Today is “Football Day” on aliens and strangers. Welcome to my scattered thoughts on the game of soccer.
Cable in Tanzania
Christie and I have owned a TV and DVD player the entire time we’ve been in our house here in Geita, but we’d never had cable, satellite hook-ups, or the like. Prior to the start of the World Cup, I had inquired at the cable company here in Geita about installation and pricing. The monthly fee of $10 wasn’t bad, but installation at $100 was more than I was willing to pay. Three days after the World Cup began, though, we discovered that our Tanzanian neighbors were having cable installed at their house. [Did I mention the World Cup is really big here?] Because we’re neighbors, and the cable company was able to use one wire to feed both our houses, the price of my installation dropped to $55. So we did it. I am really excited about it, too, let me tell you. [I had figured that, without cable, I definitely would have considered a drive to Mwanza to watch any US match beyond group play -- and the championship game. The diesel for a trip to Mwanza, two tickets to put the truck on a ferry, and a meal at Tilapia, where I enjoy watching matches, would have cost around $100. So I figure I'm making 45 bucks by installing cable...]
Living in Tanzania allows us to watch the World Cup matches at decent hours. The USA match started yesterday at 5:00 pm here. I know many of you are jealous. As well you should be. For us, watching football doesn’t involve playing hooky from work.
I can’t remember the last time I saw the US team play well in the beginning of a match. And I’m thinking back years, not months. That being said, I appreciate a great deal that our team never gives up, playing hard to the end of every match. We’ve been in every game I’ve seen us play in recent years. I was especially happy with Italy having to play us for a tie in the last World Cup. [Can I pause to tell you how much I dislike the Italian soccer side -- bunch of divers, divas, and complaining whiners who play for ties and desire nothing more than to win matches in PKs?]
The Third Goal Controversy
And the third goal the US scored last night to put them ahead of Slovenia with only four minutes remaining in play — how about that whistle being blown? A clean goal disallowed. Here’s a video in case you didn’t catch it:
My thoughts on the situation are that many people are (wrongly) leaning to either one extreme or the other:
1. ”The US deserve to lose or tie. Who cares about a third goal that should have counted – the Americans should stop whining; it’s their own fault they didn’t play well the entire first half. Stop blaming the referees.” [This is generally a European take on the match -- Europeans if you don't know, need to put the US down when it comes to football and politics, because it's all they've got on us. If we pass them in "their own" sport, bad things will happen -- the US would rule the world. And that means European men would stop wearing capri pants, their women would start shaving their pits, and the Euro would drop like a brick -- wait... one of those is already happening. I hope the other two follow shortly.]
This line of thinking makes no sense whatsoever. If you don’t start a game well, or if you miss opportunities to score goals (or to defend against them), the referees are no longer responsible for calling a fair match? Only teams who play up to, or above, their potential deserve decent referees and accurate calls? That’s a bunch of crap. This is what haters say, because they enjoy watching the US fail. No fan of the game would ever say this if it were his own team hurt by poor refereeing. And no honest and objective fan of the game would say this… ever.
2. ”The whole world is out to get the US. All the referees are against us. The match was rigged; they always are.” [Generally, this is the American take on things. If we're not champions of the universe in every sport, we were obviously wronged. It doesn't matter that our best athletes don't play soccer, that our soccer programs are funded at a much lower level than most other big sports, and that our lower-level coaching in general is probably sub-par. We believe a British accent equals soccer knowledge and skill.]
While I’ll give you that most of the world IS against US success in football, we shouldn’t jump to this conclusion every time there’s a bad call. Bad calls are a part of sports — it’s either that or hours of referees standing under black sheets watching replays. Soccer’s not a game of timeouts; we don’t want that. Referees make mistakes. A ref may be inexperienced (more on this in a bit), but I doubt there are many referees willing to put their jobs and reputations on the line just to make a bad call against a US side. [Or a German side -- did you see the call on Klose?]
No, what happened was poor refereeing. [Warning: I'm about to spew a great deal of conjecture, speculation, and personal opinion.] Koman Coulibaly (or is it Coulibalu) is from Mali and, I would assume, has never reffed anywhere close to the level of World Cup matches. I’m sure he does a great job in some Malian “professional” league, and he’s probably called many a match between Mali and Niger, Burkina Faso, or Algeria (our next opponent). But these are not high level matches.
Let me use my current home of Tanzania as an example. A few months ago I was able to watch Tanzania and Uganda play (for about $4). While still fun to watch, these are not respected football teams, nor was there anything important riding on that match. A few weeks ago, Brazil came to play the Tanzanian side; they are an extremely high-level football club. BUT, Tanzania has no chance of winning that match, regardless of how good or bad the referees are. My guess is Malian Coulibaly’s experience is limited to matches similar to these.
I think we have a case of an experienced, but lower tier, referee deciding one of the 40 most important matches in the world. I’ll bet Coulibaly had his whistle in his mouth, expecting a foul, and blew it prematurely. It seems clear to me that, if there was a foul, it was committed by a Slovenian player. Generally, it’s become acceptable (something I deplore) for defenders to push, pull, and grab a great deal on set pieces in front of their own goal. But if the call were on a Slovenian defender, there would have / should have been a penalty kick. Coulibaly blew his whistle on accident because his inexperience allowed the pressure of a big match to get to him.*
I assume the World Cup Committee (or whatever they’re called) want to get refs from all over the world, so as to show no biases. Herein lies the problem: They can choose between having the best and most experienced referees in the world OR having refs from a number of nations, allowing some smaller and lesser-respected football countries to be represented. They can’t have both. I’d love to see a really diverse group of officials, but that’s not the option I choose if I’m in charge. Get the best referees in the world for the most watched sporting event in the world.
* I’m not suggesting there is no such thing as bribery and corruption in Africa. The two are very well-known here. But I don’t think that’s what happened — nor do I think we should jump to conclusions like this. It makes us sound like a bunch of whiny Italians…
Maradona and Messi
Just because it was interesting to me, I want include this unrelated video. [I saw it first on this blog.] While Maradona’s “Goal of the Century” was scored on a much bigger stage (World Cup semi-finals vs. England), there are some pretty amazing similarities between it and Lionel Messi’s long and winding run to score against a lesser known Spanish club. Both Argentineans took 13 touches in 13 seconds to weave through six opponents and score from nearly the same spot on the field. Have a watch:
I’m not a Maradona fan, though I greatly respect the skills he once had. It’s integrity that I believe he lacks. And I think Argentina would be better off without him at the helm.
Later today, several of my Tanzanian friends are coming over to watch the Netherlands / Japan match. I’m cheering for the Netherlands right behind the US. I love their creativity and overall style of play. I enjoy watching any team who plays control and possession, but especially if they do so with artistry and imagination. I’m hoping they really put on a show versus Japan. I’m calling it Netherlands 4, Japan 0.
Michael Bradley as…
Just wondering — does anyone else think Michael Bradley looks a lot like Smallville‘s Lex Luthor on the field?