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The bad calls just keep on coming

June 28, 2010
Bradley By Jeff Bradley
ESPN The Magazine
(Archive)

JOHANNESBURG -- The video boards at Soccer City Stadium are basically useless. They're not really large enough for most fans to get a decent look at goals and near-misses. They show the TV feed of the game, but the clock in the top corner of the screen is so small it's impossible to tell how much time is remaining.

And, when you look up to see the replay of a foul or any call made by the referee or linesman, the screen cuts away so as not to give the fans any added fuel for anger toward the officials. But after Argentina's Carlos Tevez scored the first goal of the game -- on a play that appeared offside from all angles live -- the person in charge of running the video board forgot, for a split second, to cut away.

While many fans might have missed it, the Mexican players and their coach, Javier Aguirre, didn't. Immediately, players were running to confront Italian referee Roberto Rosetti, pointing to the board as if to say, "Have a look!" Unfortunately, there's no turning back a call, even when the players and coaches see the video evidence.

So, instead of talking about a stirring performance by Tevez (two goals), Lionel Messi and the rest of Diego Maradona's Argentina squad, which prevailed 3-1 over Mexico, we are left, once again, to discuss the impact that referees are having on this World Cup. Hours earlier, of course, the world was fixated on the blown call which cost England's Frank Lampard an equalizing goal in what would become a 4-1 rout for Germany.

"The goal was very important," said England manager Fabio Capello. "We could have played a different style." Capello is right. No one is saying Germany was not a deserving winner, but goals, for and against, change games. Instead of riding the momentum England would have felt after erasing an early 2-0 deficit, it had to continue to chase the game, which plays right into Germany's strength, which is the counterattack.

And in Mexico's case, when Tevez scored from an offside position in the 26th minute, it nullified what had been a positive start to the game for Mexico. The Mexicans, who'd hit a crossbar early in the game and had plenty of the ball, quickly came unglued after the botched call. And when defender Ricardo Osorio gave away a ball right in front of his own goal to Gonzalo Higuain, Argentina was up 2-0 and the rout was on. At halftime, when Mexican players again charged the referee and linesmen to voice their displeasure, there did not seem to be any way they would be able to regroup.

Was Argentina the superior team? There's no doubt. But for an underdog team like Mexico in a game like this, there's nothing more important than keeping the opponent off the scoreboard. So, once again, a blatantly bad call by an official overshadowed a game.

Go back through the tournament and you've seen star players like Germany's Miroslav Klose, Brazil's Kaka and Australia's Tim Cahill wrongly sent off. In Kaka's case, the Brazil playmaker was sent off when Ivory Coast's Kader Keita faked that he'd been elbowed in the face.

You've seen the U.S. have two goals that should have stood disallowed -- one by a phantom whistle and another on a blown offside call. Those goals could have radically changed the team's World Cup destiny. It turned out that the calls did not keep the U.S. from advancing, but it can be argued that those calls impacted the way the U.S. had to play.

"We made mistakes," Capello said of England's performance. "But the referee made bigger mistakes. Little things decide the results always."

FIFA has to be praying this trend of blown calls comes to an end. With epic quarterfinal matchups like Germany-Argentina looming, the spotlight is only going to burn brighter.

Jeff Bradley is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.