Let's say it once again: there has been no
conspiracy. If it's a "sport" in which
results are arranged in advance that you're looking for then
take a swatch at Formula One. But what there has been
is a gentle nudge in the favour of the co-hosts which has
backfired. South Korea's achievements are forever tarnished.
This is not a denigration of Asian football. The Korean team
itself is a talented outfit, capable of beating most, and
of competing with all. In twelve home internationals prior
to the World Cup, they won six, drew four and lost only twice;
3-2 to France and 1-0 to Senegal. However, like the Japanese,
they were a last sixteen side, nothing more.
The (so far) unspoken tragedy is what will happen
to that fantastic support the Koreans gave their team when
they eventually realise - as they must - that their team is
nowhere near being one of the best four teams in the world.
The likelihood is that the support base will drop back to
the 4,000 norm for domestic matches. In their efforts to help
the game develop, FIFA may well have produced the opposite
result. It would have been better for Korean football if they
had departed in the last sixteen, with two victories to their
credit. That would have been a superb showing. And their supporters
would have been spared the ridiculous delusion they are now
under, that their country is a match for anyone.
Where it all went wrong was in the allocation of officials
in the second round. While Pierluigi Collina was put
in charge of Japan's tie with Turkey, no one
of similar stature was awarded South Korea's game with
Italy. Markus Merk and Anders Frisk were
allocated Denmark v England and Spain v Ireland
- both matches which were almost guaranteed to be free of
both trouble and controversy. Kim Milton Neilsen wasn't
given a match at all. Instead they gave this pressure cooker
tie to Byron Moreno. The Ecuadorian's previous international
experience consisted of Cameroon V Canada in the Confederations
Cup and two South American qualifiers as well as USA
- Portugal in this tournament.
The hapless Moreno doesn't deserve the vitriol being poured
in his direction but he wasn't up to the job and should never
have been given it. FIFA must have assumed that the appointment
of Gamal Ghandour for South Korea's quarter-final with
Spain would have been non-controversial. After all,
he was in charge during the marvellous last eight game between
Brazil and Denmark in 1998. A little check at
their records would have shown that this confidence was misplaced.
Ghandour managed to issue six yellow cards at the Denmark-
Czech Republic game in Euro 2000 and five
in the Confederations Cup semi-final between France
and Brazil a year later. In six internationals
this season prior to the World Cup he issued a total of twenty
yellows and sent off two South Africans in a friendly
in Georgia two months before the start of the Finals.
Interestingly, in his only previous match involving the Koreans
this card-happy ref got through France's 5-0 hammering
of South Korea without making a single booking. With
three Spanish names already in his book after the Spain
- Paraguay match, this was not a good appointment.
And let's not have any bleating about linesmen or referee's
assistants as they are now known. They are precisely that
- assistants. The ref remains the law on the field and can
overrule an assistant whenever he chooses. Hiding behind
linesmen is a cowardly distraction from the appalling refereeing
we have all witnessed.
Every World Cup has had some refereeing controversy - that's
only natural. I can pick at least one incident from each tournament
I have seen without too much difficulty, from the ball that
never crossed the line in 1966 to the Beckham sending-off
in 1998. Even before that, there was controversy: Puskas ruled
offside in the dying seconds of the 1954 Final for instance.
But there have been more dubious decisions in this competition
than in any other. Sometimes, it seems, more than in all the
rest combined. And, try as I have, I cannot think of any
team, other than the Koreans, which has had five good-looking
goals against all chalked off.
And, in the end, that is what this competition will be
remembered for. Not for Senegal's defeat of France.
Not for South Korea's appearance in the last four.
Put it into perspective. In any other tournament the debate
over whether England deserved a penalty against Argentina
would have provided a talking-point for years. In this
one, it raised barely any interest. Why? Because such decisions
were an everyday occurrence. Just three weeks later how many
recall Japan's disallowed goal against Belgium?
Or the same team's blatantly offside strike against Russia
which was allowed to stand?
See what I mean. It's just crept back into your memory now,
hasn't it? By my reckoning 21 of the 62 matches
completed to date have involved controversial decisions which
influenced the outcome of the match. That's one in three.
Far too high a proportion to be acceptable. Of the
ten games involving the co-hosts, only one match involving
each steered clear of refereeing problems. Japan v Turkey
and South Korea v Poland. The first of these was handled
by the man most people would say is the best referee in the
world - Collina - and the second was in the capable
hands of Colombia's Oscar Ruiz Acosta. Turkey -
China and Turkey - Senegal (the only non-controversial
quarter-final) were also handled without problem by Acosta.
