First order of business - congratulations to Costa Rica! And, Mexico, I guess. CONCACAF has gone undefeated and untied a little longer than I would have thought. Hope it won't be us that ruins the streak.
I have not to come to praise Yuichi Nishimura, nor has anyone else. Two days ago he, according to the consensus of observers, erred in calling a foul on Croatian defender Dejan Lovren instead of giving a yellow card to Drop Dead Fred (RIP Rik Mayall (although that's not the role to remember him for)).
Which, you know...maybe? Lovren put his hand on Fred's shoulder in the penalty area in the second half of a close, important game. To paraphrase Strother Martin in "Cool Hand Luke," what did he think that was gonna get him? But, Fred did fall fairly easily. And, since this is the first time something like this has ever happened in the sport, let alone in the World Cup, coaches, reporters, players and fans were horrified. Imagine if someone ever hits the ball with their hand!
There are a couple of problematic issues here. First, on the refereeing level. It's not fair to ask every referee in the world to be as good as Mark Geiger. Maybe it would be nice if the sport could afford professional referees, but there aren't enough games or leagues to justify that kind of phenomenal expense. And where is FIFA going to get that kind of money?
Oh, remember how we all blasted Sepp Blatter for saying criticism of the Qatar World Cup bid was motivated by racism? Well, there's some of this here. I'm not saying all the critics are racist, I'm saying there's been some. And I'm not comfortable with the idea that only UEFA referees are at the level to handle the World Cup. It was a UEFA referee, after all, that allowed Nigel de Jong to channel Bruce Lee in the 2010 final.
Hey, speaking of non-calls. Does anyone see a problem with every close call leading to a chorus of accusations of incompetence, malfeasance, or both? All we're doing by calling for Da Lench Mob is making sure that referees won't make that kind of close call.
Well, great, let 'em play, you might say. Referees only slow the game down. Let the match flow.
Except that's not what happens in games. Defenders (and midfielders) (and forwards) can have a green light to mow down opponents. Talented forwards (and midfielders) (and defenders) can have the opportunity to show their skills. Choose one.
And don't say you're just mad about this one call. If that was it, you'd have gotten over it by now. Fine, if you're Croatian, you can be upset...except this only hurts Croatia if Croatia refuses to move forward. Which will apparently be the case. Croatia went to the press afterwards and complained that Nishimura only spoke to them in Japanese. Like he was supposed to know Croatian. Maybe in the two games you're supposed to and actually need to win, try not giving up two other clear goals.
We interrupt this post for a Muppet News Flash - there will be other bad calls in this tournament. Really bad calls. But why bad non-calls are preferable is baffling to me. If we're going to lose our poopy after every wrong whistle, we won't have any whistles at all by July. And if the final is unwatchable, don't blame Argentina - blame yourselves.
Okay, there will be some corruption in this tournament, if we go by probabilities. We've had a tainted Golden Boot, like in 1994, tainted group games, like in 1982, and tainted champions bought by dictators for propaganda purposes, like 1934 or 1978. It's possible. But we need proof before making those kinds of accusations. If Brazil does win the championship, they shouldn't be lumped in with those who fouled, cheated and bribed their way to winning at home, like in 1966.
Yes, I still remember Koman Coulibaly's name, probably as much as Maurice Edu does. But I didn't call for African refs to be dropped from the tournament. And the US won the group anyway. Another example, out of millions, of how world soccer needs to be more American.
While we're here. Isn't it nice to hear "Enough baseball, here's some more soccer" on ESPN? I remember when Max Bretos was slumming with us calling MLS games with Allen Hopkins.