I didn’t think it was possible but it may be that there is an organization in sports that is more of a mess than the NCAA. That organization would be FIFA—which if you don’t speak French stands for, “Federation Internationale de Football Association.”
In English I believe that translates into Absolute Joke.
As I’ve said before, I’m hardly a soccer expert but the number of blown calls—I don’t mean controversial calls, I mean BLOWN ones—in this World Cup has been completely ridiculous. It happened again twice on Sunday where the officials somehow missed a clear goal scored by England and a clear offsides on a goal scored by Argentina.
These were not the kind of errors where we needed to see the plays from 15 different angles and then thought, yes, there it is a mistake was made. These were, ‘Oh My God what were they thinking?’ screw-ups. In both games, the better team ended up winning the game but that begs the point. Upsets do happen, in fact upsets are what make us watch sports. If we all know that Germany and Argentina are going to win why bother to watch?
The fact that The English goal that was disallowed would have tied the score at 2-2 a few minutes before halftime after Germany had jumped to a 2-0 lead certainly gives one pause. The momentum would have had to be with the English at that point. Germany’s two second half goals that made the final score an embarrassing 4-1 were both scored on counterattacks that occurred with England pushing forward to try to get the equalizer. (How do you like that for soccer talk, huh?).
The Argentine goal that was allowed in spite of an obvious offsides is tougher to argue in terms of the outcome because Argentina appeared in control of the game at that stage.
But all of that entirely misses the point. FIFA’s response to all this is two-fold: “We don’t comment on calls on the field.” (Good thing, because the only reasonable comment it could make would be the same as yours and mine: OH MY GOD!). And, more important, FIFA sees no reason to go to replay.
Really? Are you completely insane?
Alexi Lalas, the former U.S. World Cupper who is now one of ESPN’s 47 soccer analysts, said repeatedly on Sunday that Sepp Blatter, the head of FIFA, believes this sort of controversy is good for soccer because it gets more people talking about the game. Let’s examine that statement for a moment: If Lalas is to be believed, then Blatter thinks that totally botched calls are good for soccer. He believes that it’s a good thing that we will never know what might have happened had England tied the game (as it DID) 2-2. Maybe Germany wins 4-2 but we will never know. It’s a good thing, according to that way of thinking, to shortchange the players who work four years to prepare for The World Cup.
Blatter and his cohorts are also idiotic in their insistence that all games from the round of 16 on can be decided in a shootout if the game is tied after 120 minutes. To begin with, overtime should be sudden death. This isn’t basketball where teams score constantly. This is soccer where a goal is gold—thus the term golden goal in the old days for a sudden death overtime goal—and where a team that scores in overtime prior to the final should be able to go home and rest its legs.
What’s more, there’s magic in sudden victory and sudden death in all sports. That no longer exists in World Cup soccer.
Worse though is the notion of the shootout. As I’ve said before, you don’t decide the most important soccer games played every four years by NOT playing soccer. You play until someone scores and if it takes 250 minutes so be it. Sure, the winner will be exhausted but that’s the price you pay for not winning more quickly. Knowing you have to score to win would also changes strategy in overtime and cause teams to push up more knowing that they can’t just play for the shootout—which is Russian Roulette in shorts. At the very least there is NO excuse for allowing the final to be decided by a shootout.
Worst though is Blatter and cohorts insisting that replay should not be used at all. At the absolute minimum it should be used to decide goal/no-goal. How long would it have taken to decide if Frank Lampard’s goal for England was good on Sunday? About 15 seconds—if that. That call made Jim Joyce’s missed call at first base on the final out of Armando Galarraga’s imperfect game look too close to call.
At least Joyce said he blew it. At least Bud Selig said a mistake was made and more replay needed to be looked at by Major League Baseball. FIFA? Nothing. No comment from anyone. Who died and made Sepp Blatter the world’s last jock dictator?
If soccer wants to be taken seriously in this country two things must happen: The U.S. must continue to improve and not blow opportunities like the one it blew Saturday when it lost 2-1 to Ghana, missing out on a genuine opportunity to make the semifinals—Uruguay is good but beatable—for the first time since the first World Cup in 1930.
And second, you can’t have people sitting around talking about calls that are completely missed. Argentina dominated Mexico but the only real talk after the game was about the missed offsides call that led to one of the goals. It is NOT good for a sport when the focus is on the officials and not on the players. There are certain calls in every sport that can’t be fixed by replay.
In soccer, goal/no-goal almost always can be corrected if need be—and if it is too close to call, the ruling on the field stands—and a clear offsides that leads to a goal can also be corrected. There should also be postgame penalties when someone is clearly shown to have taken a dive if only to cut back on the acting going on.
Sunday was a disgrace on every possible level. The only thing worse than the calls was the reaction to the calls. If what Alexi Lalas says about Sepp Blatter is true, Blatter should be fired first and then locked in a room and forced to watch ‘Around The Horn,’ on a continuous loop for the next ten years.
Yes, he’s that bad.
While some of the details are dated, on Washington Post Live on CSN Washington last week, John discussed with Ivan Carter and Barry Svrluga the World Cup and soccer's growth in the United States. Click to play the video below: