27 June - 3 July 2002
Issue No. 592
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Recommend this page|
From the sidelines
Some refs are more human than others
I refuse to predict how the teams will fare in what remains of the World Cup. It's not that I mind going out on a limb, but strong evidence suggests that whatever I say, it will not happen.
For one, the World Cup is not running true to form. If it were, none of the four teams in the semi- final would be in the semi-final (for deadline purposes, this column had to be written before the last four is played).
South Korea, previously without a win in 14 games over five tournaments, somehow managed to beat Poland, Portugal, Italy and Spain.
Its opponent Germany, which aside from stomping all over Saudi Arabia, and being the most consistent team in World Cup history, is being represented in Korea and Japan with probably its worst team ever.
It might sound bizarre to say Brazil's appearance is a surprise, but it is. After losing just one World Cup qualifier in its history, it managed to lose six in the latest campaign and limped into Asia.
Brazil will face Turkey which made it to the semis on merit but is making up for lost time, having made a World Cup appearance 48 years ago.
For a team that can't defend, Brazil proved to be pretty good impressionists against England, and with its offense in striking form, must now return to its familiar role as favourites.
Still, I refrain from making predictions, the second reason being the bumbling referees. There are 36 referees in this tournament, and while they were supposedly trained in the white-hot seat of hostile environments during qualifying matches, only two list their profession as having anything to do with football. As a consequence:
A perfectly good goal by Belgian Marc Wilmots against Brazil was disallowed. (The referee, a Jamaican, apologised to Wilmots at half-time, admitting he had made a mistake).
Americans got the benefit of a missed hand ball against Mexico which would have resulted in a penalty, then were on the losing end of a bad call when a shot of theirs was handled by a German just as it was about to cross the goal line. No penalty was awarded.
Brazil's Ronaldinho was harshly red-carded for a challenge on England defender Danny Mills.
Italy was victimised throughout the tournament, having had five goals disallowed in the World Cup, including a pivotal one against Korea in the quarter-final. Video replays showed some of the goals were valid. (For once, it was not the vanquished Azurri who were the target of outraged Italians. So incensed were their supporters, they sent 400,000 hate e- mails to FIFA).
Spain had three goals disallowed in one game, its quarter-final against Korea. TV replays showed at least one goal -- a match- winning golden goal -- should have stood.
Lining up to air their grievances over the bungles have been Pele: "The level of refereeing is very poor, very low." Maradona: "There's more to bad refereeing than incompetence." FIFA President Sepp Blatter: "The refereeing is the only negative aspect of this World Cup."
Maradona's suggestion of a conspiracy has been dismissed out of hand by FIFA, although some claim, unfairly, that Korea's Cinderella run is due less to superb stamina and extraordinary support from its fans than overly generous officiating.
What more likely is happening is that in FIFA's desire to make the tournament a truly global experience, it has selected officials from Canada, the Maldives, Uganda and Trinidad and Tobago -- hardly soccer giants -- to officiate decisive quarter-finals.
Despite the howls of protest, FIFA is not considering following rugby and cricket which allow a fourth official off the field to use TV replays to help referees make rulings on difficult decisions.
It's obvious that a refereeing shake-up is in order. A tournament that has the best football players on earth should be overseen by the best referees there are.
Referees constantly complain -- and with good reason -- that people always remember the wrong decisions; never the right ones, and argue that errors can never entirely be discounted. FIFA admits some mistakes were made -- but from some 4,000 decisions made in the first 56 games of the tournament.
Referees have one timeless refrain they predictably produced in this World Cup: they are only human. But it seems that some of them are more human than others.
Letter from the Editor
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