Handballs and Bad Calls; Time for FIFA to Add Replay to the World Cup

Bryan FlynnAnalyst IJune 18, 2010

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 18:  Landon Donovan of the United States disputes a decision with Referee Koman Coulibaly during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group C match between Slovenia and USA at Ellis Park Stadium on June 18, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

For the, at least, second time in six months, a soccer game ends in controversy. Everyone, by now, has heard about Thierry Henry’s handball that kept Ireland out of the 2010 World Cup.

Now at the World Cup, in the second bunch of Group C play, with the United States playing against Slovenia, controversy strikes again. After being down two goals early, the US battled back to tie the game on second half goals from Landon Donovon and Michael Bradley.

But the potential game winning goal, set up off a free kick from Donovon and scored by Maurice Edu, was disallowed by the referee who saw some phantom foul on the United States. Replays clearly showed several US playing being fouled, but no fouls by US players.

What makes the disallowed goal even worse is the fact the referee Koman Coulibal is able to hide behind FIFA, the sports governing body, and does not have to explain his call. The US players or coaches get no explanation of the call.

I have written several times that soccer will never become popular in the US because the sport will not embrace replay.

I never even thought of the fact that officials do not have to explain their calls.

While coaches and players of major sports in America might dislike or disagree with a call, they do know who the call was on and why. Bad calls are why we have replay in American sports.

Major League Baseball has even discussed expanding replay after Jim Joyce’s blown call robbed Armando Galarraga of a perfect game. To Joyce’s credit, he even apologized for blowing the call.

The NFL has replay. College football has replay. The NBA has replay. Then why the hell can we not get replay in soccer if the officials are going to keep mucking up the calls?

The answer is that FIFA and soccer fans love the human element of the game. Why should anyone love the human element in a game when it keeps one team from advancing to the World Cup and could possibly keep another team from advancing deeper in the World Cup?

Sure, officials make mistakes, but the technology is there to fix the mistakes by human officials so that a game can reach a fair conclusion. The major agreement by soccer fans against replay is that it would slow down the pace of games.

Replay would not slow down the pace of games if handled the right way. The perfect replay setup would be similar to the NFL in one way, and similar to college football in another.

Just give coaches a flag and let them challenge one call in the first half and one call in the second half. During the last five minutes of each half and extra time, all replays go to the replay official at their discretion.

To keep the pace and the spirit of the game in tact, only allow replay on certain calls. Most reasonable people should be able to agree that any action that results in a straight red card, not two yellow cards, and a player being sent off, can be reviewed.

Any call that results in a penalty kick should also be reviewable. Last, but not least, all disputed and disallowed goals should be reviewable as well. All of these calls can have a major impact on the outcome of a game.

Coaches will have to decide quickly if they want a call challenged, so the pace of the game is not threatened. After the review, the team that last had possession gets a throw-in to put the ball back in play.

Sure, every sport has a human element to it and these humans make mistakes. That does not mean players, coaches, and fans should be punished by bad calls.

In an event as big as the World Cup, with the whole world watching, FIFA should make sure the officials get the calls correct. Especially in an event that only happens once every four years.

I may be a typical American, but why should I not want the right call for, not just the US, but every team that plays soccer? Ireland deserves to be protected from blown calls as well.

If even the slow to change old guard of MLB can institute replay, then what is keeping FIFA from starting replay. Instead of FIFA being this shadowy organization that is slower to change than the MLB, they should embrace that we are in a new millennium.

I, for one, would welcome replay in soccer. It is not about ruining the game, it is about four years of hard work and preparation being ruined by one bad call.