By Bill George
CRITICISMS of the standard of refereeing at the World Cup finals are justified. Major errors have been made so regularly and results of matches have been so critically affected that it’s time FIFA moved to incorporate the principal of a video referee sooner rather than later.
Italy, especially, have had grounds for complaint, so also Spain and the USA, all of whom suffered from decisions that were shown to have been incorrect when viewed on video replay.
The decisions were so influential that Italy and Spain, for certain, could claim they and Korea should not be in tomorrow’s semi-final against Germany. Even the USA, despite the fact that Germany were marginally the better team, had solid grounds for complaint.
They suffered when a corner kick from Claudio Reyna fell into a crowded goalmouth and Gregg Berhalter lunged at it to deflect it with his foot past goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, but Torsten Frings saved it from entering the net with his hand.
Philip Sharp from England was the referee’s assistant and he waved play on and referee Hugh Dallas of Scotland also left the incident pass without intervening. But it should have been a penalty and perhaps an equalising goal for the Yanks.
Italy have had more cause for grievance than any other however, Italy played three matches in Japan and their fourth in Daejeon, South Korea, where they were eliminated by Korea by an extra time ‘golden goal’.
Overall, Italy had five goals disallowed and in their final match against Korea they also conceded a goal to an early penalty and were reduced to ten men when their playmaker, Francesco Totti was sent off for simulating a foul.
Their problems with the officials began in the match against Croatia when twice they were victims of dubious calls by English referee Graham Poll and his assistant. Italy lost 1-2 after leading when Christian Vieri scored his third goal in two matches.
They had a goal disallowed for off-side when replays clearly showed it was legal and yet another wiped out because Poll ruled there had been pushing in the area.
Poll had a poor match and, coincidentally, Sharp was one of his assistants although not the one involved in the offside on this occasion, Italy would have gone out after the first phase when they drew with Mexico 1-1 in their third match but for Ecuador’s victory over Croatia.
Alessandro del Piero coming off the subs bench to rescue Italy with an equalising goal. Alternatively Italy would have won the group had the two goals that were disallowed against Croatia stood to their credit.
They then would have gone on to play USA rather than finishing up with a game against Korea. The match against Korea was a heated affair and there was no doubt but that Italy suffered grievously at the hands of referee Byron Moreno of Ecuador.
Again Tommasi had a legitimate goal disallowed for an alleged offside after he was sent clear by Vieri in the 108th minute, just five minutes after Totti’s unnecessary dismissal. It is true Totti went to ground rather willingly, but the defender did make contact with him.
One was justified in asking whether the referee would have dealt so peremptorily with a similar issue had it occurred at the other end of the pitch. Sympathy then for the Italians was deserved but there is no doubt it was an unexceptional Italian team.
They were especially weak on the right side where Panucci had a poor World Cup. His distribution of the ball was dreadful, he enjoyed no understanding with the equally disappointing Gianluca Zambrotta in front of him and Panucci’s mediocrity was highlighted when he was correctly penalised for the Korean penalty, which goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon saved from Ahn Jhung-hwan.
There is little point in trying to avoid the obvious, however, despite the fact that Korea have brought verve and energy and an inspiring ‘joie de vivre’ to this World Cup.
Referees have consistently favoured them. Korea play at such pace and with such intensity that there will always be an inevitable amount of physical contact in their games.
Their tactics can only be countered by a courageous team showing flawless teamwork and impeccable technique with one-touch football the rule rather than the exception. It is no coincidence that they have beaten so many top teams - Spain, Italy, Portugal and Poland.
Ireland did have an influence on the quarter-finals, in my view, because after their tumultuous contest with the Irish, Spain were not at their best. They looked distinctly tired at times but the Spaniards do enjoy a technical excellence that not many can match.
hey would have deserved, in my view, to have won their match with Korea. This in spite of the absence of the marvellous Raul and in the continued absence of Diego Tristan.
But the Spaniards compensated with the ultra-slick Valeron floating gracefully about the midfield, with Morientes in typical marauding mood at centre-forward and with 20 years old Joaquin of Real Betis, a magnificent addition on the right of midfield. Joaquin came in for the ponderous Luis Enrique and made such an impact that one wondered how he was not preferred to the veteran Barcelona player before now.
But manager Camacho appears, like many managers, to put more faith in predictable work-rate and experience than in potential genius.
Joaquin was a delight and he created a perfectly legitimate goal for Morientes two minutes into extra time with a run along the end line and a cross that the centre-forward dispatched with some style. It was infuriating to see the assistant raise his flag and the referee, with the same robotic reaction of referee Poll in the match between Italy and Croatia, automatically accept his ruling.
It was a scandalous decision and while the Egyptian referee did many things right, he, just like Poll before him, carries responsibility for disallowing a goal that was perfectly legitimate.
What made this harder to bear for the Spaniards was that Baraja had a header ruled out for alleged pushing in the 49th minute of regular time.
A free from the right of goal was spun into a crowded goalmouth and came off the head of Korea’s Kim Tae Young and Baraja and how any referee could be so judgemental in a heaving penalty area was beyond me.
It’s with a genuine sense of anticipation that I look forward to tomorrow’s semi-final against Germany and it would be a foolish man who would dare bet against Korea striking another blow for Asian football overcoming another of football’s traditional powers.
Let us hope, however, that in this instance, the game will be free of refereeing errors. Edgardo Codesal, head of FIFA’s referees, defended their performances by saying the percentage of errors was minimal.
That is such a trite defence when the technology exists to reduce the incidence of refereeing errors still further. Common justice demands change, sooner rather than later.