Friday, June 18, 2010

Robbed! Slovenia and Mali Tie U.S. 2-2 at World Cup

If you went to Wikipedia immediately after today's match between the U.S. and Slovenia and searched "Mali" here is what you found:
Mali, officially the Republic of Mali (French: République du Mali), is a landlocked country in Western Africa that is known for horrible football referees. 

The setting was Ellis Park, Johannesburg for each team's second match in Group C.  The Yanks tied their first match with England 1-1, while Slovenia defeated Algeria 1-0.  Both teams' goals were a result of goaltending mistakes that one is unlikely to see at the local high school game--one of the few things the World Cup's largest and smallest nations had in common coming into today's fixture.

With three points already in the books from their win over Algeria, it was widely expected that Slovenia would play conservatively and be very happy with a draw.  Having given up only six goals in their twelve qualifying matches the U.S. would have to seize on any scoring opportunities they created.

In what has become a disturbing trend the U.S. gave up an early goal to go down 1-0.  Valter Birsa found himself unmarked 25 yards from goal in the center of the pitch and ripped a curling left-footed shot past keeper Tim Howard, who never moved.  Thirteen minutes in and it was 1-0 Slovenia.  The goal was well-deserved as Slovenia was the more dangerous side and had the better of the play.  That changed around the half-hour as the U.S. settled down and started string passes together, creating multiple dangerous chances.  But, foreshadowing what was to come, the U.S.'s Robbie Findley was given a yellow card in the 40th minute.  Landon Donovan took a corner and drove a dangerous ball into the box.  It actually struck Findley in the face and landed dangerously in front of goal.  Malian referee Koman Coulibably blew his whistle calling a hand-ball on Findley and also showing him a yellow card.  It was a terrible decision and being his second yellow card of the tournament, Findley will be suspended for the next match against Algeria.

Minutes later and against the run of play Slovenia made it 2-0.  Throughout the half the American defenders had failed to track runners and this time they were made to pay.  Zlatan Ljubijankic timed his run perfectly.  He took a beautifully weighted thru ball from Milivoje Novakovic and slid it under the on-rushing Howard.  2-0 going to half.  It was a poor showing by the U.S. after a solid second forty-five minutes against England.  The team has recorded only one shutout in the twenty-one World Cup matches since defeating the Brits 1-0 in 1950 and the defensive shortcomings in this team have been exposed repeatedly.  The side certainly appeared to be on its way to being effectively eliminated from the World Cup.

The start of the second half saw two lineup changes as Maurice Edu came on for Jose Torres and Benny Feilhaber replaced Findley.  Immediately the Yanks played better, attacking with the desperation a 2-0 deficit produces.  Three minutes after intermission Landon Donovan got one back.  A long ball by right back Steve Cherundolo skipped past a defender and Donovan dribbled in from a bad angle on the right side.  Having no one available in front, he ripped a shot over the Serbian goalie's head into the roof of the net from a few yards out.  It was a great strike by Donovan and it reinvigorated the team and the many Americans in the crowd.

The U.S kept the pressure on and Slovenian defenders collected three yellow cards in the space of six minutes.  Eight minutes from time Michael Bradley got the equalizer.  Donovan again was at the center of the build-up.  He played a long cross from just inside the midfield line on the right side to Jozy Altidore at the top of the 18 yard box. Altidore headed the ball down and Michael Bradley, the coach's son, drilled a right-footed shot over the goalie.  It was a fantastic goal and would have provided a fair result if the game were to end 2-2.  (All highlights are here.)

But a few minutes from the end the U.S. got a great opportunity and appeared to take a 3-2 lead.  Maurice Edu converted a long free kick from Donovan and the U.S. had apparently completed a stunning comeback.  It was not to be.  Inexplicably Coulibably blew his whistle calling a foul on the Yanks and disallowing the goal.  Countless replays have shown not only that Edu was onside, but also that the Slovenians, not the U.S., committed three or four fouls on the play, any one of which could have resulted in a penalty shot for the Americans.  It was a stunningly bad call.  No explanation has yet been given as to who committed the foul.  British Premier League coach Roberto Martinez called it "a real football injustice."  Former national team player Alexi Lalas called the referee's performance a disgrace.  The final few minutes were played without incident and it ended level at two.

I have pointed out that the refereeing thus far in the World Cup has been outstanding.  It really has been. Today it wasn't.  The Malian, working his first-ever World Cup match, was inconsistent and his calls seemed to disadvantage the U.S. at the most important moments.  There is no excuse for the Americans' poor first half play, but they were robbed of  a victory they had earned with a superlative second half effort.

