World Cup Knockout Stage

Matches in the last sixteen. Refereeing controversies.


World Cup-dates

Who would have thought that an Italian team that looked comfortable holding a 1-0 lead for 70 minutes would concede a goal with two minutes remaining then lose in extra time to South Korea? The Italians depart this competition feeling that the fates have conspired against them. After all the decisions that had gone against them earlier, they could scarcely believe it when a penalty was awarded against them and two good-looking appeals of their own for a spot-kick were turned down.

The dismissal of Totti in extra time was another injustice and FIFA's decision to award a high profile match like this to an inexperienced Ecuadorian referee was proven to be lamentable as the official was easily conned. I've said it before and I'll say it again: referees and linesmen at the World Cup should be drawn from a pool consisting of officials from countries that have failed to qualify. There are enough competent referees in Holland, Norway, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Chile, etc to officiate. At a stroke all accusations of bias would be removed and it would also end this ludicrous policy of having at least one referee from a qualifying country no matter how poor or inexperienced they are.

A half-decent referee would never have awarded the Korean penalty and probably given the Italians one of the two they deserved. And if you think this sounds sour, you're right. This website's summer holiday fund has been severely depleted by the Italian exit and it is vital that the saver on Spain pays off.

After Scotland lost 4-1 to South Korea I suggested that the general interpretation of that match as a disastrous result would have to be revised if the South Koreans went on to reach the last eight of the World Cup. Well, they have and they have defeated three European nations - Italy, Portugal and Poland - to get there. Yes, our result is starting to look more plausible by the day.

The real winners here though are Germany, Brazil and England. They'll all be happy to see Italy join France, Argentina and Portugal on the holiday beaches. And despite the Italian defeat the last sixteen round has proven the importance of scoring the first goal. Only two teams - South Korea and Senegal - have reached the last eight after falling behind. And in both cases it took extra time to do so.


Japan v Turkey lived down to expectations. In a nondescript game the Turks edged it 1-0. This Turkish side has much more talent than was shown today and there are reasons to believe that their next game - against Senegal - could be one of the ties of the tournament. Why? Because here are two teams who have progressed beyond expectations. Both have every reason to go for glory and should play without fear as defeat would do nothing to damage their reputations.

Mick McCarthy is in danger of becoming the new Ally McLeod. The Irish boss has stated ad nauseum that he felt his team were better than Spain and deserved to go through. He's also repeatedly said that he felt Ireland could have gone on to win the World Cup.

As we Scots can say from experience, such delusions of grandeur only serve to make the pain all the harder when dreams are dashed. The brutal fact is that - Saudi Arabia apart - the Irish went behind in every game they played. For all the fighting spirit they showed in drawing level each time, you don't win matches, let alone tournaments, by losing the first goal every time you play. Little more than a handful of games in this competition have been won by teams who conceded first.

McCarthy would serve Ireland better by acknowledging that the Irish performed far better than most thought they would in the absence of Roy Keane and turn his attentions to filling the gaps in his squad brought about by the international retirement of Quinn, Staunton and Kelly, in order to mount a challenge at Euro 2004.

And the faux paddies on our TV screens should stop bleating about Ireland's departure being an injustice. Two penalties in normal time. Five in the shoot-out. Only three converted. Ireland are back home because they couldn't beat the goalkeeper from twelve yards. End of story.


Both of Monday's last sixteen games were marred by the latest in the succession of poor decisions which are eating away at the soul of this otherwise entertaining World Cup.

A clear handball inside the area was missed by the referee in the USA - Mexico match with the score 1-0 to the Americans. The USA went on to win 2-0 against a Mexican team unable or incapable of reproducing their fine performances at the group stage. I said a few days ago that Mexico would not depart this tournament lightly. Not for the first time (and I suspect not the last) I was wrong. The Americans, who looked just relieved to get this far after the Poland match, were always in control and go forward to face Germany.

Belgium were also controversially denied a goal against Brazil with the teams level at 0-0 when the referee blew for a foul spotted by no one else in the ground or watching on TV. The Brazilians went on to win 2-0 but looked just like what they are - favourites not by form but by default. Rivaldo scored a stunning opener thus proving that whoever said cheats never prosper was talking out of their arse.

Still, their next match brings Rivaldo on to the same pitch as Michael Owen. Two naturally talented players but both right up there in the Maradona class when it comes to cheating. At least there should be no more dodgy decisions going Brazil's way in that one. England are too big a name to be given the same treatment as Turkey and Belgium.


Thankfully both Sunday games were of an infinitely higher quality than those of the day before. Senegal now have a fair chance of becoming the first African team to reach the last four which would more than compensate for the failures of the other African nations at this tournament. As for Sweden, their departure means that there are now no SPL players left in the competition. Henrik Larsson has announced his retirement from international football but has gone some way to building up the reputation of our domestic game with his three goals.

Many doubted that Larsson was capable of playing at the highest level. Well, having played a similar number of games, let's just note that Larsson has scored three times as many goals as Michael Owen.

I wrote on a bulletin board elsewhere that Ireland were capable of taking Spain to penalties but I didn't envisage how that would come about. Full credit to Anders Frisk, the Swedish referee, for awarding Ireland a second penalty (even if the first looked a bit dodgy) in the last minute of normal time for shirt-pulling. If only other referees displayed the same courage, we would have a much better competition.

Speaking of Frisk, I thought his handling of this game was superb. He showed a marked reluctance to award free kicks to players who fall over once they've lost control of the ball. He must be a contender for the Final.

