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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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?