So a 33% controversy rating, rising in Japan's case
to 50% (75% in total but in one of these games the
decision actually went against Japan) and 83% in
One of football's oldest cliches is that the 'breaks even
themselves out.' Not this time. But if they eventually
do then I would not want to be in the shoes of the South Korean
coach come 2006.
Much has been made of the fact that Sunday's
clash will be the first ever meeting between Brazil
and Germany in the World Cup. So how come these two
titans have avoided each other up until now? One simple answer
is that, often, they have been seeded to avoid each other
until the Final. One slip-up along the way and any potential
meeting is off for another four years.
They've actually come close to meeting several times in the
past. In 1954 Brazil were beaten by Hungary
in the last eight and the Magyars went on to the Final where
they were beaten by West Germany. Four years later
this tie came even closer. Sweden's defeat of the Germans
in the semis prevented them from meeting Brazil in the Final.
In 1962 they were again scheduled to meet in the Final
but German defeat by Yugoslavia in the quarters put
paid to that. In 1966 Brazil crashed out in the first
round. Had they won their group another Final with the Germans
loomed and a semi-final pairing if they had finished second.
1970 was the closest until now. Only Italy's extra
time victory in a classic semi-final stopped the two giants
of the game from meeting in the Mexico final, And a
1974 Dutch triumph over Brazil condemned the South
Americans to the 3rd/4th play-off as Cruyff and Co.
advanced to meet Beckenbauer's men in the Final.
1978 was the only post-war Final in which neither featured.
But again, they could not have clashed until the Final. In
1982 of course Italy beat Brazil en route before
defeating the Germans in the Final. 1986 was one of
the rare years that they could have met in the semi-finals
but France's penalty shoot-out win over Brazil in the
last eight put paid to that. And in 1990 Argentina
disposed of Brazil in the last sixteen on the way to the Final
against the Germans.
They were again scheduled to meet in the 1994 Final
but Bulgaria ousted Germany in the quarters. And another
potential Final vanished when Croatia did the same
in France in 1998.
This year of course it will actually happen. The two biggest
names in global football will meet in the Final in Yokohama.
When you consider that, in every post-war tournament bar one,
the seedings have decreed that the two could not meet until
the last match, perhaps it's not so surprising that they haven't
met until now. Maybe the real surprise is that, for the first
time, they have both removed all obstacles in their path.
But for Robbie Keane's 92nd minute equaliser against
Germany in the group stages we would now be preparing for
a Final between two teams with a 100% record.
And that is something else that has NEVER happened
since the introduction of group stages after the Second World
Every post-war World Cup Final bar one (1978)
has featured either Germany or Brazil. Until
now, none has featured both. Perhaps the biggest surprise
in this World Cup full of surprises is that the two global
superpowers will at last meet face to face.
OK, it's not Beckenbauer V Pele and there's no sense
in pretending otherwise, but it could have been a whole lot
worse. Both semi-finals were entertaining enough matches with
the Germans and Brazilians the deserved winners. But this
tournament, which started so promisingly in the group phase,
has run out of steam, brought to its knees by the sheer weight
of the accusations, cynicism and innuendo which has dominated
the knockout phase.
The quality of football has been affected too. After that
glorious free-scoring group phase - best characterised by
the second half performance of Uruguay, of all people,
against Senegal - safety first has taken over. While
none of the quarter-final games were exactly poor - unlike
the last sixteen - goals have been at a premium. Of the five
matches played since Brazil beat England ( a phrase
which I can never tire of writing) only three goals have
been scored within the 90 minutes. Two of these have come
from Michael Ballack and the other from Ronaldo.
That's a good indication of just how hard it is to score.
And of the fourteen matches played since the start of the
last sixteen, only three teams have won after losing the first
goal. Just once has a team lost the first goal and won inside
90 minutes. That was when Brazil beat England (there
it is again). In fact unless the Final and the 3rd/4th
match produce nine more goals this tournament will be the
second lowest scoring ever. Only the dismal Italia
90 has produced fewer goals per game.
The Germans have kept their cool, while all around were losing
theirs. It is an indication of the stench which engulfed South
Korea's march to the last four that English football writers
like Oliver Holt in The Mirror and Paul Hayward
in the Telegraph could openly say that a German presence
in the Final was crucial for the integrity of the tournament.
Think about that for a moment. The Mirror was
the paper which produced the infamous 'Achtung, for you
ze football war is over' headline along with its imitation
of Chamberlain's declaration of war, during Euro 96.
