As if Luis Suarez didn't already provide enough controversy for a single day, Greece beat Ivory Coast and advanced to the knockout stage Tuesday night thanks to a highly questionable penalty call in stoppage time.
After Wilfried Bony's equalizer in the 74th minute, it looked like the Elephants were set to earn a point, which would have been enough to advance with Japan losing to Colombia. In the 92nd minute, though, Georgios Samaras was awarded a penalty when sub Giovanni Sio appeared to chop him down in the box.
A closer look at the replay, via Sports Illustrated's Bryan Armen Graham, revealed there to be more contact between Samaras and Samaras than Samaras and Sio:
Tragic denouement for Ivory Coast's golden generation. This is the foul that led to Greece's 91st-minute penalty. https://t.co/eVq5yTWtFV— Bryan Armen Graham (@BryanAGraham) June 24, 2014
Unsurprisingly, there was quite a bit of outrage with the call. Sporting News' Michael DeCourcy and Ben Swain didn't hold back:
This may be the single worst call in recorded sports history.— Michael DeCourcy (@tsnmike) June 24, 2014
That's disgusting in every way.— Ben Swain (@TheBenSwain) June 24, 2014
CBS Sports' Tom Fornelli put it simply—and hilariously:
Greece accepts yet another bailout.— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) June 24, 2014
Of course, we all had the advantage of looking at the replay over and over again, in slow motion and from different angles. As Fox Sports' Jamie Trecker noted, it was far less conclusive in real time—and still not even 100 percent certain after replays:
That was a very close call on the penalty - must say in real time I thought there was contact - on replay, not so sure— FOX Soccer Trax (@FOXSoccerTrax) June 24, 2014
Many were also quick to point out that Greece was the better team for much of the night. While they may not have deserved the penalty (again, it's up for debate), it can be argued that they deserved the full three points, as ZonalMarking.Net's Michael Cox and Trekker both argued:
Thought Greece played that really well. Feel sorry for the Ivory Coast but it was foul, foul, foul in the second half from them— Michael Cox (@Zonal_Marking) June 24, 2014
On the other hand, GRE hit woodwork three times, often carried the play and kept CIV stars very much under wraps— FOX Soccer Trax (@FOXSoccerTrax) June 24, 2014
Moreover, if you're of the Rasheed Wallace "Ball Don't Lie" school of thinking, then the following play reaffirmed the call. Samaras stepped to the spot and calmly buried the penalty in what was essentially the last play of the match, pushing Greece through and breaking the hearts of Ivory Coast.
Opta Sports and ESPN Stats & Info provided some historical context to the goal:
1478 - Georgios Samaras has ended his goalscoring drought of 1478 minutes with #GRE. Zeus.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) June 24, 2014
Although the final call will be stooped in controversy, there's no denying it was a heart-pounding finish. That has been the theme of this World Cup, and not even Greece—arguably the most boring team in the tournament—could stop the trend, as Grantland's Brian Phillips noted:
THIS WORLD CUP IS SO CRAZY THAT EVEN GREECE IS CRAZY— Brian Phillips (@runofplay) June 24, 2014
This is sure to be a major talking point going forward, but there's nothing that can be done now. Greece are amazingly into the round of 16, where they will face Costa Rica.
The Ticos looked tremendous in winning the "Group of Champions," but ESPN's Dermot Corrigan sees Greece's park-the-bus defense giving the CONCACAF side trouble:
Kinda fancy Greece to do Costa Rica in last 16 too. Probably after extra-time.— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) June 24, 2014
No matter what happens, though, the hope is that the referees have no effect on the final score. That's the only thing that could potentially slightly dampen what has been a marvelous World Cup.
For now, Samaras and his team can enjoy this win until the competition gets even tougher.