Tuesday, June 22, 2010


World Cup: Germany, Italy Wobble, Saudi Ref Bobbles

By Wayne Robins

Finally, teams other than Germany, which dismantled Australia 4-0 last week, have begun scoring goals. Regrettably and possibly tragically for Germany , one of those other teams was Serbia. In a variation on the reenactment to the roll up of World War I, Serbia fired the shot heard around the football world, beating “archrival” Germany 1-0 June 18. My German friend, on whose behalf I actively root for the Nationalmannschaft, texted me that sad morning about calling his therapist to discuss this psychic and spiritual emergency. It is one of the wonders of the World Cup competition is that his current emotional equilibrium and perhaps future happiness depend in some part on Germany’s match Wednesday, June 23, against a Ghana squad that itself was shockingly tied by underdog Australia.

North Korea’s reason to be cheerful on the world stage is over, after being annihilated 7-0 by a pitiless and perhaps manic Portugal, an especially stunning result since the score was nil-nil after 28 minutes. In a similarly overwhelming defeat possible only by the relativist measure of international soccer, one of the weaker teams in the tournament, New Zealand, crushed defending world champions Italy by a final score of 1-1. The result was celebrated with exuberance by the Kiwis faithful and mourned with heartbroken severity by Italian faithful.
Chile and Switzerland was 0-0 after the first half of a match that may have been decided by the clueless Saudi Arabian referee. I will leave to the Ross Douthat’s of the planet the opportunity to frame this debacle in terms of repressive radical Islam vs. the West. But it must be said that the referee’s judgments did seem somewhat…fundamentalist? The man was handing out yellow cards (nine of them) like an overworked blackjack dealer, but his game changing and stomach turning decision was a red card against Switzerland’s Valon Behrami, your quintessential modern footballer: an Albanian raised in Switzerland who plays for West Ham United in the English Premier League and who sports both a multiyear, multimillion pound contract and an Italian model girlfriend.

His red card expulsion gave the advantage to a good Chile team, and forced Switzerland to rely more than usual on its dominating defense. A header by Chile’s Gonzales in the 74th minute was all the scoring needed.

The Saudi referee did call one penalty that deserves applause: He smacked Chile’s Valdivia with a yellow card in extra time for “play-acting”: making believe he was fouled hard, rolling around on the ground and holding his head, trying to get the ref to call a foul on an opposing player. This kind of mediocre acting has been on display in every game of the World Cup: It’s a tough judgment call and it’s not often called, but in this case, Valdivia definitely hammed it up too much, and we’re not talking West Ham. Perhaps the Saudi ref has seen Valdivia pull this before: the Chilean, according to an often accurate (but not always) Web site, plays for Al-Ain, a popular and successful club team from the United Arab Emirates.

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