Posted by Jeff Carlisle
JOHANNESBURG -- What's worse than France's national team at the moment? Try one of its referees.
Sunday began with a show of solidarity for the French when their players boycotted an open training session in defense of teammate Nicolas Anelka, who was sent home for berating coach Raymond Domenech during halftime of France's dreadful 2-0 loss to Mexico. The players then released a statement indicating their opposition to the move made by the French Football Federation, complaining that someone within the group had leaked news of the argument to the media.
Yet French referee Stephane Lannoy, who presided over Brazil's 3-1 victory over Ivory Coast later that evening, outdid his compatriots, delivering a performance that no doubt will make FIFA's collective head spin like Linda Blair's in "The Exorcist."
Given some of the high-profile mistakes that have been made in the past couple of days, this is quite an accolade. Yet Lannoy managed to bring World Cup refereeing to a new low. In the 50th minute, Lannoy failed to spot not one, but two handball infractions by Brazilian forward Luis Fabiano in the run-up to his second goal of the match.
"It's hard enough to cope with Fabiano," said a clearly "Lannoyed" Ivory Coast manager Sven-Goran Eriksson. "But it's even more difficult when you allow him to use his hands. Of course it's handball. It's not once, it's twice."
What raised eyebrows even further was when television replays showed a grinning Lannoy apparently asking Fabiano whether he had indeed used his arms to control the ball, with the Brazilian's body language clearly indicating his denial.
Fabiano, who was named man of the match, admitted in the postgame news conference that the ball had indeed touched his arms, but -- through a translator -- the striker insisted that his reactions were "involuntary" and shouldn't have denied him a goal he classified as "a painting."
Fabiano's goal wasn't even the worst of it. After Brazil midfielder Elano tucked away his side's third goal in the 62nd minute, the Ivorians responded by engaging in a series of dreadful challenges. One of them, by Ismael Tiote, forced Elano to be carried off on a stretcher with a lower leg injury.
It wasn't the first time Tiote had been involved in some dubious tackles, but none of that seemed enough to warrant a caution from Lannoy until the 86th minute.
The game then devolved into farce with just two minutes to go when Kaka raised his elbow as Kader Keita ran into him. Keita milked the incident, acting as if he had been elbowed in the face when whatever minor contact there had been was to his chest. Lannoy fell for the con and sent off Kaka for a second bookable offense. The irony of watching his players get kicked all over the park while his star player was ejected was not lost on Brazilian manager Dunga.
"Kaka's sending off was highly unfair," Dunga said through a translator. "In this World Cup, the player who tries to dribble and give a good show, he's always punished. The player who doesn't play fair, he's rewarded."
Dunga later added, tongue firmly planted in cheek, "When I was a player, I used to commit a lot of fouls, so this World Cup would be perfect for me."
The biggest beneficiary of Lannoy's incompetence no doubt will be Portugal, which will face a Brazilian attack shorn of Kaka and possibly Elano on Friday, although Fabiano indicated that he didn't think his teammate's injury was too serious. Still, with Brazil already qualified for the next round, the prudent move would be to rest Elano.
If that scenario comes to pass, one might see the Portuguese yelling "Vive la France!" Chances are nobody else will.