Belgium-New Zealand: Excessive Officiating Robs Minnows Again
Olympic football...it has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?
The chance to compete for a medal at one of the oldest and most prestigious of sporting events known to man.
Recognised by the nations of the world as a place where disagreements can be put aside in the name of friendship and sportsmanship.
It's strangely untarnished after a history of upheavals, with strange tournaments in even stranger scenarios. Amongst these strange scenarios though, we have seen some incredible things.
The tournament in Nazi Germany and Jesse Owens, the Black September incident, and the boycotting by various nations over the years.
Still though, the Olympic Games retains its sheen, even with a history of drug cheats! It is truly a resilient tournament.
The New Zealand Olympic Football team approached with the same goals of other competitors: to compete fairly and enjoy it.
While they themselves knew that they were slightly up against it, just slightly, they would play to the best of their abilities, as they were representatives of a proud sporting nation.
All of the history and promise of the tournaments rich past did not prepare the New Zealanders for what they would face from the match controller in incidents in two separate games.
While they were, to a large degree, chasing shadows against the Brazilians, they competed well with the Chinese and the Belgians.
They faced the disappointment of an early and controversial red card in the first game against the Chinese, which was drawn. Against Belgium, it happened again, with a straight red for a challenge that was seen by many to be just cautionable.
The Kiwi's were competing well with their more illustrious opponents in the first half, despite conceding to Belgian midfielder Faris Haroun's header in the 35th minute after a corner. With the advent of halftime though, things took a decided turn for the worst for the underdogs.
A red card as the first card of the match seemed a little out of the blue from the official, especially after a first half that was relatively light on incidents.
They played on, of course, but the difference in manpower kept them from mounting any sustained periods of pressure, apart from a sharp effort from Chris Killen and a couple of headed chances.
Their Olympic dream over after the loss; it does seem as though they might have gone a little further if decisions had not gone so badly against them.
There is a history of suspected favouritism in certain games, and the New Zealanders were, it seems, a little unlucky to be facing the hosts and the fourth-placed European qualifier.
The home advantage was enough, it seems, for China, who were lucky to escape with a draw against 10 men, and the Belgians, who enjoy a football heritage that inevitably does not escape a referee's attention.
The New Zealanders can return holding their heads high, as they were certainly unlucky to be knocked out in pool play. They can look forward to competing more convincingly in future world tournaments.
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