The End of Days
By Michael Davies
Special to Page 2

Day 29, 30 and, at last, 31: A Way-Too-Early Preview of World Cup 2006

June 30, The Media Tribune, Yokohama Stadium, 10 p.m.
I know a thing or two about confetti cannons and big victory celebrations, I tell my friend Cam from ESPN, who I'm sitting next to. And I've got to say that the director is doing a wonderful job with this moment of Cafu holding up the World Cup trophy. I'm watching it all live, but also on the monitors at the Univision broadcast position right in front of me (that guy really does yell even when nothing is happening). I am happy. Not ecstatic. It was not a beautiful game -- far from it -- and I really think this World Cup needed one.

Ronaldo, though, was fascinating -- seemed so out of sorts in the first half, even disinterested sometimes. I also have to say that I spent a large part of the game screaming at Rivaldo to pass the #$&*%^@ ball. Ronaldo's first goal came from a rebound from an absolutely unconscionable Rivaldo shot (spilled by my personal man of the match -- Oliver Kahn) with two players completely free to his right. Ronaldo's second -- though partially assisted by Rivaldo with a nice dummy, you just know Rivaldo peeled off into the area waiting to get that ball back -- for me was the second-best goal I saw with my own eyes in this World Cup. Not quite as brilliant as the less-flashy but more technically difficult Jared Borgetti goal for Mexico against Italy. In my 'pinion.

Ronaldinho, though, was the most electrifying performer on the pitch, followed closely by Pierluigi Collina, who was phenomenal (two cards early, no more trouble, actually had the guts to overrule a linesman). Halfway through the first half, after Ronaldinho has miracled a sublime pass into the box which Ronaldo pussy foots wide of the goal, Cam, who's from Australia, leans over to me and says that Ronaldinho reminds him of one of those male transvestites in Thailand. Learned a little bit too much about Cam last night.

The Bar at The Royal Park Hotel, Yokohama, 1:15 a.m.
Oliver Kahn
Oliver Kahn has a habit of making his saves look more spectacular than they are.
I head back to the hotel next door to the Pan Pacific with the entire ESPN crew. I desperately try to sell Ty Keough with my Oliver-Kahn-is-overrated-and-has-finally-been-found-out argument. I am just convinced that Kahn reaps enormous credit for showboating (or would that be showbooting), making every save look more spectacular than it really is. Ty, I think it is fair to say, thinks I am a few sandwiches short of a picnic, but very patiently indulges me as I repeatedly call Rudi Voeller, Berti Vogts. I swear it is not the alcohol -- I'm drinking Coca Cora. Which is what they call it here.

It is nevertheless a great way to end the World Cup -- these guys, commentators, producers, mad West Bromwich Albion supporting statisticians (did you know that Ronaldo now has exactly the same goal scoring record in World Cup football as Pele -- 12 goals in 14 games?) have worked their butts off over the last few weeks. And their passion for the game and its future in the United States would make you weep.

July 1, Pan Pacific Hotel, room 1412, 10:15 p.m.
Like the World Cup, I feel like I rather lost my momentum over the last week and a half. Perhaps it was getting sick, perhaps I was more affected than I admitted by the losses of England and the United States. It certainly gave me less to write about, that and the departure of George Waud -- he's always worth about 500 words.

But the truth is this was a World Cup of highs and lows, of positives and negatives, of yin and yang. It was a World Cup of karma, of settled scores and of reputations built over years undone in an instant. It was not a World Cup, on the whole, of unforgettable football. But It was a World Cup that has, perhaps, changed the landscape, the hierarchy of worldwide football. Or maybe it hasn't. We'll see in 2006. But if you can't wait, here is the ...

Davies' way-too-early preview of Germany 2006 that I can afford to make because it will be forgotten in four years' time

1. The tournament will be pushed back
Rumor has it (and it is true that there are a lot of ridiculous rumors at the World Cup) that the tournament will start two or three weeks later, allowing European-based players involved in their long domestic seasons and Champions' League more time to rest.

