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Posted: Friday June 18, 2010 4:04PM ; Updated: Friday June 18, 2010 4:33PM
Peter King

Americans, and the world, should be outraged at FIFA, ref Coulibaly

Story Highlights

The lack of explanation on the call that cost the U.S. a goal is mind-blowing

Brazil leads The Fine Five after eight days of World Cup action

A visit with a lion and a giraffe, plus an update on South African beverages

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Match referee Koman Coulibaly ignored pleas from Michael Bradley, among others, to explain his call that cost the U.S. a goal.
Getty Images

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Hope you're enjoying that monster suite in the Michelangelo Hotel, Sepp Blatter, and the luxurious massages and, I assume, the caviar and nightly champagne. Your sport's burning.

I may not be as outraged about the outcome of Friday's crucial World Cup game between America and Slovenia were I not American. But whether you're from Mars or Marietta or, in the incompetent match referee's country, Mali, you should be outraged. Because it wasn't just the United States that got robbed here Friday, it was also the slogan FIFA shoves down the world's throats every year.

"Fair Play.''

There's so much unfair about the outcome 2-2 draw between the United States and Slovenia in a game that should be in the books today as a 3-2 win for the U.S. -- that it's hard to know where to start.

With the score tied at 2 in the 86th minute, the United States had a direct kick on the Slovenian side of the field. There was much pushing and shoving in front of the goal, both before the ball was in the air and while it flew toward the net. Replays showed three American players being bearhugged by Slovenians -- and Americans, in the case of at least two scrums, hugging back. But in the case of an earlier hero, midfielder Michael Bradley, Slovenian Aleksander Radosavljevic did his best Ray Lewis imitation, practically dragging Bradley down just feet from the goal. As the ball fell to earth, American sub Maurice Edu pounced on it, flicking it hard into the net for what appeared to be the winning goal. But in his first World Cup game, referee Koman Coulibaly, from the landlocked West African country of Mali, ran into the fray and blew off the goal.

At least four Americans tried to find out what the call was. But Coulibaly, who, according to several U.S. players was all but mute during the game (a rarity in world-class games, they say), didn't inform either side what call he made. We still do not know what the infraction was that Coulibaly called, and under the idiotic rules of FIFA, Coulibaly doesn't have to say what the infraction was. He might go to his grave with it.

"Who knows what it was?'' said the man of the match, Landon Donovan of the United States. "I am not sure how much English he spoke, or if he spoke English. But we asked him several times in a non-confrontational way. He just ignored us.''

The call was awful. But in all sports, when hugely controversial calls are made -- the Tuck Rule call by Walt Coleman in the Raiders-Patriots playoff game nine years ago, the Jim Joyce ruination-of-the-perfect-game this month -- at least we know what the call is. Here, millions of people staring at TVs around the world are still asking, "What's the call?''

You could feel it in the bowels of Ellis Park after the game. Don't make a big stir over this. It's soccer. Nothing you can do it about it. It's just the way it is.

Why? Why is this just blindly accepted? FIFA uses a referee -- in a game of vital importance in determining who moves on in the biggest tournament in any sport in the world -- whose highest previous assignment was the African Cup. That's got to be the equivalent of a Mid-American Conference ref being assigned the Super Bowl.

Coaches coach for four years to get to the World Cup. Players train for four years to get to the World Cup. And they have their fate decided by some wordless man handed an assignment he had no business having. But as important: Just what is this governing body FIFA, with the world watching its signature event, doing when it doesn't mandate an explanation from the referee about what he called that determined the outcome of a game?

I blame Coulibaly. But FIFA deserves equal blame, for putting a system in place that allows incompetent officiating to skate free. So what if we never see this official again? The damage is done. He was in far over his head, and he blew the call that decided the game. He can disappear now, and in all nations but America, the story will blow over. Nice racket you've got going, FIFA.

My fervent hope is America won't let FIFA forget about this -- that you, the readers and followers of this sport and the viewers of this sacred game -- will rise up and pound FIFA with protests. Write to FIFA president Sepp Blatter. Demand accountability. You've invested your time and energy, and you've cheated your boss today by sneaking over to the lounge where you work to watch this very important event in your life, and you've come away feeling angry and empty. Which you should.

So don't just sit there. Do something. Write to Blatter. Tell him you want accountability. Here's the address:

Sepp Blatter
Box 85
8030 Zurich, Switzerland

I would have told you to write an email to FIFA, but I've been on their website for 10 minutes trying to figure out how to email the organization. This is best I found.

The least FIFA should do is demand its officials make public their calls. Secondly, FIFA should be forced to make the referee of each match available to a pool reporter to explain any controversial calls.

The world is watching. But moments like this threaten the world watching in the future, at least in countries whose citizens have a brain.


It can't be. But yes, it is. Coulibaly was born on the Fourth of July.


Outrage flowed from the Americans, but guess what? Not the Slovenians. In the postgame press conference, I asked the coach of Slovenia, Matjaz Kek, how he felt about the call that erased the American goal.

Now, understand this about covering the World Cup. The official language of Slovenia is Slovene. I don't speak that. (By the way, the population of Slovenia is 2 million -- about half that of Connecticut.) When you go into a post-match press conference, you can put on headsets that will allow you to hear the translated answers of the coach into your language. So that's what I did. I asked the question in English, it was translated to Kek, and he answered, and it was translated by a young fellow who sounded like he was eating lunch when he regurgitated the answer -- in halting, struggling English.

"I will not pass any judgment on refereeing,'' Kek said. (Maybe.) "I believe the referee hasn't had an impact on the final result.''


So I asked Bob Bradley in the American press conference: "Isn't something like this a bit of an outrage in a game of this importance?''

I could see Bradley thinking about how to answer this question. When he did, he said, "In the midst of a game, it's rare that a referee will give you an answer. When you're involved in the game long enough, there are moments when you're frustrated ... That's the way the game works. And you move on.''

After the game, on the field, Donovan told ESPN he doesn't know how the official stole the last goal from his team. By the time he cooled down, he'd cooled down -- and said nothing of the sort to the reporters in the mixed zone, where interviews with the world press are done after the game.

I did get forward Jozy Altidore to say: "Four years of your life you put into this game, and this happens. I am baffled. We all are. We were all just in the locker room, asking, 'What's the call?' I thought it was a clean goal.''

"We waited our whole lives for this, and you feel like it was taken from you,'' said goalkeeper Tim Howard.

But there was a general sense of resignation among the U.S. players. Sad, really. Like, There's nothing we can do about this incompetence, and we better zip our lips or we might pay with vengeful officiating in future games.

"It's the sport we live with,'' said Jay DeMerit.

That's the kind of thinking that needs to change.


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