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The whole world is watching

Actually, it’s not clear that many people in this country are watching the World Cup, especially now that the U.S. has been eliminated. But Dafydd ab Hugh is watching, and he sent me these comments (which I’ve edited slightly) on the Italy-Australia match:

Let’s start with the absolute fact that I know very little about soccer, World Cup or otherwise. I am not an authority; I watch during the Olympics and during the World Cup; I don’t have a favorite team — or even league — during regular play. But I did watch the entire [Australia-Italy] match, or rather that portion of it the referee allowed the teams to play.

I agree that the red card against Italian Marco Materazzi [ed. the former Everton player known for skillful but improvident play, to the point that before the Cup started I begged the Italian coach to play him against the U.S.] was unwarranted.

But just because Italy got an undeserved bad call doesn’t mean they’re entitled to an undeserved penalty kick with twelve seconds left in regulation play… and when the score is tied 0-0 in a hard-fought elimination round headed towards overtime. Even more infuriating is the suggestion, made by quite a few commentators I read, that it was a “make-up” call for the supposedly stolen match of 2002, when Italy was knocked out by South Korea. [ed. in that match the Italian Totti, who converted the penalty kick against Australia, was sent off on a second yellow card for diving -- that call itself might be considered a make-up call for decades of Italian theatrics]

That may just be conspiracy theory: RoK’s coach that year was Guus Hiddink, who just happens to be Australia’s coach this year: Hiddink “robbed” Italy in 2002, with the officials’ connivance, goes this theory; so the officials made up for it this year by giving Italy the win in a match where they could have been humiliated. [ed. an interesting theory which, to me, has virtually no plausibility] I have no idea if that’s what happened, but it’s pretty hard to explain the call by normal means. Italian Fabio Grosso was charging in, as Italy had done many times during the match, in a mild scare in the closing seconds of stoppage time. The backfield was full, as Grosso had been dancing with several defenders for a while before he made his run inside the penalty area.

Socceroo Lucas Neill made a spread-legged attempted tackle, missed, and slid to the ground. Grosso took a step and then tried to hop over Neill. Neill did not move — he didn’t trip Grosso, grab Grosso, or anything else. Grosso’s trailing leg brushed the prone Neil; then Grosso fell, but honestly, it sure looked like an intentional dive to me. [ed. and to me]

The referee, Spaniard Luis Medina — who had of course earlier ejected Materazzi on that questionable immediate red — instantly called for the penalty kick: this simply handed the game to Italy, since penalty kicks so rarely miss… and because the game was literally whistled to an end the moment the ball landed in the net.

To me, there was no way Neill’s slip, not even intentional, could be ginned into a match-winning, team-eliminating penalty kick. But once again, a match wasn’t decided by play; it was decided by an absurdly aggressive referee. Again, I don’t know enough about the game to be sure there isn’t some rule that forced the referee’s hand — though I have yet to find a single soccer commentator who defends that call, and most openly say it was bad.

To me, it was garbage — just like most of the reffing in this effing 2006 World Cup. But that’s just me.

Dafydd is right — the reffing has been dreadful. My sense is that FIFA, the sorry bureaucracy that runs the world game, has overloaded these guys with mandates to the point that their common sense effectively has been banished. I’ve also noticed that the top refs from recent tournaments are all absent. They must have all gotten old at once. Fortunately, at this stage only a few decent refs are needed for the remaining matches. I’m hoping that FIFA will be able to identify them and allow them to just go out and do their job. If not, then for many (like Dafydd) the 2006 “FIFA” World Cup will be remembered as a major turn-off.

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