Now everything comes down to the U.S.-Algeria match at 10:00 AM EST on June 23.  Losses the past two days by Spain and Germany have shown anything can happen.  The Americans control their own destiny as a result of England's just completed 0-0 tie with Algeria.  A win and the U.S. is on to the round a sixteen.  A draw and an England loss to Slovenia would also put the U.S. through.  Stay tuned.


Dr. Harris said...

The 2-2 draw with Slovenia was a fair result, even though the referee was out of his depth. Few have commented on the fact that Clint Dempsey should have earned a red card in the opening seconds of the game when he committed a flagrant and foolish foul (elbow to the head) on a aerial challenge. By all rights, the US should have been playing with ten men for the whole game. Dempsey's inexcusable mental mistake was indicative of how the US played for most of the first half. Once again, they were not well-prepared for the demands of playing on te world stage, and I blame Bob Bradley for this. My feeling is that they were very fortunate to get a draw, and we can only hope that they play with more poise and maturity next week.

Maxnome said...

Respectful disagreement with Dr. Harris: The purpose of referee-ing is not to work some kind of overall game fairness or just outcome; it's to call each shot as objectively as humanly possible. In that task, the referee failed miserably.

Dr. Harris said...

Maxnome, I think you missed my point: Americans are much too quick to whine and cry about referees. It happens in every sport, all the time; we seem obsessed with it. Those people who enforce the rules -- umpires, officials, referees -- are part of the game, just like the weather and the field conditions and injuries and the decisions that players make on the field. Facing and overcoming adversity is part of the game -- why not accept this and move on? This single decision over the nullified goal has received more attention than any other world event over the past 24 hours, and the reason for that is that the US dominates the world's media sources. The rest of the world must be perplexed about what a fuss we are making. Slovenia should be equally outraged that Dempsey did not get ejected in the first minute of the game, but that hasn't been discussed at all. I don't believe that the US deserved to win the game, period. If the team gives up two goals in 45 minutes to lowly Slovenia, they simply don't deserve to win. In any case, win or tie yesterday, the US would probably have to defeat Algeria to move on to the Round of 16. Defeat Algeria, and none of this will matter.

Maxnome said...

Not to belabor the point--which I don't believe I missed--I was trying to separate good referee-ing from whether or not, in some cosmic sense, the U.S. deserved to win. No whining here, we didn't lose the game because of that call. Maybe we would have found the necessary motivation had we been down to ten. Alas, it is what ir is. Nice to visit with you.

The Hammer said...

A full blown controversy on my blog? About time. Dr. Harris I have to take issue with your point that the U.S. dominates the world's media sources. I'm sure every outlet in the UK, Germany, Brazil and every other country would like to take issue with you as well.

While I understand your soccer points and agree with some, the referee made an egregiously bad call on the disallowed goal. While it is certainly correct that Dempsey could and most likely should have gotten a card, he did call a foul. On the disallowed goal he not only called a phantom foul, he missed three others committed by Slovenia.

Calling Slovenia "lowly" is opinion and pejorative in my view. They played well and deserved their lead. That doesn't in anyway mean the U.S. didn't deserve to win the match. The world isn't "perplexed about what a fuss we are making." Instead they are making as big a fuss themselves about terrible refereeing.

HK said...

In a weird way, I think the bad call helped US soccer as a whole. I do believe the goal call was awful and I agree with Dr. Harris about the Dempsey foul, but all this rage, pain, suffering or whatever your emotion is at the moment is exactly what football (soccer) is all about. I think it was about time the US FEELS the game, not watch it, read it or talk about it: feel it. Football is about emotions, not just about scoring, winning or losing. For the first time the US is getting a taste of what real football passion is all about. Even if it's a sour taste, it is good for US football overall. Now the team and the country will be focused and when they beat Argelia the taste of victory will be so much sweeter.

pinto said...

I grew up in Madrid down the street from el bernabeu and can guarantee you that an improperly disallowed goal in the 88th minute of a major cup match like this one would, if it had happened to the furia roja, would not only dominate the airwaves, it would be the ONLY think spaniards would be talking about in their homes, workplaces, bars, schools, you name it. A disallowed goal in soccer is very different than a missed call. The ball went in the net, a goal was scored - one of the hardest things to do in sports (yes, much harder than hitting a nuckler) was achieved gloriously, and then ripped away. Every spaniard would be shouting from the rooftop and by now we likely would have the Spanish government very publicly asking for the refs head and accusing Sepp of traitorous indifference to the beauty and justice of the game. That is soccer - all is personal and on the world cup stage, a nation rises to defend itself together against all opponents, as well as complain, vent, drink, sleep and get up and do it again until July 11th. I would love to see our nation step into that beautiful childish, emotional and self-important fray that is international soccer and FIFA.

My two cents: we were robbbed, so let's use that motivation and kick some north African booty (my family is from morocco, so doubly interested in romping on the Algerian....).