and former prime minister of Italy) had fixed the World Cup so Italy would win -- "ze referee, he does red carda de Rossi so he can red carda two times ze Americans it is ze way of Berlusconi." And I watched a wonderful film called "Iqbal." If you're a fan of movies about deaf and dumb Indian kids who are really good at cricket, then it's definitely for you.
After almost two hours getting into the city from JFK (really missing the autobahn already) I arrived home, greeted the dozens of baby girls and female caregivers who live at my house and headed straight down to my Man Cave to watch the football, allowing my 22-month-old daughter a one-time-only visit. I fast forwarded all the way through Italy vs. Australia looking for the goals and was staggered not to find any until that insane penalty at the end. Do you know why that definitely isn't a penalty? Because Giorgio Chinaglia was so adamant that it was. Can't believe that Wynalda didn't challenge him on that. Whenever my daughter falls over on purpose at the end of "Ring a Ring a Rosie" or whatever that dark, horrible, bubonic-plague-nostalgic nursery rhyme is called, she yells "Wo-oah!" And that's exactly what she screamed at the television when Fabio Grosso tripped deliberately over Lucas Neill's motionless body instead of just jumping over it. Proof that it was an absolutely intentional fall. She is completely impartial. Elmo doesn't play for either side.
As for the Switzerland vs. the Ukraine, it was a tough game to watch, even without jet lag. I turned it off at the end of extra time, before the penalties. I just don't think it's a legitimate way to end a World Cup match. Here are five reasons why I oppose penalties:
(1) In sport, the best team should always win. In penalties, they don't.
(2) Individual players who are unfortunate enough to miss, or to have penalties saved, are scapegoated by the fans and the press and rarely recover.
(3) Referees consistently allow goalkeepers to move before the shot, off the line. But even if they didn't, I'd still oppose them.
(4) Weaker teams can use the end of regular time, and the whole of extra time, packing 10 men behind the ball, knowing that even though they're weaker it will all be even when it comes to penalties. Even worse is when both teams start playing for a draw.
(5) Other solutions would be fairer.
And the solution? In the knockout rounds the tie should be broken by goal difference in all games played up to that point. If that's tied, the team with the most goals scored wins. If that's tied, it should be based on qualifying, just as it is to decide ties during the group stage. That way, both sides know where they stand going into a match. You never get two teams playing for a draw.
You can disagree but I still won't watch penalties. It's illegitimate.
Michael Davies is a British-born television producer whose forthcoming projects for ESPN include the World Series of Darts and the documentary film "Once In A Lifetime" about the New York Cosmos, which will air on ESPN in October after being released theatrically by Miramax in July.