Red Card the Ref!

The “beautiful game” looked pretty ugly today.

After watching the United States vs. Italy game in the FIFA World Cup 2006, I am stunned at the lousy officiating in the game. The referee was probably the worst I have seen, including when I coached soccer in a youth recreational league. There, the refs were high school kids who were still learning, and we coaches sometimes had to help with finer points of the rules, but any of them would have done better.

For those who were not watching the game, the referee gave an Italian player a Red Card (game ejection) for deliberately elbowing an American player in the face (and drawing blood). This was well deserved, and it left the Italian team with only ten men. However, at the end of the half (last minute), the ref gave an undeserved “equalizer” to a US player for a common foul (if that), taking one of our productive players out of the game. Then, only two minutes into the second half, he removed another US player on a questionable call, dropping the team to only nine.

Despite the fact that we were (undeservedly) a man down, and the statistic that no team with only nine men has ever scored a goal in World Cup history, the Americans managed to bury one in the back of the net to take the lead on the scoreboard, 2-1 over the Italians. Unfortunately, the referee decided to make a late offsides call against a player not involved in the play, taking our “go ahead” goal away.

When my players used to complain about a poor referee or bad calls, I always advised them to take the refs out of the game by scoring goals. After all, if a game is not close, then a bad call or two cannot make the difference. However, when a referee blows three major calls, taking a team from having an extra man to being down a man and denying a legitimate goal, it really is too much to overcome, especially at this level of play. The United States team played valiantly, but had to settle for a 1-1 tie.

After the match, American television revealed its discovery that this particular referee was not allowed to officiate in the last World Cup because of unspecified “irregularities” that were so egregious that other refs complained about it. So, not only were his calls terrible (and, in my opinion, deliberately biased), but he has a history of such problems.

The big problem with this whole thing is that everybody loses in this situation. The United States was robbed of an excellent chance to win this game, and the Italians, too, were denied a fair fight. The fans were ripped off, as the outcome of the game has more to do with one incompetent referee than anything else. FIFA takes a major credibility hit when they were already on the defensive about the poor officiating (and too many cards, in particular).

I believe that a very exciting game was marred by the malfeasance of one individual, and I am looking for FIFA to take swift and decisive action against the referee. There is nothing that can be done about the game outcome but to move on. The United States played very well this game, and every team in the group still has a chance to advance to the next round.

The situation is this: Both remaining Group E games will be played simultaneously on Thursday, June 22 at 16:00 local time (10:00am Eastern US). The United States must win against Ghana (who scored a major upset today) to have a shot. If that happens and Italy wins over the Czech Republic, then the US advances. If the other game is a tie or a loss, then the US has to completely crush Ghana, by five or six goals. That is highly unlikely.

I have an official Italian team jersey that I would not wear today, but I can assure you that I intend to wear it on Thursday. Go USA! Go Italia!

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