In one day, I saw possibly the two worst refereeing decisions I have seen in 28 years of watching world cups.
The Frank Lampard non-goal landed so obviously over the line, even I could spot it as it happened. And, unlike the referee and his worthy assistants, I was six beers down. Waitaminnit! Maybe the officials decided to enjoy the football with a few beers before (or even during) the game? After all, they do have the best seats (figuratively speaking of course) in the house. All right, then, all is forgiven. In the spirit of football and beer.
In the following game, Carlos Tevez was offside by approximately the distance between Argentina and Mexico. In this case, I think the referee's assistance must have, like the rest of us, been so excited at the prospect of young Lionel Messi finally breaking his goal drought that he must have forgotten to attend to the minor matter of raising his flag, as commanded by the admirable K'Naan. Quite understandable. A little later, the referee responded to a blatant push on an Argentine player by one of the Mexican defenders with a stern look, followed by what could possibly have been an impromptu critique of the latter's hand-to-hand combat technique. "A mere push? If you want a yellow card, son, you're going to have to do better than that. Perhaps a blow to the opponent's head with a cosh ?", he must have suggested.
Wonderful to see officials who are enjoying their football, and establishing good camaraderie with the players.
Bad refereeing decisions have become such an integral part of football, EA Sports should include it as a feature in the upcoming FIFA 11. "The most realistic football videogame ever - now with lifelike woeful officiating!", they can say in the marketing blurbs. Just so that we'll learn to bloody deal with it, and move on without whining. Or not.
We've also seen some fine examples in the world cup of another of modern football's delightful skills - diving. Italy's Daniele De Rossi was sublime, collapsing to the ground in the penalty area in the game against New Zealand, a full five seconds after the defender had stopped tugging at his shirt. "Oh! The guy was pulling my shirt, but I forgot to fall down. Anyway, better late than never.", he must have thought to himself as he went to ground. The referee, of course, rewarded this superb display with a penalty in his favour. It's only fair.
And then there was Fernando Torres in the group game against Chile. As Spain was building up to their second goal, for reasons known only to himself, the Liverpool striker crumpled like a Jenga tower after one of the players accidentally sneezes. Perhaps his ankles were mercilessly hacked down by a blade of grass. Perhaps he thought "Okay. David and Andres have this one under control, so I'll just have a quick lie-down." We'll never know.
Many viewers were bitterly disappointed by the highly anticipated Brazil-Portugal group clash, in which these two supposedly attacking sides produce a dull goalless draw. But I beg to differ. It was a game in which Portugal introduced several fresh ideas that were completely new to football - including such wondrous concepts like the 'backward press' and the 'holding striker'. Mad props to Carlos Queiroz. Rinus Michels gets all the bloody credit. Recognize the unsung heroes, people. That's all I ask.
Of course, our Maradona-watch continues to provide much delight. Only Maradona can be the biggest star of a world cup, when he isn't even playing. Not that he doesn't want to, of course. Standing by the touchline, old Diego's desire to get out there and play is palpable. He's constantly juggling the ball and kicking it back to the guy taking the throw-in, looking very much like a poor little kid who the big boys don't want to include in their game. My secret desire is that he'll succumb to the temptation, disguise himself as Diego Milito or Martin Palermo, run out onto the pitch and show us that he's still the man. That would be awesome.
Oh, and before I go - what did I tell you about Italy? Is there any other team that can go out in such dramatic, outlandish fashion? Forza Azzurri! Forza Calcio!
Earlier column: The many delights of supporting Italy
More by Anand Ramachandran