David Beckham
Captain David Beckham and the core of the English team should be back in '06.
2. Several major nations will fail to qualify
This time we missed Holland and Colombia, two of the top nations in world football. Next time, just as the World Cup finals have become more competitive, so will qualifying. Look for two hands worth of teams from this year's competition not to make it back.

3. Europe will be back
Northern Europe will be at home, Mediterranean Europe has way too much talent and some scores to settle, and Eastern Europe made an uncharacteristically poor showing this year.

4. Argentina will be back
I will not miss the current Argentina team -- their trash talking of David Beckham before the penalty, spitting at Danny Mills, abusing Paul Scholes in the mix zone, and the fact none of them could offer a complimentary word about England after the game -- but you can bet on the hand of Maradona that they'll be back, too.

5. England and the United States will send stronger and more experienced teams
England does not seem to have a lot of luck with the draw for international tournaments. This year, not only were they drawn in the Group of Death, for qualifying they were in the same group as World Cup finalist Germany, and for Euro 2004 they're in the same group as semifinalist Turkey. So, assuming England qualifies, it will send essentially the same core of players to the next World Cup with its central midfield rock, Steven Gerrard, and a couple of new faces who now have four years to get some experience playing with each other.

DaMarcus Beasley
DaMarcus Beasley and the young U.S. team should be even better in four years.
The United States will certainly send a more complete and more experienced side to Germany. How well they do will also depend on the fortune of a good draw, but there's no reason why they cannot match or better their performance from this time. U.S. fans, pray for the health and continued improvement of Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, John O'Brien and Clint Mathis, the emergence of a solid central defensive partnership and a tireless replacement for Earnie Stewart and, potentially, Claudio Reyna.

6. TV ratings in the United States will be even bigger
There will be a media frenzy before the next World Cup. You just know it. These players are known now, and some might be legitimate stars if MLS and U.S. Soccer work together to get the team and players out there enough, in the right places against the right teams at the right times over the next four years. Moreover, the next World Cup will be far more friendly for U.S. television, the games being played at much better times -- especially the weekend games, which will be on live during prime afternoon network sports slots.

7. There will be refereeing and rules changes
The fact is, for all the complaints about the refereeing, the speed of the game and the increasingly aggressive play in the penalty area (plus superb acting) is making this game almost impossible for one ref and two line judges to officiate. There will never be a dozen Collinas, and even the great hairless one can make mistakes. The World Cup is worth way too much money for FIFA to allow itself to be exposed this way again. This time FIFA boss Sepp Blatter blamed the refs; next time he will have to take more responsibility.

Look for two refs or two additional linesmen, and some changes to rules or their application, particularly offside. However much you tell these guys that when in doubt the benefit goes to the attacking side, it's just human nature that if you give someone a flag and tell them to wave it when they see an offside, every time they think they see one -- however sure or unsure they are -- they'll wave it.

Pierluigi Collina
Pierluigi Collina
So my bags are packed. There are seven of them. I've spent rather too much time in the mall this week buying gifts that I really want myself. Particularly the BUFFON Italian goalkeeping jersey. My flight leaves at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday and arrives at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday. What will I do with those regained 45 minutes?

When I step off that plane at JFK I'll be back to my old life, which is pretty fantastic, all things considered. I will miss football. I will miss writing about football. I will miss Japan, or at least, what I've seen of Japan. I have bizarrely received several e-mails, most of them admittedly from Wade, asking me what I'm going to do next. I'd like to write a book about football in the United States, and I have a couple of ideas. But until the next World Cup, I mostly just want to go back to watching football in bars in New York City. Wait a minute, that's another idea for a book. Or how about a regular Page 2 column?

Shameless.

Michael Davies, a native of London, is executive producer of ABC's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire."




CUP DIARY

ALSO SEE:


Michael Davies Archive

Complete 2002 World Cup coverage

Davies Day 27: Who wants to be a diary expert?

Davies Day 26: Styling underarms and Brazilian bikinis

Davies Day 25: Managing to Wade through

Davies Day 24: Where God shines his light

Davies Day 23: One more time on instant replay

Davies Day 22: Football greats stole my cell phone

Davies Day 21: Unanswered prayers

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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