That said, those who claimed that Ireland deserved to win are guilty of bias. They never really looked like scoring in open play in the 90 minutes and the Spanish deserve credit for recovering from a body blow which would have felled lesser teams. Both sides were equally nervous during the penalty shoot-out and 50% of the spot-kicks were either missed or saved. Young keeper Casillas was superb. Two penalty saves in the shoot-out added to one in regulation time mark him out as a keeper of the highest order.


The first two second round matches have produced the expected results - and, sadly, quality. Germany and England are both in the last eight after uninspiring performances. Thankfully for anyone watching, the Germans scored with two minutes of normal time remaining against Paraguay, thus sparing everyone from the dire prospect of another 30 minutes of absolutely dreadful football. Paraguay were abysmal. The Germans, at least, played for the victory, but it was a truly awful match.

It may seem strange to bracket a game won so comprehensively as England V Denmark with the earlier match. But it was almost as bad. The Danes gifted three first-half goals and the English eagerly snapped them up. You might find it hard to believe that Denmark enjoyed 60% possession in the first 45 minutes but that counts for little when basic defensive errors lose goals.

Denmark have been here before. In 1986 a Danish team immensely more talented than this one won all three group games against Scotland, Uruguay and West Germany. They looked capable of going all the way but were inexplicably thrashed 5-1 by Spain in the last sixteen.

It's a Knockout

This is the phase of the World Cup where it SHOULD come alive. The last sixteen. Every tie decided on the day, inside 90 minutes if possible, with the 'golden goal' applying in extra time and penalties to decide the winners if the teams are still level after that.

So why do I have a sense of foreboding? Simple. In the past too many teams at this stage have let fear rule over any sense of adventure. That nagging dread that one mistake means goodbye to the hopes and ambitions of a lifetime has meant that too often teams enter this stage seeking not to LOSE a goal rather than score one. All are only too aware that, unlike the group games, there are no second chances from here on in.

I hope I am wrong but I fear that negativity will be the watchword of many from now on and may even override the memories of a great first stage. Each and every match for the rest of this tournament needs to get off to a good start - and that means a goal in the opening 20 minutes. There are several sides in this competition who will be content to play for a 0-0 draw, relying on their opponents to slip up or to snatch the game on penalties.

I am not one of those who suggests that this World Cup is a poorer tournament for the loss of some of the favourites. If they can't even finish second in a four-team group after three games then they don't deserve to reach this stage. But it is vital that those teams that do play with a bit of flair continue to entertain us. Essentially that means Brazil and Spain.

And for those who have criticised this website for being harsh on England, here's a question: Of the sixteen qualifiers, which side has scored the fewest goals? Don't take too long over the answer. In fact only FIVE of the other 31 teams competing have scored fewer than England in the group stage.


Well said, John Motson and Trevor Brooking. During the Mexico-Italy match the commentating duo praised the referee for booking two Italians for diving inside the penalty area. But I'm afraid I must be suffering from hearing loss as I didn't catch them saying the same thing when the perpetrator was Michael Owen.

Penalty Clause

Unfortunately this compelling competition is being marred by poor refereeing decisions. Of course, no one gets it right every time but some of the mistakes made so far border on the bizarre.

The two disallowed 'goals' in the Italy-Croatia match for example. One of the favourites could go crashing out, not because they have played poorly, like France and Argentina, but because a weak referee refused - TWICE - to overrule his linesman. England's penalty against Argentina and Senegal's against Uruguay both came about as a result of tackles which caught fresh air while in the Brazil - Turkey game, although contact was made, it was clearly outside the box.

Add in more poor refereeing in Japan V Russia and you have four teams with their hopes left hanging by a thread as a result of bad calls. Top the whole thing off with FIFA's farcical fine on Rivaldo for play-acting and there is a real danger that an enthralling tournament will turn sour before the end. Particularly if this continues into the knockout stages where there are no second chances.

The solution is both clear and to hand. Every game sees key moments replayed on giant screens in every ground. Millions of TV viewers, along with thousands of supporters present see these replays. So do both sets of players and the officials. Why not allow for video replays? Critics say it would slow down the game. But surely not any more than an "injured" player wastes up valuable time before deciding he doesn't need treatment after all? Surely not any more than a late substitution which takes an eternity to be made. Surely not any more than the many time-wasting tactics on display from keepers reluctant to clear their lines to chess-like pauses over free kicks?

And when time to be added on is allocated by the fourth official in any case, no actual playing time would be lost.

The other argument against this is that football is a global game with universal rules and only a few games are ever televised live. Well, excuse me but I've never seen a fourth official inspect substitutes or stand up with a board indicating injury time in the Jewson South-Western League and it doesn't seem to have affected things too badly.

Other sports seem able to cope. The third umpire in test cricket is an example. Nobody says that the local Sunday League limited overs match can't go ahead because there are no video playback facilities.

In the 21st century it is a patent nonsense that abuses and mistakes which become apparent within a couple of seconds are allowed to go unpunished and unrighted. To suggest that technology that is available shouldn't be used in the World Cup Final because the same facilities aren't present at the grudge match between The Financier & Firkin and The Old Aardvark is simply ridiculous. We are talking here about the destination of the most prestigious sporting trophy on this planet.

Does anyone seriously want to see it won and lost by a decision which, split seconds later, billions will be able to see is a mistake?

And, yes, I know that's what happened in 1966. Does anyone want THAT to happen again?



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