Disbelief: American Clint Dempsey challenges World Cup referee

Koman Coulibaly, after the wining goal of the match with Slovenia

was inexplicably ruled illegal, June 18.



Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Germany

In U.S. and Germany, Shared Derision Over World Cup Referees


Is there a problem with the officiating at the FIFA World Cup? After the Americans were inexplicably denied the winning goal against Slovenia by a Malian referee and Germany lost against Serbia due to the peculiarities of a Spanish official, Thomas Hummel of Gemany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung sheds some light on whether there's more to the controversy than just the usual frustration.


By Thomas Hummel


Translated By Ulf Behncke


June 19, 2010


Germany - Sueddeutsche Zeitung - Original Article (German)

Referee Alberto Undiano of Spain hands out yet another yellow card during Germany's match against Serbia.


BBC NEWS VIDEO: Unhappy England fans bemoan performance of their team, 00:01:53, June 19RealVideo

Johannesburg: Even before U.S. players emerged from their changing room, their journalists were looking for answers. In the press tent at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, some approached our colleagues from traditional football countries in Europe, because surely they would know: "Excuse me, can you tell me what exactly it was the referee called?" Unfortunately, neither English nor Germans nor in fact anyone from the traditional football states had an answer to that question. The call by Koman Coulibaly from Mali was unfathomable.


At 86 minutes, Landon Donovan put a free kick into the penalty area, from where Maurice Edu, who appeared totally unguarded at the back post, scored the 3:2 goal for the United States. But then Coulibaly whistled and called a free kick for Slovenia. "On the field we asked him numerous times what it was or who it was on," Donovan said later, "but he ignored us or didn’t understand." Whether out of ignorance or because Coulibaly quite possibly doesn't understand English, Donovan couldn’t say.


Did he see an offside where there was none? Or foul play in the penalty box during the ubiquitous scramble - which didn’t happen either? There will be no answer. The FIFA World Federation has banned its referees from commenting on decisions on the pitch. "As far as games are concerned, we're generally not allowed to comment," German representative Wolfgang Stark said before the tournament. He had just received an e-mail from FIFA stating that all interviews had to be completed prior to his arrival in South Africa.


Which is why German players and fans won't receive an answer from Alberto Undiano. The Spanish referee was the target of harsh criticism from both the public and so-called experts after the DFB-Eleven's 0:1 loss to Serbia. The focus was on the brisk handing out of nine yellow cards, which led to Miroslav Klose being sent off with a second yellow-red card all within the first half hour. “It’s no fun playing football anymore if you can’t do anything on the field without being immediately yellow-carded. I’ve never seen anything like it,” complained Bastian Schweinsteiger on behalf of the Germans and capturing the mood in the German locker room.


In the Stuttgarter Nachrichten, Bundesliga referee Knut Kircher called Undiano a “card player without a personality.” Meanwhile Franz Beckenbauer expressed his dislike in his own unique way: “If send-offs like this set a precedent, we may as well stop playing football.” The fans, meanwhile, let off steam on one of many Internet sites, with Facebook and Twitter even blocking sites because the insults had become just a little too harsh.




It took about a week during this World Cup for indignation with the referees to appear. Up to then, it was only South African coach Carlos Alberto Parreira who had complained about Swiss referee Massimo Bussacca, but that was taken as just a diversion after Switzerland's 0:3 defeat against Uruguay. Other than that, referees had been receiving fairly high assessments, for example from the head of the newly-set up Referees Committee of the German Football Federation, Herbert Fandel.


"By and large, one can be very, very pleased," Fandel said. However, he had noticed even before Friday’s matches that his colleagues, "were directed to set a high standard right from the beginning. They were of course then at pains to make very accurate calls. This can always be seen at the beginning of such a tournament.”  



And so the accusation is in the air that the German team should have adapted their play to the petty calling of Alberto Undiano. He had warned even before the game, after all, that he was “intent on commanding respect from the very first minute.”



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Although Undiano's issuance of the first yellow card was severe, when considered dispassionately, Miroslav Klose at least should have known from that moment on that he’d have to forgo tripping someone on the center line. Especially since at the same time, Klose kept playing unnecessarily and took a shot on goal, despite the referee’s whistle. His yellow-red card was a harsh decision, yet utterly consistent as far Undiano was concerned. Even Germany’s highest authority on football, Franz Beckenbauer had to acknowledge: “Admittedly, this referee is known for making petty calls. You have to know that and as a result, one should know not to go in there like that.”


While at least Undiano enjoys a reputation as the best referee in Spain's Primera Division, the case of Coulibaly in the USA-Slovenia game will re-kindle a debate that occurs at every World Cup, and which is as certain as debate over the English goalkeeper [Robert Green, who gave up a goal against the Americans]. “It was his first game at this level, so perhaps he was a bit overwhelmed,” Donovan speculated after the 2:2 draw with Slovenia.


For the World Cup, FIFA generally nominates only one referee per country. As a result, many hardened referees from the Champions League have to stay at home. On the other hand, this is an elegant way of keeping as many member countries as possible in good spirits in the hope they'll tick the right box in the next round of voting. This approach allows countries to participate in the World Cup, something their football players will probably never achieve. Mr. Coulibaly is from Mali; the last group games will be called by referees from the Seychelles or Guatemala.



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