World Cup 2010 ( Day 8 ) : Foul Play …

… As tempted as I was to write about the US-Slovenia match in the moments after it finished, I decided it would be better to wait until now and the regular nightly World Cup recap. Anything I wrote in the wake of the conclusion to that match would have been unprofessional, too emotionally driven to make sense, and wouldn’t have had the quality required to post here.

Pissed? Hell yeah. Wanting to throw my remote control halfway across the room in anger? You bet your ass. Anything I can do about it? Not a damn thing.

After playing like total crap through the first half to fall behind Slovenia, 2-0, the United States nicely rallied in the second half, getting well-taken goals from Landon Donovan (what a shot from short range) and Michael Bradley (neatly putting home a shot just after a bounce that really could have gone anywhere).

Moments later, Maurice Edu won the game for the Americans, knocking home Donovan’s free kick from the right side. But referee Koman Coulibaly claimed to see an American foul, and the goal was washed out. Replays didn’t show a US foul, nor was Edu offside. If anything, it showed multilple US attackers being held and mugged inside the penalty area. But no matter, Coulibaly had made his call, and what was reported as his first-ever center assignment in the World Cup ended in controversy. (Note: Yahoo’s Martin Rogers is reporting this may well be Coulibaly’s debut and departure, all wrapped up in one.)

The players were seen questioning Coulibaly repeatedly after the call and the game, but according to Donovan, they never got an answer and were “ignored” (though, according to Coulibaly’s bio at worldreferee.com, he does speak English). I credit Donovan greatly for how he handled the post-game questioning … he got his point across regarding how he felt his team was robbed, but wasn’t inflammatory about it. It was a mature reaction.

Some will argue that the US wouldn’t have had to worry about it had they played better in the first half, and going into halftime down 2-0, as the real culprit – and there’s some merit in that. I can’t assign too much blame on Slovenia’s second goal, a converted counter attack that Zlatan Ljubijankic put away well past Tim Howard.

But Slovenia’s first goal was a joke. In just the 13th minute, Valter Birsa found himself wide open near the US penalty area, where six … SIX … US players were somewhat in the vicinity, forming a rectangle to surround Birsa. But no one decided to close in on Birsa, who uncorked a shot that flew past the sedentary American defenders and froze a bewildered Howard to open the scoring.

This lazy effort on defense is criminal at this level, and unbecoming of any of the 32 teams that are in this tournament. Howard is often seen admonishing his defenders in an animated fashion when they don’t close down shooters and don’t pick up their marks. Clearly, Howard’s message isn’t getting through given what we saw on Birsa’s goal. It was as disgraceful as Coulibaly’s foul call was later that took the US winner off the board.

But here’s the difference. Any media at that game, once it was over, had the chance to take American players to task for what happened on Birsa’s goal should they have seen fit. Questions would have been asked, answers would have been given, and someone probably would have raised their hand and noted, “I should have been better there.”

We’ll never see that from Coulibaly, who robbed the US of two points right out from under their noses, brazenly whistling a foul that through all replays I’ve seen simply didn’t exist. Coulibaly has no requirement to explain his decision, and all FIFA can do is fast-track his departure from the tournament, which would speak volumes. The lack of accountability is the most disturbing part of this to me, not being able to ever know what the actual hell was going through Coulibaly’s mind when he put whistle to mouth and at the time, seemingly fractured the United States’ chances at advancing to the last 16.

Still pissed? Yep. But is it a big deal now? Maybe not. Algeria’s inspired effort to earn a point vs. England in a 0-0 draw turned Group C on its head yet again. England have a nice collection of players, but no idea how to play together. Sometimes, they’ll do well because one of those quality players will impose their will on the match and make plays that the other team simply can’t stop. But England’s stars offered nothing of that nature today, and perhaps their most highly regarded player, Wayne Rooney, was more likely to turn up as a target on Ghost Adventures.

Speaking of quality, if I had to make a Best XI for this World Cup right now, Algeria’s Nadir Belhadj would be in that group somewhere.