The Daily Telegraph has a habitual dislike of all foreigners
except for the English-speaking sort (like the Canadian
who owns the paper) and hasn't forgiven the Germans for
turning up late at Waterloo, let alone the events of
the 20th century!
Yet here were the chief football writers of these two bastions
of sporting xenophobia ( and in the case of the Telegraph,
any form of xenophobia), urging their readers to support
the Germans against the 'heroic outsider' Korea. If
that doesn't tell you all you need to know about the South
Koreans presence in the last four, nothing will. Whether many
of their readers rushed out to buy lederhosen is another matter
I wrote previously that Italy only had themselves to
blame for their elimination by the co-hosts - that the sitter
Vieri missed would have settled things in their favour.
Now, after the Spain debacle, I am no longer sure.
Nor can you be. Is there anyone who can stand up and say,
hand on heart, that if Vieri had hit the net, that they know
for certain that the goal would have been allowed to stand?
Consider also what the reaction would have been - in any other
circumstances - to the appointment of a German-speaking Swiss
referee to the Germany - South Korea match? 'Fix',
'Foul' 'Unfair.' The headlines are easy to imagine. Instead,
there was a collective sigh of relief at the news that
Urs Meier had been handed the fixture.
And - the booking of Michael Ballack apart - it was a largely
uncontroversial affair. A single-goal victory for Germany
was a fair result. It was also the result that should have
been entered into the record books after the co-hosts matches
with Italy and Spain. For the third time in this competition
the Koreans were beaten. For the first time, the result stood.
The second semi-final, between Brazil and Turkey,
produced one of the best games of the competition. As predicted,
the Turks weren't afraid to have a go and although Brazil
were clearly the superior side, the result was always in doubt
right up to the final whistle. Turkey became the first team
to prevent Brazil from scoring more than once in a game -
there being no dodgy penalties handed out this time.
Brazil took the lead around the same time as in their previous
match (in which, in case you've forgotten, they beat
England), but the response from the Turks was as tigerish
as the English were toothless. And Turkey had to cope with
eleven Brazilians on the pitch as well.
This Turkish team can be a joy to watch at times. Their temperament
remains suspect but their passing is sweet. I hope this performance
was watched closely by Messrs. Beckham, Ferdinand and
Lineker. Beckham has said that this England team can
win a major trophy. Ferdinand has actually pledged they will
reach a major final within the next four years. And Lineker
was less than his usual modest self when he proclaimed, just
after Brazil beat England, that the English would have
fancied a final against Germany or Korea.
No mention, you will note, of the Turks. On the evidence
of watching both sides against Brazil, the neutral would have
to say that the Turks look a better side than the English.
Something Beckham and Ferdinand would do well to remember
in their European Championship qualifying matches when
the two teams will clash. As for Lineker assuming that England
would have beaten Turkey in a semi-final, it's not the first
time such assumptions have been made by English commentators.
It's just surprising that Gary Lineker - normally a football
realist - should have made this observation.
Both 2004 and 2006 are an eon away in football
terms and while we've all seen English pundits counting chickens
before they've hatched, this is the first time they've done
so before the eggs have been fertilised. Seeking to deflect
blame from tactical errors, personal blunders and a poor team
performance after their quarter-final exit (when, in case
it has slipped your mind, they were beaten by Brazil),
the FA's PR team rushed into action, pushing the line that
this was a 'young team' ready to scale the heights
in two, or four, years time.
A grateful English media greedily swallowed the bait. Alastair
Campbell could do worse than recruit the FA spinmeisters
into No.10. They may even be able to explain away that quarter-final
result as a 'moral victory' whereas of course in reality
England were beaten by Brazil.
Joe Royle still leads the way in the
race for 'Quote of the Cup' but he's facing a challenge
in the home straight. Now that John Motson has dispensed
with all the breakfast cliches, he's beginning to show his
true form. Motty came up with two good ones during the Brazil
v Turkey semi-final. First, he told us that the Turks
had "reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2000...
four years ago." He followed that up with "sometimes
the Turkish players have their Christian names on their
Class. But watch out for outsider David Pleat.
Given his well-documented troubles of a few years ago, who
better to tell us that Hugh Dallas had "missed
a hand-job on the line?"
Some of the quotes from our old friend anonymous have been
good too. "According to 'The Sun', Ronaldinho
made love eight times in one night. So why be surprised when
he lobs Seaman from 40 yards?" And, of course,
" with a name like Seaman, you'd have thought
he would have seen it coming."