My World Cup: Two bad calls: blame refs for one, Blatter for the other

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.

13 comments about "My World Cup: Two bad calls: blame refs for one, Blatter for the other".
  1. Bertrand Hamilton, June 27, 2010 at 10:46 p.m.

    Sep Blatter got to go! He thinks infuriating part of the fans is good for public discourse, is utter non sense. Soccer must be a game where truth and beuty is rewarded on the field of play. We have enough shenenagans going on in the real world. When I watch a game, I want to see a just world prevail. Blatter is a dirty political animal.

  2. Ken Morris, June 28, 2010 at 12:31 a.m.

    Maybe they should do what they do in hockey, place one ref at the back of the goal to simply flip a switch whenever a goal happens. In hockey, flipping that switch turns on a red light.
    If FIFA ever agrees to instant replay I may just throw up. I don't want constant play stoppages to judge every little thing. If the ref misses an offside or something, I can live with it. I would, however, like to see goals like Lampard's counted.
    Maybe instead we should hire refs who can actually keep up with the pace of the game. And how about actually enforcing the real rules of the game. Refs don't call illegal throw-ins any more; they don't penalize dives; they barely enforce the ten-yard rule on free kicks. They allow too much violence on corner kicks.

  3. Soccer Bloke, June 28, 2010 at 7:35 a.m.

    I think a recall Blattermouth saying that the human element in refereeing decisions was part of the "charm" of the game.

    But the real charm of the game is that it is run a by a prehistoric Swiss twit who is accountable to no one!

  4. . Lev, June 28, 2010 at 8:45 a.m.

    The charm of soccer vs most other sports is it's unpredictability. Too bad that this has included a few horrendously poor ref calls - and at WC level.
    The margin of error can be reduced with more refs and cameras, but when is enough enough?? A goal camera is easy, but the difficulty in soccer also lies in the large number of rules that are up for interpretation, especially in the multicultural games like the WC.
    Camera's may be good, more ref's may be good, but not at the price of the flow of the beautiful game. The ice hockey suggestion sounds good difficult/expensive can it be to put up a goal camera????
    We will see in 4 year!

  5. Gus Keri, June 28, 2010 at 9:11 a.m.

    I have three points to make: First, in regard to Argentina's goal, I believe the referee didn't call it offside because he thought that Tevez didn't touch the ball and actually, while watching the game on TV, I thought the same thing until I saw the replay. It is still a wrong call but we should make it clear why the referee made it.
    Second: There is a solution for the Germany goal. UEFA used two more referees in the Europa league, one at each goal line, to some success. Unfortunately, it is still being tested. I bet that FIFA will use this method in the future to get away form the Technology question. Third: This could be a blessing from the sky to England. Since the curse of Wembeldon 1966, England had failed in every international tournament. They even never finished above Germany in the WC. This could be the goal that will resolve the English team from that curse.

  6. David Hardt, June 28, 2010 at 9:32 a.m.

    I know this will sound crazy but they need another AR on the end line, to watch the over the end line calls both in and out and goals. Also could help with fouls and dives in the box. How can one expect the AR to be both on the last man, possibly 20 meters out and then instantly on the end line to make the goal call -- Can't be done

  7. Tim Mccoy, June 28, 2010 at 10:28 a.m.

    There are all kinds of fixes but here's the reality. The game is a contest among humans. There are three teams participating...yes, the referees are a team participating in the match. While we would like the team we're supporting to play a perfect game we know that's not going to happen. (Tim Howard will take the wrong angle or Bob Bradley will use the wrong tactics or personnel at the wrong time.) However, we expect the referees to be perfect.

    Mistakes are part of the game...they are a very big part of the fabric of the game. The team that best reacts and adjusts to their own mistakes and those made by their opponent is usually victorious. The same for the team that handles mistakes by the referees.

    It also wasn't long ago (1960's and earlier), that if the referee made a mistake and the players/coaches were aware they would, out of sportsmanship, help the officials correct their mistake.

    Now that sports are big business and wins mean sponsorships, endorsements, and bigger one will do the sporting thing in the interest of fair play. It's easier to want to change the essence of the game by introducing technology and additional manpower.

    The German goalkeeper new it was a goal but chose to deceive the referee crew. Tevez may or may not have known he was offside.

    Do we really need technology or do we need to reintroduce the novel approach of sportsmanship and fair play. Gamesmanship has become too prevalent in all sports and it's made a mockery of what sport is really about.

    If we're going to give the referees do overs shouldn't we give the players and coaches some do overs too?

  8. William Sims, June 28, 2010 at 11:08 a.m.

    Another fix that makes some sense is to add a 5th official as a replay official in the press box. Using the technology which FIFA already has embraced (the headsets with the referee crew), this official would be charged with ensuring goals and offside calls are properly made. Both of these are rather straightforward calls. Offside is also important as a missed offside call at the top levels will either improperly credit a team with a goal or disallow a proper goal. Using the headsets, he could describe the play to the center and get the call right.

