Peter Goldstein

Peter Goldstein is a professor at Juniata College in Pennsylvania in the USA. He has been World Cup crazy since 1966. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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Giving the Devils their due

    Like everyone else, I've been dismayed by the refereeing errors at the 2002 World Cup. I don't know if there are more this year than before, although they certainly seem to have had a more dramatic effect. But before we get to the matter of South Korea and the "conspiracy" (very nicely punctured by Matthew Monk in his recent column on the site), we should look at the way the other teams in the competition have been helped by refereeing errors.

    The fact is, in 2002, there just isn't much difference between the top-tier teams and the second-tier, and every team is going to need some luck to advance. Every single one of the eight teams in the quarterfinals received significant help from the referees. Let's start with the quarterfinal losers first. In its initial game against Slovenia, Spain received a very dubious penalty call whereas Slovenia was denied what looked like a clear penalty. Against Uruguay, Senegal received a penalty on a dive and also had an offside goal allowed to stand. The USA caught a huge break when the referee missed a clear handball in the penalty area in the game against Mexico. And England received a penalty against Argentina on a play in which there appeared to be minimal contact.

    As for the winners, Brazil received a penalty against Turkey for a foul committed outside the area. Turkey got a break when Costa Rica was whistled wrongly for offside no less than three times in the second half, two of which would have led to clear goal opportunities. And Germany got away with a handball on the line against the USA, and although I thought the call was the correct one, the Germans themselves thought the penalty should have been awarded.

    Then, of course, there's South Korea. The home advantage at the World Cup has a long and not particularly honorable history. There are many instances to choose from. In 1970, Mexico received an outrageous penalty call against Belgium for the only goal of the game. In 1978, when Argentina played France, the Argentines got a penalty for an obviously accidental handball, while the French were denied a clear penalty of their own. It's ironic that Spain should be one of those who felt aggrieved by home decisions in this cup, for in 1982 they were the recipients of a series of outrageous calls obviously designed to get them into the second round. (A FIFA official admitted that the success of the tournament depended on Spain's advancement.) Against Yugoslavia they received a penalty for a foul clearly committed outside the area; when the shooter missed, the referee ruled the keeper had moved and allowed them to take it again. (The keeper had moved a little, but how often do you see it called?) Against Northern Ireland, in the final group game, an Irish player was red-carded for a relatively minor foul. After Spain was eliminated by South Korea, I checked a Yugoslav/Serbian online newspaper to see if they would mention the 1982 game. They sure did.

    Italy, the other country that feels hard done by against South Korea, also was the beneficiary in 1990, if not quite as shamefully as Spain in 1982. In the final group stage game against Czechoslovakia, the Czechs scored an obviously legal equalizing goal, which was disallowed for a phantom offside. The ensuing victory gave Italy first place in the group, and an easier path in the knockout rounds.

    When refereeing errors take place, it is no surprise that they favor the home team. Leaving aside the occasional obvious cases, such as Spain 1982, officials, because they are human, are subconsciously influenced by the home crowds and home setting. Ideally they'd get the calls right no matter where the game is played, but when you go in to play a home team in football, you know you have to be extra sharp to win.

    That's why I have absolutely no sympathy for Italy. No one told them to sit on a one-goal lead for most of the game; no one made Christian Panucci flub a relatively easy play with only a few minutes to go to allow the equalizer; no one forced Christian Vieri to miss the sitter of the tournament with seconds to go before extra time. All that took place before any of the officiating errors came into play. Plus, Italy gave up the winning goal from open play: Ahn beat Paolo Maldini to the ball and headed it home in fine style. The Italians are screaming about corruption, but that's only because their domestic football has been hopelessly corrupt for years. They expect that sort of thing to happen because they so readily do it themselves.

    Spain is another matter. To start with, they were unlucky not to have Raul in the game; I think with him there they would have won relatively easily. Even without him, they attacked as much as possible, and kept South Korea away from their goal for 120 minutes, scoring a couple of apparently legitimate goals themselves. I think the tournament is poorer for their exit, and they have a right to feel aggrieved. But in Serbia they still remember 1982, and what goes around, comes around.

    Another reason the referee errors have been unfortunate is that they've tarnished South Korea's achievement at this cup. In about 18 months Guus Hiddink turned them from perennial losers into a team capable of staying on the field with anyone in the world. Anyone who saw them lose to Holland 5-0 in 1998 knows exactly how far they've come. They were certainly worth a quarterfinal place, if not quite a semifinal. After their brilliant group stage against relatively ordinary opposition (I include a disappointing Portugal in that category), strong teams like Italy and Spain revealed their weaknesses. For one thing, they don't have a consistently good possession/passing man in the middle of the pitch. Yoo Sang-chul is their best there, but he wasn't as effective against Italy and Spain as he had been in the group stage. When he came out early against Spain, Lee Young-pyo was shifted from the wing into the middle, and contributed little. They also lack overall depth; Hiddink has been going with almost the same starting 11 every time out, and they're starting to tire.

    But if we forget the refereeing errors for the minute, it's hard not to be thrilled by what South Korea has brought to this World Cup. Before 2002, football was a poor second to baseball in Korea. Now the stadiums are filled with crazy, yet orderly fans; the country as a whole seems to be one beautiful red devil wave; football is now the supreme passion, and, because it is so new, somehow more innocent than it might be in Europe or South America. And if for nothing else, Korea's joy has been worth it for the shot of Ahn after the winning goal against Italy: lying alone face up by the corner flag, with about six thousand photographers snapping his picture, his face an inseparable mixture of bliss, incredulity, and utter exhaustion. It was easily the most memorable moment of the tournament so far, and we should be grateful for it.

    By the time you read this, we'll probably know the result of Germany-South Korea. For the good of the game, as they say, I hope the game will be fairly and correctly officiated, and I hope the more deserving team wins. If it's Germany, as expected, the series of calls that propelled South Korea to the semifinals may be allowed to fade into the background, unless we live in Italy or Spain. But if South Korea wins, and wins legitimately, let us give them our support. The players are doing what all players do, giving of their very best, and they have shined and entertained from their first moment on the pitch. Football is the better for them.



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