Friday, July 20, 2007

Not Pretty

Last night's FIFA U-20 semi-final between Argentina and Chile was an example of how naive Canadians still are about the game of football.

To recap: in the 15th minute, with Argentina 1-0 up, Chilean Gary Medel gave a light but petulant kick to Argentina's Gabriel Mercado and deservedly received a red card. The game continued to see a large number of fouls and the Chileans felt that a number of them went against them. The crowd - heavily pro-Chilean and in any case keen to see the ref do something to even up the odds a bit - found this offensive. What they found even more offensive - particularly in the second half - was that what was a foul for the Argentinians was a card for the Chileans.

The papers this morning are saying that the refereeing was "questionable". It wasn't. I was there and the Medel foul happened right in front of me. The ref missed almost nothing. if he was biased against the Chileans it was because they whinged and argued about every call and he lost patience with them and stopped giving them the benefit of the doubt. It was entirely their own fault (and especially ironic when one considers how frequently the Chileans themselves resorted to diving throughout the tournament).

Case in point. In the 77th minute, the Argentines fouled a Chilean player. Instead of taking the free kick, the Chileans surrounded the referee and demanded a card be shown. When Currimilla grabbed the ref's shirt to make his point, the referee - who had been pointedly telling the Chileans all night not to touch him - showed him a yellow card, which resulted in a red since he was already on a yellow for a previous incident. Entirely Chile's fault - had they simply taken the free kick they had been awarded, the game could have proceeded.

The Chilean sections of the crowd more or less lost it at this point. Some harmless stuff got thrown on the field - plastic beer cups, mostly. But I saw at least one coin get tossed from the east stands - I can only assume more was tossed from the west side, where most Chileans were. But - and this is key here - the "neutral" Canadian fans were for the most part booing along lustily with the Chileans not because they thought the call was genuinely unjustified but because they thought they were cheering on the underdog (and telling the ref he was killing off the game). This, frankly, simply goaded on the Chilean fans, many of whom had to be taken out of the stands by police.

The dispersion of policemen in the stands meant that there were probably too few of them near the pitch for the end of the game. Though only three or four were required to protect the officials from the Chilean players and coaching staff who tried to assault them at the final whistle (look, I said it wasn't pretty...), several dozen should have been on hand in the stands over the dressing-room tunnel to stop missiles from being thrown. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, and after waiting vainly on the field for a couple of minute for things to die down, the three policeman and the officials had to make an undignified hands-on-heads scamper into the tunnel.

Blessedly, I missed the post-game fight between Chilean players and police which actually involved the use of handcuffs and, yes - tasers (see here). But frankly, none of it would have happened if the police presence had been used a little more strategically and moved more quickly.

And here's the nub of the problem. Security procedures seemed more suited to an FC game than a major international semi-final. Hell, at TFC games, people throw stuff on the field all the time - it's nodded and winked at as a sign of great fan culture. And it's harmless because no TFC fan is going to deliberately jump out onto the field and attack the ref (as happened last night after the second red card). But this crowd wasn't an FC crowd and any idiot with even a passing knowledge of the game should have known that they wouldn't behave that way. All those fans singing in Spanish with the painted faces? That's not just colourful Canadian multi-culti folklorama. That's hard-core fandom (especially amongst the Chileans, for whom a U-20 cup would be a big, big deal since the senior team isn't getting their hands on the Jules Rimet trophy in this life or the next) and they behave very, very differently from, say, the Red Patch Boys.

There was one pretty thing last night, though - Angel Di Maria's rocket-goal in the 11th minute. Awesome. I'm not entirely sure why Arsenal signed him since he seems an awful lot like a van Persie clone, but I'm not complaining.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's not pretty is your view on what's not pretty.

This has nothing to do with the fans, who have come out in record numbers to support this event.

The referee lost control of the match early on and because of that he lost respect from the players.

The problem with your view is that you WERE at the game. The television broadcast showed the replays and the inconsistent foul calls from the German ref were increasingly inaccurate as the game went on.

The best team won as the quality goals showed. But this is a black mark on what FIFA considers to be expert officiating.

THIS is a perfect example of why Canadians find it difficult to embrace football (soccer) as the great sport it is.

Advice to FIFA : Clean up the sport with good officiating and removal of the theatrics of diving players and get back to the basics of classic football. Please.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Antonio G said...

Always good to see someone's actually reading. I sometimes feel like Snowy in the Tintin cartoons - I'm capable of speech but no one around me ever responds...

We can differ on the quality of the refereeing - my issue here is with fans throwing coins on the field and with the security arrangements near the tunnel, which were atrocious. My point is that Canadians are naive to think that international matches are going to have the tone of MLS matches.

You know the joke about how to get 50 Canadians out of a pool? (answer "ask them politely to leave the pool"). These fans who have shown up to the tournament in record numbers don't all behave like that at football matches. Try asking 50 barra bravas to leave the pool and see what happens. All I'm saying is that the organizers should have thought of that prior to the game.

3:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a huge Argentinian supporter but I have to say that there were a lot of theatrics last night by the Argentinians. It wasn't really diving but when they got fouled they made it look worse than it was. The ref happened to bite.

As for the "kick in the face" red card. He wasn't kicked in the face but the guy did unnecessarily kick the ball into the Argentine player when the play was dead. I'd say if the Argentine player doesn't grab his face (which IMHO wasn't touched), it's a yellow.

I don't think the ref had any bias towards either team, he just called what he happened to see. The bottom line is that he didn't affect the outcome of the game.

The 77th minute example you're pointing out is not doing the post justice. Just like the Chileans were "demanding" a card to be shown in that instance, the Argentines were doing the exact same thing, only they weren't surrounding the refs, they were holding their faces, groins, ribs after every tackle - it's the exact same thing.

Nice blog otherwise, will be reading it.

3:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neither team particularly covered themselves in glory, but it's important to note the physicality of the pressure the Chileans put on the ref. FIFA's got to get a grip on all sorts of theatrics and putting pressure on refs, no question, but when a team consistently gets in close and looms in on a ref it undermines the game, let alone any sort of sportsmanship.

Every sport has conventions - baseball managers turn their caps around and kick dirt, hockey players send in the captain or make smart-aleck remarks when skating by. Soccer, however, has subtler conventions that I don't claim to entirely have a grasp of. What is clear, however, is that the Chileans crossed the line and did so to get calls their way. They charged in and crowded the ref, and then touched him after being told to keep a certain space.
In any other sport that would be the equivalent of a straight red, and it is a problem that FIFA is reluctant to enforce that expectation. The result is that there is no putting blame (from within the team) on the player for being out of control. As a quick illustration, would any Blue Jay defend Vernon Wells for grabbing an umpire's shoulder during an argument?

FIFA has to set out clearer guidelines and then harshly punish transgressors so that the result of Chilean (or Argentinian) crowding the ref is that the coaches and supporters ream out the offending players for not thinking of the team first.

A similar train of thought is often used regarding diving, but I think the physicality seen a few days ago is even more offensive (although both problems definitely require work done to minimize them.)

12:38 PM  

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