[MY VIEW] Sad to say, soccer players are used to referees erring at critical points of important matches, and the World Cup is not immune. Diego Maradona’s fisted goal that helped Argentina beat England in the 1986 quarterfinals is perhaps the most egregious example, but there are dozens of others. Co-host South Korea reached the 2002 final four in part thanks to terrible officiating decisions in their knockout matches against Italy and Spain. True, the Koreans still needed to score a golden goal to eliminate Italy and defeat Spain on penalty kicks to get that far, but in a tight match with tension infecting every touch, it's inevitable that the officials be affected as well as the players.
On Monday, perhaps, FIFA will address the Koman Coulibaly issue. He won’t be running the center at this World Cup again, as the disallowed Maurice Edu goal is just one of numerous strange decisions he made during the 2-2 tie with Slovenia last Friday. On a free kick swung into the penalty area by Landon Donovan and volleyed into the net by Edu, little evidence of a foul committed by a U.S. player could be found.
He could have even punished Clint Dempsey after the fact; on a previous set play, Dempsey had his arms wrapped all over an opponent – and vice versa – and Coulibaly might have been looking for a similar infraction to punish. So many pairings were wrapped around each other, the penalty area looked like the floor of a dance marathon with a few survivors struggling to stay upright.
At a press conference Sunday, the U.S. players voiced assurances they would be able to put the incident behind them and concentrate on Algeria. Even if the hype machine that is ESPN and several Web sites haven’t let go, the players seem ready to move on . “Some of those stories have been trickling into our camp, how people are up in arms and can’t believe the call, and that’s pretty cool," said Tim Howard with a big smile on his face.
“For most people who are soccer fans, that’s a small detail of that game, it was so up and down. At the end of the day it was just a referee’s call that got the American fans to show that: one they care, and two, that they are getting into the game and understand how it all works.”
How it works at a World Cup is that games are marred by officiating, and even very experienced referees err, as occurred in 2006 when English referee Graham Poll cautioned Josip Simunic three times in the same game. Sometimes regional imbalances are blamed, as was the case at those games in 2002 and in the case of Coulibaly, a native of Mali who was working his first World Cup match. Yet referee Alberto Undiano of Spain took severe criticism for his handling of the Germany-Serbia match in which Miroslav Klose was sent off with two cautions, both of which were borderline calls.
The hue and cry emanating from America ignores the stark fact of its own sports: bad calls by referees and umpires are not subject to review, no matter how glaringly obvious. Umpire Jim Joyce will forever live with his blown first-base call that deprived Armando Galaragga of a perfect game. Baseball umpires are only permitted to use video in deciding whether a batted ball has cleared the line or fence or other barrier that denotes a home run.
We can hope and dream that one day FIFA will at least use goal-line cameras to determine if a goal has been scored, and don’t be surprised if one such incident arises at this tournament. In the case of goalmouth grapple-fests, the only solution is more eyes on the action. A second, and equal, referee is one possible solution; FIFA is experimenting with goal-line sentinels to scrutinize the action more closely.
American players also expressed their frustration at what they perceived to be Coulibaly’s inconsistency in such situations. Batters gnash their teeth when a home-plate umpire’s strike zone seems to vary from game to game, or even inning to inning. On other hand, in the Germany-Serbia match, referee Undiano had called the game tight from the opening kickoff, so maybe the players had been warned and just didn’t adjust.
As previously stated, Dempsey and his teammates believed Coulibaly had established he’d tolerate a fair amount of pushing and grabbing. Apparently not. Against Algeria, they will monitor how the game is being called, and take it from there.
“We’ll have to gauge that, said Dempsey. “If someone has their arms around me, I’m going to sit there and say ‘OK, that’s fine.’ I’m going to try to bust out of that and get in position to try to score a goal. If they let that type of thing go on, then that’s how you play. If the ref is calling it tight, then you’re not going to do that. You have to adapt to the game and that’s what we’ll do.”