19th FIFA World Cup - South Africa 2010
11 June to 11 July 2010
ROUND OF 16
Once again it is all the rage to talk about the referees and how their decisions could easily have affected the final outcome of both second-round clashes held today in South Africa. Between the no-goal call against England that would've made the game 2-2 or the offside goal by Argentina that broke a scoreless deadlock, both the blunders obviously hurt both the English and the Mexicans as they toppled out of the tournament.
One thing we cannot forget, though, is that both teams ended up losing by more than one goal. Even if these calls had been rendered correctly, there is really no justifiable way to say that they would've appreciably affected the outcome. Sure, the momentum might have looked completely different for England had they netted that equalizer. But there were plenty of quality opportunities for Fabio Capello's side that they never converted in the second half, and Germany capitalized on the pressing attack to launch its own more-successful counters. Would tactics had been different in a 2-2 game than a 2-1 deficit?
Sure... but the fact remains that the call came with plenty of time for England to rectify the situation, had they been the better team on the day. The same can be said of Mexico in this moment. Yes, they were handed an unfair shake by their respective referees. But the officiating offers a convenient scapegoat for the two sides... in the end, the two vanquished competitors must look at what went wrong in their own game, not seek excuses. Ultimately the two stronger sides advanced, and the officiating -- while spotty -- was not integral to either outcome...
1D/GERMANY 4, 2C/ENGLAND 1
Free State Stadium - Bloemfontein
I know what most of you out there are thinking... how can you possibly say that the goal by Lampard, and the fact the referee was fooled by the quick reaction of German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to get up and kick the ball downfield before it could be ruled a score, didn't affect the final outcome? A person certainly has an argument here to make about whether or not it would have allowed Capello to pay more attention to the defensive side of things. After all, it was a quick-strike counter after several quality offensive chances for England that allowed Thomas Muller to get the first of his two goals that put things away for Germany.
It was devious, yes... even Neuer has said so. "I didn't react because I just wanted to concentrate on carrying on and making the game fast. I realized it was tight, but I was quite sure it was over the line. I think that perhaps the way I carried on so quickly fooled the referee and made him think it was not over. After the game I was in doping control and saw it on the television. And yes, of course it was over and should have been a goal for England. It was lucky for us and unlucky for them."
That's about as much as I would grant about this incident, though -- it was simply an instance of bad luck for England, nothing more, nothing less. All the clamoring for instant replay from the American press (I've been listening to ESPN Radio most of the day at work) misses the point of this. Perhaps it was karmic retribution for the goal that allowed England to win the 1966 World Cup over... West Germany, the forbear of this current German side. Then, a ball that looked in damn near every image released afterward to have come down directly on the line and bounced out was allowed as a goal for the English. Just like now, one could argue that had it been disallowed the game would've taken on a completely different flavor.
After Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski had already put the Germans up 2-0 just over a half-hour into the match, though, it was hard to argue about which side was the more potent one in this encounter. The English started to attack with reckless abandon, and the way they played in the second half showed to me that -- had they been awarded that equalizer as one might've expected -- they were still going to leave large gaps in their defense that a speedy, smart team like Die Mannschaft was certainly going to exploit. I agree with another slice of wisdom from Neuer in this instance:
"It was one incident and yes, it was important. But I believe we were the stronger team and deserved to win the game even without this. If you look at the way the match played out then I think our team would have scored the goals we needed just like we did. When you have good luck in football it is important to capitalize on that luck, and we did."
Sometimes that's simply the way things shake out. Is it fun for fans to swallow always? No, certainly not. But the calls inevitably go for you sometimes just as they can go against you. England, more than most, should understand that fact all too well. And in a match that still had nearly an hour to unfold, to say that the disallowed goal by Lampard cost soccer's birthplace to drop out of this World Cup would be foolish, given the number of opportunities left on the table by England. They should rue the chances they failed to convert, not the one conversion the referee failed to recognize...
1B/ARGENTINA 3, 2A/MEXICO 1
And yeah, it also certainly didn't help Mexico that the opening goal by Carlos Tevez, to whom Lionel Messi flicked the ball into for the easy tap-in, was egregiously offside to score it. But in the end, that isn't what undid El Tri on the pitch at Soccer City. No, it was the defensive lapse that let Gonzalo Higuain walk in for the second goal of the match, seven minutes after Tevez's controversial opener. It was the second of Tevez's two goals, another sloppy bit of defending that let Tevez gather his own rebound, shift right and unleash a blast that Oscar Perez simply was never going to stop in goal. That it could've been 2-1 instead of 3-1 when Javier Hernandez scored twenty minutes from time is vexing, sure, but it was never going to change this outcome.
That's what we must keep in focus as we all decry the refereeing decisions being perpetrated in South Africa over these four weeks of World Cup bliss. The cream does rise to the top -- there's a reason only seven nations have won a World Cup, and two of them only did it on home soil -- and there was a clear disparity in level of play between the two teams involved in each of today's matches. Sure, an error-free match is always preferable from an officiating standpoint, but humans are prone to error... especially when running nearly as much as any player, especially in both these wide-open affairs...