Monday, June 28, 2010

FIFA could be more of a mess than the NCAA – who knew?

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:


Gordon said...

In the United States the biggest difference between FIFA and the NCAA is people actually care about the NCAA!

That being said FIFA is quite likely to get "sudden death" in the form of one of the referees being murdered in the name of "soccer passion". Watch it will happen.

FOTB Staff_ said...

Rory - thanks for the catch.

FOTB Staff

Dana King said...

Absolutely right about replay. Diving could be stopped with a simple rule change: if you require medical attention on the pitch (soccer term, nudge, nudge) you have to come out of the game. Maybe not for the entire game, if the team is willing to play short for five minutes or so, but if you substitute for him, he's gone.

John Edwards said...

Your contention that the "golden goal" was the old rule is partially true at best. The golden goal was only in existence at FIFA events from 1996 until 2004. It was abolished after Euro 2004.

For most of soccer's history, extra time has been as it is now: two full 15-minute periods.

Anonymous said...

Ha - FIFA responded and is getting involved in the replay game......its now said to want to outlaw replays on the big screens inside the stadiums after yesterday action!! What a joke. Next, they will lobby ESPN and for the right price, hell, ESPN may agree....

Frank said...

Well, I don't understand why they don't use some sort of goal line technology. That Lampard goal should definitly have counted!

But I'm not ready to agree to replay in other instances in soccer. While the Tevez goal was a clear offside call that wasn't made, other's would never be so obvious and may require lots of time in the replay booth. One of the beauties of soccer is the constant motion. There is always something going on. That may be hard for the American sports fan to understand, particularly the fan of baseball, where they clear and reset the field every 3rd out, or the fan of football, where the players cuddle up every 15 seconds or so, or the fan of basketball, where the players take a break and sit down and relax every 4 minutes of so in order that we fans can watch a commercial! I better stop here...I'm beginning to sound as cynical as John.

One other thing though, to Dana's point about having players come off the field if they receive medical attention, that's already the rule. They must come off the field and can not come back on until the ref gives them permission. Now that permission only seems to come after 10 seconds or so, when it should probably be closer to 5 minutes, as you suggest.

Anonymous said...

Sudden death overtime, how's that working out in American football (coin flip decides a playoff game) ? Football is about balance, it's rules designed to prevent one team getting an advantage over the other.
In Sunday's matches, did the better team win ?
And, please Alexi Lalas, Mike Tirico and Chris Fowler as football experts... oh please... it's like Kornheiser commenting on bicycling.

Rick Krebs said...

FIFA and ESPN a match made in heaven. Both looking to "gin" up controversy, for financial gain. Reminds me of my late grandmother's old saying, "It's the pot calling the kettle, black"

Tim said...

8:28 anonymous - 1st of all, Lalas IS in a position to be an expert for soccer, as he's played at the top level. And secondly, its a sad argument that 'the better teams won' so bad calls don't matter. Sports isn't great because the 'better' team always wins.

petecard said...

John, I agree with everything in your piece. It's why I don't take soccer, the World Cup or FIFA seriously. As Americans we really have no standing in the sport. It's my view that the rest of the world will only react negatively to any efforts we would make to foster change because they just don't care what we think. That's fine with me. I'll take baseball, our football and golf.

Anonymous said...

Lalas played soccer. Lalas was sacked by soccer. Lalas became an entertainer. It is important to differentiate self promotion & entertainment from meaningful & insighful analysis.

Jeremy said...

'Around The Horn' seems appropriate punishment for Blatter's foolishness.

What did your readers do that was so awful that you would put up video from 'Washington Post Live'?

Tom Hawley said...

I'm not a huge soccer fan, but I've seen enough to wonder how a field (excuse me, pitch) can be effectively patrolled by one referee. High school basketball games have three, major league baseball has four (and what, six for playoffs?), plus the use of replay on home runs, the NFL has about six - plus the guys with the replay booth, etc. Sure there are the linesmen, but they don't have the same authority as the referee, who is expected to see everything, from all angles, throughout the seemingly endless game (sorry, I mean match). John's right. It makes the sport look stupid and keeps people like me what I am...a casual, rather than rabid, fan.

Frank said...

Yesterday's Japan-Paraguay game ended in PKs. Before that we were treated to 120 minutes of tedium with no scoring and few chances. Even I, a guy who normally loves watching soccer, especially World Cup, was bored to death.

As the overtime periods went on, play got slower and sloppier, and you couldn't wait for someone to put us all out of our misery. Alas, no one on the pitch stepped up. Can you imagine having to watch anymore of that game? Thank God (FIFA, that is) for the PKs!