I’m not into blaming referees, umpires and officials for teams losing games. Not at all. For example, in the 1985 World Series, the Cardinals did not lose to the Royals because of umpire Don Denkinger’s missed call at first base. No way. The Royals played better, were a slightly better team, and blew the Cardinals away in Game Seven to take the 1-70 World Series. The Cardinals had plenty of opportunities to win the Series, but couldn’t. Denkinger made a mistake, but the Cardinals’ failure to win the series was not his fault.
But today, June 18, 2010 I have must say, unequivocally, that World Cup referee Koman Coulibaly alone was responsible for altering the course of a game, and perhaps the destiny of a team. The US Men’s National team, having gone done 2-0 at halftime to a spirited Slovenian squad, came back in grand fashion on wonderfully skilled goals by Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley. In the 85th minute, second half sub Maurice Edu, already famous for his Old Firm goal for Rangers earlier this season, netted for the US to take a 3-2 game and probably the victory. Coulibaly, curiously though, disallowed the goal for reasons no one can adequately explain. And the US’ braveheart comeback ended in a draw instead of a historical triumph. One point was shared by each team, instead of the US getting all three. The referee’s decision didn’t allow much time for the US to complete their improbable comeback. When will FIFA wake up and allow review of controversial calls? I thought the World Cup was important. Surely, there is a reasonable method to overrule mistakes made by officials. The disallowance of Edu’s goal was a travesty of justice and fair play.
The Green Dragons of Slovenia took an early lead in the contest, as midfielder Valter Birsa found an opening in the US defense and launched a shot that sailed by American keeper Tim Howard, who was screened on the shot by American defender Oguchi Onyewu. Those of us who feared a letdown by the US after their emotional draw with England last Saturday found those fears come true, as Slovenia added a second goal on a counterattack as forward Zlatan Ljubijankic three minutes before intermission. Although the US team did not look outclassed, they were down 2-0, and everyone wondered what the US could do in the second half.
US Coach Bob Bradley made changes at halftime, and they worked. He brought on substitutes Maurice Edu and Benny Feilhaber for Jose Torres and Robbie Findley as the second half started. The US needed a goal quickly, and Landon Donovan responded, taking advantage of a defender’s slip to bore down on goal and shoot powerfully over keeper Samir Handanovic to get the US on the board. Brilliant. Coach Bradley substituted forward Herculez Gomez, a potent poacher, in for defender Oguchi Onyewu in the 80th minute, a courageous move that provided dividends two minutes later when Gomez took a defender with him inside the box, leaving midfielder Michael Bradley to level the score with a beautifully handled ball from a Jozy Altidore header.
Three minutes later, Edu apparently scored as the Ellis Park crowd went wild. Unfortunately, Mr. Coulibaly saw things differently, and the US got only one point instead of the three they deserved. Thanks to England’s non-performance against the defensively poised Algerian squad late in the afternoon, the US finds its fate in its own hands, as a victory over Algeria next Wednesday at 9:00 am CDT will put the US through to the next round. England face Slovenia at the same time. All four teams in Group C still have a chance to move onwards in the tournament. Wednesday will be an exciting day. The US cannot keep conceding early goals in these crucial games, but that’s the subject for another day. A salute to the players and coach for an exciting effort today.