30 June, 2010

The Men in the Middle

I think we all know that this World Cup 2010 is going down in history as the absolute worst errors by referees deciding matches. At least the horrific failures will encourage FIFA to get into the 21st century and use video replay, at the very least, for whether a ball crossed the goal line. Call it the Frank Lampard rule.

In a cosmic sense, the atrocious decision not to allow Lampard's tying goal against Germany is a balancing of the 1966 final, with the game tied 2-2 in extra time, when the linesman (from the USSR) insisted that Geoff Hurst's shot off the crossbar bounced inside the goal line and awarded England the winning goal. Interestingly, Germany had defeated the USSR in the semifinal and perhaps the linesman had a bone to pick. But I digress.

England has won exactly one World Cup, in 1966, and everyone agrees that it was, at the very least, aided in part by the controversial goal line decision in England's favor. Now, the universe has repaid the debt and disallowed a legitimate goal by Frank Lampard. Had the game been tied at 2-2, who knows how much differently the game would have played out? Probably the same way, because England made a critical mistake this World Cup. The mistake was not having a single decent goalkeeper in the entire country. I figured out why Clint Dempsey shoots so much. If Robert Green and David James are the best English goalkeepers that the EPL has to offer, then no wonder Dempsey shoots every time he touches the ball! It works when he is with Fulham, so he tries it with the USMNT, too. English acquaintances insist that Joe Hart is better than both of them, and they truly wonder why Fabio Capello didn't use Joe Hart. Seriously.

Going into this World Cup, I had a favorite referee, Benito Archundia of Mexico, and a least favorite referee, the card-happy, always has to be the center of attention, Jorge Larrionda of Uruguay, who angers me just to write his name. Remember, he was the jerk who gave us two red cards (to Pablo Mastroeni and Eddie Pope) in the 1-1 tie against Italy during Germany 2006 (in his defense, he also red carded Daniele De Rossi for breaking Brian McBride's face). Larrionda did it to us again at the Confederations Cup, red carding Michael Bradley in the semifinal win over Spain (I still can't believe we won that game), which made Bradley ineligible for the final against Brazil and forced us to start Ricardo Clark, and I think we all know now what a liability Clark is against a team with more talent than an MLS squad.

After the awful decision not to allow Lampard's goal, I hate Larrionda even more, if that was even possible. Why does this guy keep working? Oh, wait, he was suspended for six months in Uruguay and dropped as a referee for the 2002 World Cup for unspecified "irregularities"

Anyway, after the series of revolting decisions by the referees in this year's World Cup, I have added two more names to both lists, and I'm not even going to dignify Koman Coulibaly with any discussion. It will just make me mad.

Bad news first. Stephane Lannoy of France, come on down! For allowing the first goal of the Brazil/Ivory Coast game, effectively eliminating Ivory Coast from the World Cup after their scrappy 0-0 tie against Portugal (and how I wish the Elephants had punished Portugal for their "uninspired" play) despite the obvious handball on Luis Fabiano. What disgusted me was when Lannoy, after awarding the goal, laughed with Luis Fabiano and tapped his arm EXACTLY where Luis Fabiano controlled the ball illegally. Obviously Lannoy saw the handball, chose not to call it, and then THOUGHT IT WAS FUNNY. Did you ask for Luis Fabiano's autograph after the game, too? Anyway, as you all know, he then gave Kaka a red card for a phantom foul and dive. Bad referee! This ruled Kaka out of the big group finale against Portugal, which turned out to be a 0-0 draw anyway, but maybe Kaka could have been the one to finally get a goal against Portugal to punish them for their defensive turtle-like play.

The other referee who deserves one of his own red cards is, of course, Roberto Rosetti of Italy. Congratulations, Roberto, you are the worst referee in the world. Koman Coulibaly should send you a nice thank-you note and a box of chocolates for taking the heat off of him as the most awful referee in the 2010 World Cup. Rosetti takes the prize for allowing Carlos Tevez' obvious offsides goal against Mexico. Rosetti consulted with his linesman, they watched the replay on the stadium screen, and then, in an irony only Sepp Blatter could appreciate, Rosetti could NOT disallow the goal because it is NOT ALLOWED to use video replay to overturn an incorrect call. No, rather, an incorrect call must remain incorrect even though play has not restarted yet and technically the referee has not made a final decision until the ball is put into play, because it is ILLEGAL for him to use evidence to make the correct call. It turned out to be moot when Argentina poured on the attack and won 3-1.

The winner in all this is young Mexican goal scoring sensation Javier Hernandez, who scored Mexico's lone goal, to add to the one he scored against Uruguay (the only goal allowed by Uruguay in the entire tournament) which gives the 22 year old 9 goals in only 16 appearances for Mexico. Better get used to him, USA, this kid will be a scoring threat against us until 2022 or so.

OK, enough of the negative. I've also discovered a pair of great referees I never knew existed until now. My new favorite referees include the flawless Howard Webb of England. I love how he not only never falls for a dive (pun intended) but he gets in the face of the diver and yells at them to get up and quit being such a pansy. Maybe it is because he is a cop when he is not working as a referee, but he takes no crap from anyone and is definitely not a sucker. I've noticed Howard Webb in two different games refusing to call a touch foul when the person who was fouled embellishes the contact, almost as if to say he would have called it if the player hadn't made a meal of it, as they say in England.

My other new favorite referee is Hector Baldassi (better than a hairy one...sorry) of Argentina. The guy got every call right in the Spain/Portugal game today. After their lame dives in the group play, Portugal tried that stuff against Spain and Baldassi was never fooled. Soon, Portugal learned not to bother with the dives. Baldassi even reprimanded probable Golden Boot winner David Villa for diving when he was actually tripped, just not hard enough to dive like that. I was very impressed with the sportsmanship after the referee established fair play. Soon, players were helping each other up after hard but fair tackles (remember saying "I got all ball!" when a referee called you for a bogus foul on a legal tackle? Just because the guy went down after you legally stole the ball? Baldassi never called a foul when the defender "got all ball").

So, let's take a moment to acknowlege the men in the middle. No one notices the referee when he does a good job, but everyone notices him when he fails (I'm looking at you, Larrionda/Lannoy/Rosetti. Go home and don't work any more important games). But, let's also try to notice the good ones and give them credit. That's Benito Archundia, Howard Webb, and Hector Baldassi. Good job, guys! Hope to see one of you again at the final, in the middle of it.

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