An Absolute Joke

June 18

I am no Tommy Smyth, but I know enough about soccer to know when something stinks. What happened to the US soccer team at the World Cup “stink, stank, stunk.” I knew the words of the great Thurl ( Tony the Tiger ) Ravenscroft from “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” would come in handy some day.

Koman “Sleepy Eyes” Coulibaly of Mali is the Ref Who Stole Victory from the United States. He waved off Maurice Edu’s goal on a free kick, which would have given the United States a 3-2 lead over Slovenia in the closing minutes. There was some kind of infraction, but he would not specify.

Coulibaly apparently assumed there was some kind of foul during the wrestling match in the box, and you know what happens when you assume. He decided it was best to wave off a go-ahead goal just in case the U.S. did something bad. Actually, if there was a foul, it was on a Slovenian player who bear-hugged Michael Bradley.

I’m hearing now that Coulibaly is not required to say what happened. His mute expression was that of a man who either knew he goofed, didn’t like imperialist Americans, didn’t think he owed anyone an explanation, or didn’t care because he was about to collect a big stinking sack of money from somebody.

Maybe that’s what stunk. If so, the aroma wafted across the Atlantic to television sets in the United States. Even the layman could sense the stench.

The apologists blame modern players who like to push and grab and shove, making it difficult for officials not to call a foul. If that’s the case, why have a free kick or any kind of set piece at all ? Or, why not space these guys so they can’t touch each other ?

Or, better yet, FIFA can familiarize itself with a concept introduced in all other sports that like to be considered legitimate: REPLAY. That way an official doesn’t have to call what he doesn’t see.

Coulibaly’s woes did not end with that controversial call, and that’s where the odor of this game seeps through every nook and cranny of the sport. It was just the cherry on top, the last of several obvious calls against the US. For example, how can you have a hand-ball that hits you on the side of the head ? Not to mention the refs high-tailed it out of there before stoppage time expired.

On ESPN, former American player John Harkes thought something was up early on, and was struggling to get British play-by-play man Ian Darke to buy in. There was no sale until later in the game, but even before the goal was waved off Darke began to turn. By the end of the game, Darke was ripping the ref like anyone else with a set of working eyes.

I understand Jim Joyce has sent Coulibaly a basket of flowers for making him look so good.

The officiating was so suspect it made you wonder if Coulibaly was on the take. I know it sounds far-fetched, considering he’s on the international stage, but we had a well-paid NBA referee involved in a gambling scandal. Is it so much of a stretch to think that a man from Mali would make a money grab ?

I wouldn’t ask that question at all if today’s game had not been so badly officiated. I understand the politics of the World Cup, and that referees from different confederations must be used, but at the very least Coulibaly was not ready for prime time. The good news for him is that America doesn’t have a strong soccer hooligan tradition.

Here’s hoping this travesty doesn’t cost the US a chance to reach the second round. I guarantee you — if the roles had been reversed the rest of the world would have howled at the favoritism shown the American side. But most of the soccer world doesn’t care about the US.

I really want to get into the World Cup, just like I want to get into the Olympics, but too often the incompetent officiating is a turn-off. Fans have a right to expect that a match is fairly contested under the rules, but FIFA has failed to deliver.

FIFA is playing up this event like a mini-Olympics, inviting the Black Eyed Peas and Alicia Keys down for the operning ceremony concert. FIFA likes to promote soccer as the “beautiful game.” Officiating makes it ugly — far worse than any major American sport, Tim Donaghy included.

*** DOODLE-OO DOODLE-OO *** BREAKING NEWS AT 6:30 p.m.

Yahoo Sports reports the ref will undergo an “expedited review” by FIFA, which could mean he won’t officiate another World Cup match. Ya think ? That will be small consolation to the U.S.

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