By Subendran Ravindran
USA can now safely call themselves as a soccer powerhouse, despite not having won the World Cup to prove it just like Netherlands. In this match it seemed like the odds were stacked against the USA not just with the opponents, but once again the refereeing nearly ousted the USA out of the competition. However Nike who came-up with a campaign for the USA national team with a philosophy called “Don’t thread on me” which has a coiled snake as a logo made sense for this FIFA World Cup. The Americans lived up to this tag lock, stock and barrel and USA won 1-0.
In Algeria they had a classy opponent and the the Algerian keeper Rais M’Bohli proved to be world class. This match however was like one of those Hollywood sports movies with the cliché last minute point or goal scored and it had USA written all over it. In their earlier match against Slovenia, USA had a goal disallowed when the referee from Mali disallowed a superb and valid goal and lo and behold, it happened again. In the 20th minute Herculez Gomez shot only for M’bohli to push it out back to him again and this time Clint Dempsey was on the far corner of the Algerian right post and Gomez gave a cross-shot to Dempsey who dully slotted the ball in, only to be ruled off-side when he was not. The USA however pressed on, but the urgency and desperation seem to get to them and some bad decision making led them to make mistakes on the field. When the US needed to give a short-pass instead of a dribble they did the opposite and when a long ball was called for they did a short pass sometimes. Clint Dempsey however was a constant thorn to the Algerians and USA pressed on and the commanding presence of Tim Howard at the back was also a relief especially in the first-half when he saved a cannon of a shot from Karim Matmour. The Algerians were also sharp in their break away and it was a case of tit-for-tat.
Photo from fOTOGLIF
The spearhead of Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan was instrumental. Let us though not take anything away from the rest of the US team for their hard work and industry, the Americans never gave up. They were finally rewarded with a last minute goal in the 90th minute when USA made a break after a Algerian attack, it was a run on the right wing by Jozy Altidore and he passed to Dempsey only to see his shot saved, but Landon Donovan was already making the run and read the play superbly to slot the ball home nicely. It was a joyous moment not just for the Americans, but even people in far away Malaysia (A country in South-East Asia) with some even having tears in their eyes. Donovan and Coach Bradley’s voice were cracking in the interview, but you can see why they truly deserved their place and were nearly robbed of it.
The Ref Factor
The refereeing for this World Cup is an all time low, in the last few minutes of the game between USA and Algeria an Algerian player lashed on the face of Dempsey when he was about to receive the ball, it was clearly done on purpose and he was bleeding. It all happened in the penalty box, but yet the Belgian refereeing team did not spot this. Let alone the goal that should have been allowed in the Slovenia game and the Algeria game again! Technology (Video or TV) is however not going to solve the problem of this game, this has cultural implications to the game of football or soccer as the Americans call it. The main reason why soccer is the number one sport is the easy accessibility to it, you just need a space and a ball or in South America, Africa and some parts of Asia a “rolled-up” thing.
Games whether be it social, college or pick-up games can be simulated in every way and the players can even pretend to be their heroes. Bring in technology and this destroys the game, many organizations, clubs, colleges, associations cannot afford this technology and if there is a rule where the technology can be excluded if it is not a professional game, the umbilical cord with the essence of the game and copying exactly what your hero does on the field is gone.
Even if Technology is brought in it begs the question of how many times is the referee going to refer to the video or TV? It also endangers the role of the referee, not many people would want to become a referee it is different from American sports where the umpires are not looked upon as much of an important factor in the game compared to soccer. This is not to say that American sports is inferior, soccer can learn many things from American sports like drafts and salary caps. But when it comes to the decision of using technology the train has left the station in-terms of soccer and the irony of it is that it will actually kill the game.
Photo from fOTOGLIF
Former Italian World Cup International and ex-Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli wrote in his ground breaking soccer book titled “The Italian Job” that referees should also be professionals; he suggested that they have a referee pool with a headquarters based in Europe. Right now referees have day jobs; though Vialli’s idea might seem drastic some of it can be adapted. After all, the all time best referee so far in the history goes to an Italian, Pierluigi Collina who is now retired he has been called upon by corporate companies to give seminars on decision making in the past. Collina though not a professional was a financial planner by trade.
Maybe FIFA can actually introduce the professional referee scheme and give a choice for referees to become professionals, a mix pool will be good and will keep each other on their toes. I would go a step further and advocate a ranking system for referees much like the FIFA country rankings or ATP ranking with points being awarded for good refereeing and deducted for bad calls and this is where technology can play an important role. With the Ref committee looking at videos and replays to see what went wrong in the matches earlier. FIFA should also not allow referees from less-developed countries or limit this option, with the fear of match fixing always around the corner, speculation is already enough to fuel the fire. The system can never be perfect, but we can always minimize it.
This however was not the first time US had a referee decision against them, if you remember in the 2002 World Cup in Japan/Korea, the Americans were denied a valid penalty when they met Germany in the quarter-finals. A German player clearly palmed the ball away on the line of the German goal; USA lost that match 1-0. USA now finish ahead of England, the mother country of football in their group and USA don’t need David Beckham to look to for a hero, they have one they can relate to closer and his name is Landon Donovan.