  9. Kent James, June 28, 2010 at 1:06 p.m.

    Referees want to get the call right, and anything that can be used to help them do so without interrupting the flow of the game should be used. A 5th official with access to replays (and in radio contact w/ the center) would require the least change in structure, and should not disrupt the game. He would only rule on significant actions ( goal/no goal, penalties, or red cards), and would only change the call if it was blatantly wrong.
    An extra benefit would be that that official might be available to correct the announcers when they wrongly apply the rules (as in the Germany game, when Efan Ekoku correctly pointed out that Klose came from on offside position to get the ball on the first goal, but then mumbled something about being onside when the ball hit the ground as to why the AR did not raise his flag, when it was actually because there is no offside on a goal kick, which a lot of people, Ekoku among them, don't realize).
    At the very least, technology should be used to determine goals, which should not be subject to interpretation, and as some posters have pointed out, is often an impossible call for the AR to make because he must run from the 2nd to last defender to the goal line at the speed of the shot to be in position to both judge offside and judge the goal line. The other type of situation that are extremely difficult for ARs to judge are when there are a lot of bodies on the goal line, blocking his view (such as on corner kicks). How can the AR make the call if he can't see the ball?
    Refusing to use available technology to make the games more fair violates FIFA's own slogan of Fair Play, and FIFA should be ashamed of its backwardness instead of proud. Contrary to Blatter's myopic comments about controversy being good for the game, those kinds of blatant errors make soccer offcials look like fools. They're not even controversial; is anybody really arguing England did not score? They're just wrong, and should be eliminated where possible.

  10. Linda Price, June 28, 2010 at 5:14 p.m.

    i think we need to avoid instant replays in soccer. once you open that 'can of worms'.... however, it is a simple thing to place additional AR's at the goal-lines. it is still humans making the call in real-time. now, AR's are required to be even with the last defender, so in this case, he would have been out-of-position on the goal-line. this is putting referees in an impossible situation: they CANNOT make the call that clearly everyone else watching TV saw (that Lampard's goal was in). In the interest of fair play (FIFA's own slogan as mentioned above) we have to be fair to referees, too. Let them have the help needed to make the right call.

  11. Joao Santarita, June 28, 2010 at 5:38 p.m.

    Instant replay? No way. it will NOT work. At best it will produce more injustices. Take the example of the England goal. Since the game had not stopped ( the ref did not see anything) when should the game have been stopped? Imagine if in the next play after the German goalie threw te ball upfield the Germans had scored. Where would you go back to? Or are we going to start stopping the game every other play? Instant replay only works when the game stops (eg the goal scored by Tevez; the goal not given to the US because there was a free kick) But it won't work if the game continues ( the England goal) and that is the BIG problem. You will be correcting certain mistakes and not others. and then there will be calls for "instant challenges" albeit with a limited number.,, and that is the end of football

  12. Bill Mcgovern, June 28, 2010 at 10:56 p.m.

    There have been many bad calls or non calls over the years, a few of which are: Maradonna's Hand of God goal in 1986 World Cup, German player taking down Belgium player on a breakaway in the 1994 World Cup, Shannon Boxx second Y card in 2009 Women's World Cup, Terry Henri's hand ball setting up a goal in the 2010 France-Ireland qualifying game, and now the no-goal call of Frank Lampard, and the non-offside call on Lionel Messi's goal in this year's World Cup.
    As well as sanctioning goal line cameras which already are in place showing the no-goal error, there needs to be A/R 3 and A/R 4 opposite A/R 1 and A/R 2 WITH THE ABILITY TO GO BEHIND THE GOAL LINEto signal the holding, tripping, and hand balls which occur now that can't be seen by the ref.
    There already is an extra official in addition to the 4th official to step in in case of injury or illness to one of the referee team. Change the 4th official to A/R 3, add A/R 4, and add a standby official in case of injury.
    There is too much at stake for high level games that the 3-ref team can't see.
    Yours for better soccer refereeing.

  13. Mark Johnston, June 28, 2010 at 10:57 p.m.

    -ok, so FIFA doesn't like technology, it rather uses the human decision on the field of play
    -So, the simple solution with very simple technology would be 2 refs behind the goal in contact with the ref like the linesmen do now
    -I would say limit the goal ref to judging if the ball crosses the goal line, ball crossing the end line and hand balls and fouls in the box.
    -This would be the first logical step and would eliminate many of the problems.
    -It would cause no slow down in play, no time outs needed. If its good enough for Europa League and I believe one of the Brazilian league finals, it should used in the Cup.

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