Football / World Cup USA '94: World Cup Diary

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The Independent Online
IT has been a bad week for referees, the traditional fall guys for disgruntled players and coaches when the knock-out stages of the World Cup come around.

There was Switzerland's Kurt Rothlisberger admitting to erring in not awarding Belgium a penalty against Germany; the Mexican, Arturo Brizio Carter, harshly sending off Italy's Gianfranco Zola and Jamal Al-Sharif of Syria ejecting Bulgaria's Emil Kremenliev. The last one seemed less of an error, as Kremenliev was, after all, tugging an opponent's shirt having already been shown a yellow card.

It is ever the case that mistakes are seized upon; in that, referees equate with goalkeepers as they have no immediate chance to atone. There is, too, another human factor involved. At this stage, referees are keen to impress their masters at Fifa, with the prospect of being awarded the final in the back of their minds.

But far from spoiling this World Cup, the referees have contributed to it being one of the more memorable, attacking tournaments. Their more energetic implementing of Fifa fair-play guidelines concerning the tackle from behind and players diving and feigning injuries - now to be adopted by the English game - have largely enabled matches to flow to some thrilling effect.

Of more concern should be some of the linesmanship. Fifa sought to improve matters by employing specialists, but referees are again being pressed into service in some circumstances. And the infuriating flag-happy mentality favouring defenders can prevail. There has been some good use of the not-interfering interpretation but more bad.

Still, this remains a game about players - rather than officials - and their relationship with spectators, and Fifa have done the spadework in cementing it, even if it still needs topping out.

THERE is a curious media manipulation that goes on at this World Cup in the land of the free press. Even before the tournament, Fifa met with television powers to tell them what they did and didn't want to see, albeit mostly harmless points about not too many action replays interrupting live coverage.

And in Boston last week, a Fifa official interjected: 'We don't want questions on referees, thank you,' as the Nigerian coach, Clemens Westerhof, was about to talk about the officiating in the match against Italy. The open Westerhof carried on regardless.

Then there are some odd translations, mostly in the form of a banal precis of players' and managers' comments into English. A typically sanitised one from an animated coach, after a long answer, often goes: 'The opposition was a very strong team but we played a nice game.'

Take this stream, apparently from Berti Vogts: 'We planned to really combine and use the short pass to position the forwards. In the Holland game, we saw spots in preparation for the World Cup. We beat Belgium two times, that helps our combinations.'

Surely there is nothing conspiratorial in all this. This diary is more a subscriber to the cock-up theory.

ONE Chicago columnist, Mitchell May of the Tribune, has hit upon the real reason why football has never really taken off in the United States: 'It's because there are no decent soccer movies,' he writes.

'It's not that we're xenophobes afraid of the unfamiliar lurking off our shores, we just haven't been fed the appropriate myths to fuel a passion for soccer. Give us Wesley Snipes in The Pele Story. Give us Keanu Reeves saving a busload of soccer players from a mad bomber. Give us Marisa Tomei passing to Halle Berry, who kicks the ball past Joan Chen to win the big game in A World Cup Of Their Own.'

And how about Danny De Vito in The Diego Maradona Story; Roger Moore as Geoff Hurst in Looking for Mr Crossbar; Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson in Scoreless in Seattle? Or Sylvester Stallone in Escape to Victory? No: too ridiculous.

A PROVISIONAL rating shows that the Brazil v United States match was watched in the US by 32 million people, some 7 million more than saw England v Germany four years ago on BBC. While that was half the population, this represents about one seventh, still equating to a good audience for, say, a live FA Cup tie. Not bad for an uninterested population.

NEATLY observed: ESPN commentator Ty Keough, noting that a remote TV camera was being used briefly to support the sagging net after a stanchion had collapsed in Mexico v Bulgaria, said: 'So sports does need television after all.'