Monday, June 26, 2006

The Socceroos Deserved Better

Today the Australian Socceroos were knocked out of the world cup in heartbreaking fashion by a questionable penalty kick that was awarded in extra-time. Soccer is a game where the referees have always had a strong influence because scoring is so low that free kicks, penalty kicks and red cards can change the dynamic of a game much more so than a 15 yard penalty in football, a 3 point play in basketball or an inconsistent strike zone in baseball. The referees in this world cup have been terrible. More yellow cards and more red cards have already been issued in this World Cup than any previous. Three games in particular (Italy vs. USA, Holland vs. Portugal & Italy vs. Australia) have been completely ruined by shockingly bad officiating.

Australia entered today's match with Italy as a heavy underdog. In fact, Italy has played in more world cup finals than Australia has matches. Yet, the Socceroos played Italy to standstill for 90+ minutes. However, in extra time Italy's Fabio Grosso made a great move to advance the ball past the last sliding Australian defender, Lucas Neill, just outside of the keepers 6 yard box. Rather than attempt to score from a very dangerous position with only the Australian keeper left to beat, Grosso intentionally tripped himself over Neill who was still on the ground. Italy was awarded a penalty kick, Francesco Totti scored the winner and 12 seconds later Australia's Cinderella World Cup run was over. As hard as Australia played they deserved the chance to take Italy on in overtime. I think Italy would have ultimately won the match but Australia deserved the chance to prove that these games aren't played on paper. Furthermore, I think it is totally pathetic that Grosso would rather play for penalty than take such a good chance!

I've really enjoyed watching the World Cup this year but I have two suggestions to help the referees that I think would improve play dramatically. First I would have a neutral panel review all game film and award yellow cards after the match for all flops. Flopping ruins the flow of the game, its annoying to watch and makes the referees job much harder. Over time, post-match yellow cards would lead to more suspensions and thus create strong incentive for players to stay on their feet and play through ticky-tacky fouls. Second, I would create an instant replay for controversial calls. If implemented incorrectly replay could seriously disrupt the match's flow so here is how I would set it up to keep things moving:
  • Each manager can only call for 1 replay per match
  • Neutral officials in the "booth" can call for a replay at any time
  • The officials in the "booth" have 90 seconds to review the play and make a decision
  • The referees on the field are not involved in the replay decision
It just isn't fun to watch the referees take the game away from the players on the pitch.

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