Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A Yellow Card For FIFA

For Ghana, despite the fact they lost 3-0 to Brazil earlier today, their World Cup campaign can be considered a smashing success. Picked to be the incredibly weak sister in a Group E featuring powerhouses Italy and the Czech Republic as well as a not-bad United States side, the Ghanaians surprised everyone with a convincing 2-0 win over the Czechs and an equally impressive 1-1 draw with the United States, and, if it weren’t for an errant pass late in the game by Samuel Kuffour that led to Vicenzo Iaquinta’s goal for Italy, the Ghanaians just might have pulled out a shock draw with Italy, having played that well. They were then thrown into the fire against Brazil here today because of that 2-0 loss to the Italians, and despite an incredible effort not reflected in the scoreline, the Brazilians offensive weapons were too much for the Ghanaians, despite the fact Brazil have yet to fully hit their stride here in the tournament.

Yet, despite Ghana’s impressive play and the Brazilians’ deft display themselves, this was yet another game marred by controversy, with the fingers again being pointed squarely at the referee. To be fair, the referee didn’t do that badly in this game since for the most part it was officiated fairly and correctly, but two key blunders really stick out in this game- Asamoah Gyan’s second yellow card and the offside goal scored by Inter Milan’s Liete Ribeiro Adriano late in the first half- and both helped swing the tide Brazil’s way in this game to send Ghana home early.

Now, don’t get me wrong- I’m not taking anything away from the Brazilians, who were the superior team today despite some obvious help from the referee. However, the way the game played, had either of those two decisions been reversed the game would have been dramatically different.

First off, Adriano’s goal gave Brazil a 2-0 lead into the half, a lead that would later prove too monumental to climb for a Ghanaian team short on raw talent. The goal came mere minutes after Ghana defender John Mensah’s header was dramatically saved by Brazilian goalkeeper Dida, and while the Ghanaian defence could be accused of trying to play the offside trap too much instead of actually defending, Adriano’s goal was still an offside call that should have nullified the goal. In this case, it could be argued that the referee’s assistant simply didn’t see it, since he was just barely offside and the play moved rather quickly, but in a game like this, you would expect a referee’s assistant to be able to pick up on this, especially after several other “near-offside” calls have been called previously. These are not lower-level officials who may or may not have the training required to call a World Cup match- these are (presumably) the best officials in the game today and while Sepp Blatter can say all he wants that they’re humans, these guys are expected to make calls like this one and they didn’t.

Still, the blunder on Adriano wasn’t nearly as big as the blunder on Gyan, the player who struck that shocking early goal against the Czechs. In the 80th minute, with the Ghanaians pressing, Gyan dashed into the penalty area only to be tripped by Brazilian defender Juan Silveira dos Santos (“Juan”). Juan had already picked up a yellow card before in the match and, after the referee blew his whistle and reached for a card, I expected Juan to receive his second yellow card and be sent off. Instead, it was Gyan who was booked, his second yellow card that sent him off and any further chance for Ghana to strike for two quick goals to bring the match level again. Gyan’s offence was “simulation”, a dive to draw a penalty, in a call the Federation Internationale de Football Associations (FIFA) specially asked its referees to crack down upon, a directive that has substantially reduced the amount of spot kicks here in the tournament. So, instead of a Ghana penalty kick that could have brought the game to 2-1 with ten minutes to play, it was a Ghana team reduced by a man and forced to play against the superior Brazilians who, four minutes later, made no mistake in stringing together 25 passes to set Zé Roberto’s first goal of the tournament to give Brazil an insurmountable 3-0 lead with six minutes to go.

Could the game have gone differently if these two blunders were changed? Probably not- Brazil still had more raw talent than the Ghanaians and played superior soccer, with Dida making marvellous saves and the defence holding Ghana to only seven shots on target despite 18 total shots. Still, a legitimate complaint could be made that Ghana were done in by terrible officiating in a game that just adds to a standard-less officiating performance here at this edition’s World Cup.

That, in a nutshell is what has been wrong here at the World Cup- there are no standards, and, expectedly, a lot of calls are missed and a lot of dubious decisions are made. Nowhere clearer is the standard-less officiating made prevalent than in last night’s dreadful Switzerland-Ukraine second round contest, as it featured several trips and shoves that went unpunished by the complacent Mexican referee, who in previous contests would have certainly called or even booked those offences. It was exactly the type of game FIFA shouldn’t want on its top level of competition, but considering that Blatter gave a yellow card in effigy to Valentin Ivanov, the referee who called the Portugal-Netherlands War at Nürnberg, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Mexican official didn’t even feel like showing any cards lest he get one himself. In doing so, he not only embarrassed himself and the viewers of the game itself, but he also embarrassed FIFA in producing a dour game in a tournament where the level of play has been to this point excellent. Now it’s the Black Stars who are going home, and while they went down with a fight, they also went down because the official here today was intent on calling the game by FIFA’s Rulebook for the Day, a rulebook that decried that a referee can be lenient on offside but adamant on not giving away penalties, however obvious they may be. This, let us not forget, was the Rulebook that just yesterday gave Italy’s Fabio Grosso a penalty, despite the fact that Grosso may or may not have embellished Australian Lucas Neill’s trip in order to draw the winning penalty.

So a yellow card shall henceforth be shown to FIFA for showing a complete lack of direction in any of its calls, and, with three rounds left to play, it had better smarten up before more countries, players and fans protest in disgust, shut off their television sets and give FIFA their ultimate red card.