Football: World Cup - Referee goes card crazy

South Africa 1 McCarthy 52 Denmark 1 Nielsen 13 Att: 36,500
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The Independent Online
THE OUTCOME, probably, of Michel Platini's prissy complaint about indulgent refereeing, here was three dismissals, seven other players booked and Denmark down to nine men for the last six minutes of a match that was never even remotely bad-tempered never mind violent. No case can be made for the Colombian referee, John Toro Rendon, who should be put on the first available flight back to Bogota.

After a tepid first half played in 90 degrees, the game developed into a farce when Rendon became pompously card-happy, sending off Miklos Molnar in the 66th minute and levelling things up a minute later with a red card for the South African midfielder Alfred Phiri. Phiri had been on as a substitute from half-time, Molnar had been off the bench for just 12 minutes.

Molnar went for nothing worse than an attempt to free his legs after falling in a tangle with Lucas Radebe, the Leeds United defender. Phiri went after tussling for the ball with Thomas Helveg.

On Wednesday the new Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, instructed the chairman of the referees committee, David Will of Scotland, to do something about offences he had seen that were worthy of a red card. More Fifa meddling, an indictment already of Blatter's stewardship. When another of Denmark's substitutes, Morten Wieghorst, was sent to the dressing-rooms in the 84th minute even the South Africans looked embarrassed.

Denmark hung on (they had only eight men on the field when Michael Schjonberg was briefly off with an injury), surviving the 20-yard shot that Quinton Fortune sent against their crossbar two minutes from time, their coaching staff gesturing disgust with the referee.

"I don't want to get into trouble but only a couple of days ago Sepp Blatter and Platini said that the referees should be taking more action," Brian Laudrup said. "They wanted more action and the action came, unfortunately, in our match. All the players are completely baffled by the referee's decisions."

If Platini and Blatter were watching this match on television they should at least have the grace to admit embarrassment. Violence on the field deserves the most punitive action but the impression conveyed by Rendon's decisions was that Fifa would be quite happy to see a game without any tackling at all. As it is South Africa survive in the tournament and Denmark passed up a chance to secure a place in the second round of matches.

Some things don't change in football - "You don't cling to good players they cling to you," said the late Helmut Schon when coming under fire for including too many of West Germany's old guard for the 1978 World Cup finals. With six of their first-choice players around 30 years and over, Denmark are among the oldest teams in the competition and began to wilt in the heat and humidity after the Tottenham forward Allan Nielsen gave them the lead after 13 minutes. Brian Laudrup's surges along both flanks had South Africa in further trouble and only the posts saved them from going three down by half-time.

South Africa's lively attacking play with Benedict McCarthy showing why, at 20, he is a target for a number of leading clubs in European football, did not bring the opportunities expected from them against a heavy-legged Danish defence.

Denmark's policy was to conserve energy in the conditions, allowing South Africa to advance towards their penalty area before moving in to make decisive interceptions. All this changed in the second half when some spirited and skilful raiding by South Africa, particularly by McCarthy, got them back into the game.

Another cumbersome attempt to keep South Africa out led to an opening for McCarthy who moved between two men before planting the ball past Peter Schmeichel. Rendon was now in full flow with his bookings and the players inevitably became frustrated, both teams guilty of defensive errors especially in covering.

After Michael Laudrup was substituted, it was left to Brian, to carry out most of Denmark's counter-attacks when they pulled the players back in an attempt to contain South Africa. A draw was about right, giving South Africa some hope of progression, but the match will be remembered for the worst display of refereeing so far in these finals.

SOUTH AFRICA: Vonk (Heerenveen), Fish (Bolton Wanderers), Issa (Marseilles), Nyathi (St Gallen), Radebe (Leeds United), Fortune (Atletico Madrid), Mkhalele (Kayerispor), Moshoeu (Fenerbahce) Augustine (Lask Linz), Bartlett (Capetown Spurs), McCarthy (Ajax). Substitutes: Phiri (Vanspor) for Augustine, 46; Masinga (Bari) for Bartlett, 79.

DENMARK: Schmeichel (Manchester United), Colding (Brondby), Hogh (Fenerbahce), Rieper (Celtic), Helveg (Udinese), Martin Jorgensen (Udinese), Allan Nielsen (Tottenham Hotspur), Schjonberg (Kaiserslautern), B Laudrup (Chelsea), M Laudrup (Ajax), Sand (Brondby). Substitutes: Heintze (Bayer Leverkusen) for M Laudrup, 58; Molnar (FC Seville) for Sand, 58; Wieghorst (Celtic) for Schjonberg, 82.

Referee: John Toro Rendon (Colombia).