By Paul Gardner
It was asking too much to imagine that we could get through this tournament without at least one egregious miscall by a referee. And now it’s happened -- the screw-up arrived yesterday, stamped “Made In Italy,” and it was Mexico that suffered.
With the score between Argentina and Mexico still at 0-0 after 26 minutes, Carlos Tevez was quick to seize on his first real chance, leaping to head a Lionel Messi lob into the net.
As he turned away to celebrate, Tevez looked quickly over his shoulder -- surely expecting what we were all certain of -- that the assistant referee’s flag would be up. It stayed down ... and Tevez, so very clearly offside -- by about a yard -- was credited with a goal that should never been allowed, and Argentina took the lead.
Of course the Mexicans complained, even managing to get referee Roberto Rosetti to go over and discuss the matter with his fellow Italian assistant, Stefano Ayroldi. To no avail -- well, referees don’t change their decisions, do they?
It needs stressing here that the fault lies with Ayroldi, not Rosetti. And the fault is enormous. Not only because allowing the goal surely had a major effect on the ultimate result of this game, but also because this was not a difficult call to make. Ayroldi was looking directly across the field at just three players, this was not a crowded penalty area. How he could have believed that Tevez was onside, I really cannot imagine. Even the Argentina coach, Diego Maradona, later admitted that it was a bad call.
But, even though the gaffe was Ayroldi’s, referee Rosetti will get the blame -- as the heading in Gazzetta Dello Sport makes clear: Rosetti sbaglia ... -- or Rosetti Errs.
I suppose this owes something to the feeling that Rosetti is the leader of the officiating crew, and that he should take all the responsibility, for the good and the bad calls.
But there was another refereeing incident yesterday in which it is absurd to blame the referee or his assistant. Frank Lampard’s 38th minute shot against Germany clearly entered the goal, before spinning out and into the hands of German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
The goal was not given. The score remained Germany 2, England 1. Again, there is the suggestion that the course of the game was affected -- obviously to England’s disadvantage.
Well, we’ve been here before, quite a few times, now. Ironically, the first of these crucial episodes came back in 1966 in the World Cup final between these same two teams. We don’t know, to this day, if Geoff Hurst’s shot crossed the goal line or not -- we didn’t have the massed TV cameras their instant replays that are available today. But the linesman said it was a goal, so that was that.
Since then, we’ve seen plenty of incidents where goals were allowed that should not have been allowed, and plenty where genuine goals were denied.
The difference these days is that we usually have excellent TV replays to prove the point. Such was the case yesterday. Within seconds of the action, the whole watching world knew that the score should be tied 2-2. England had been done out of a goal.
But the culprit here was not the Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda or his assistant. No blame at all attaches to either of them. To get a clear view of whether or not the ball had bounced within the net, they would have had to be way out of their correct positions.
For Larrionda that meant being close to the action, which was near the edge of the penalty area, and for the assistant it meant being in line with the last defender, approximately parallel with the edge of the penalty area, some 18 yards away from the goal line.
The suddenness and the speed of the action, coupled with the angle of view, did not really give either of them much chance of getting the call right. So we got what we usually get in such cases: if neither official is absolutely certain that the ball was over the line, then play is allowed to continue.
No, it’s not satisfactory. But don’t blame the refereeing crew. The real culprit here is FIFA President Sepp Blatter with his mulish refusal to allow the use of instant replays -- or technological aid, as it’s sometimes called -- to decide whether a goal has been scored.
Surely that fatuous position cannot be maintained much longer. With each one of these incidents the clamor for the use of replays increases. In March 2008, FIFA told every interested party -- i.e. the technological companies -- that they were wasting their time and money conducting research on infallible systems, because FIFA would never use them.
That, we were told, was the end of the matter; would we all please shut up and start thinking about other matters.
But the controversy has not gone away, of course. It will keep returning with each new incident -- and with each new incident it is likely that the technology gets better -- an increased ability to show a clear replay, and to show it instantly.
Anyway, where was the need for specialized high-tech equipment yesterday? The standard television cameras did the job perfectly and immediately.
It seems likely that the incident will excite attention here in the United States, now that television is full of soccer experts still fuming at the notion that the USA had a goal “taken away” in the game against Slovenia.
As far as yesterday’s case goes, most of these instant experts will be correct. England did have a goal taken away from them. And the experts will be quite right in not understanding why soccer refuses to join the modern world, to do what other sports have successfully done, and to use technology not to replace referees, but to help them get their calls right.