Algeria’s point keeps them very much in the race to advance, and they will be no pushover for the US on Wednesday when Group C concludes – while England plays leaders Slovenia. The US controls its own destiny: Win and their in. They could even advance with a tie. The first goal at a World Cup is to enter the final group game having either advanced or to control your own destiny to move on, and the US has that. They’ve rode their luck a bit at times (thanks, Robert Green), and had luck slam the door in its face at times (thanks, Coulibaly). So, maybe, as pissed as we all are right now, they are right where they are supposed to be.

But there are serious problems in the defense and with efforts to start games that coach Bob Bradley must somehow address between now and Wednesday. These can’t be overshadowed by Coulibaly’s howler. Bradley has a test now to refocus his players and get them ready for an Algeria team Wednesday that won’t be easy to beat. And the way the Americans are defending right now, no team is easy to beat.

* Serbia shocked Germany this morning, 1-0, getting a goal from Milan Jovanovic in the 38th minute, then a penalty save from Vladimir Stojkovic on Lukas Podolski with about a half-hour to go. Serbia held on and suddenly, the team I and many others had declared the best in the tournament so far, Germany, suffered its first group play loss in a World Cup since 1986. The Germans face Ghana, no easy task, to end group play. Ghana takes on Australia tomorrow (10 a.m. Eastern kickoff) and could take control of the group with a win that would put them on 6 points. Stunning.

Today’s game was soured by the 9 cards handed out by referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco, many of them early when he seemed to be trying to take control of a game that didn’t really require that kind of babysitting.

The early kick tomorrow is Holland-Japan; with Cameroon-Denmark on tap for the afternoon. Enjoy the games, and let’s hope the men in the middle do a better job. Back tomorrow evening with the recap.

SATURDAY’S PREDICTIONS:
Holland 2-1 Japan
Ghana 2-0 Australia
Cameroon 1-0 Denmark

Today’s Record: 0-3.
Tournament Record: 10-13.

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6 thoughts on “World Cup 2010 ( Day 8 ) : Foul Play …

  1. I watched and paused the play through my DVR, and there is ONE U.S. player actually throwing his marker to the ground as the play progressed, and that was Bocanegra. However there were two other Americans being held like girls in slow dance in that same play. Under those circumstances, the right thing to do (and that is what most referees would do), they would whistle the play dead, admonish all players in the area, maybe apply yellow cards if they keep at it, and retry the free kick. I guess a bad and nervous referee like Mr. Coulibaly does not have the stones to even do this..

  2. WorldCupRene, the only reason Bocanegra even had a finger on his marker was because THAT guy was in the process of bear hugging HIM to the ground. Absolutely disgraceful refereeing in two of the three games yesterday. I’m absolutely astonished and bewildered.

  3. It was disheartening to say the least. IMO, what happened yesterday was also one of the primary disconnects between Americans and the sport of soccer. These far-too-common instances where the laws of the game are either misapplied or not applied at all and then wallpapered over with no true accountability would simply not fly in any of our sports. And it doesn’t just happen to us either.

  4. Look at the silver lining. The good thing about this bad call is that -if the people I know are any indication- it got Americans who never talk about soccer to talk about soccer.

  5. In 2 of the 3 goals allowed, it appears that it’s been Onyewu who fails to close the space on the ball holder. All this time, many of us wondered if he would be match fit, justifiably assuming he’d be mentally sharp. Hopefully now all the cobwebs from being shelved for 8 months are gone and we’ll see him be the dominant center-back we know he is.

    The other defensive issue is who should play with Michael Bradley? Clark, Torres, and Edu have all auditioned and all were serviceable, but sometimes were overpowered or careless. All three players though are quality guys, and their shortcomings might come from the 4-4-2 — it doesn’t seem to be working on both sides of play. The 4-5-1 has proven effective time and again with this crew. If Bradley doesn’t adjust his first half formation against Algeria, I expect to see another first half goal.

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