A World Cup Defined by Controversy

The months leading to the first World Cup on African soil were filled with speculation about which superstar would write their name into the pantheon of football history. Could Lionel Messi inspire Argentina to the World Cup, legitimising comparisons with his coach Diego Maradona? Perhaps Wayne Rooney would translate his form with Manchester United onto the international stage, or Cristiano Ronaldo’s (never one to be upstaged if he can help it) star would shine the brightest.

As the final between Spain and the Netherlands approaches on Sunday, sadly the individuals in the middle are those who have attracted the most attention. Whilst South Africa has been an exemplary host of the World Cup, the abiding memories will be of a ball bouncing behind the line, only for play to continue, and of a certain goal being stopped by the hand of a centre forward. Controversy has dogged the tournament and sadly will be the memory of the South African World Cup which endures.

Sepp Blatter has made sure of this even before a ball is kicked in the final. The International FA Board is scheduled to reconvene in October. Whilst enough time may have passed for passions to have faded, goal-line technology will inevitably be discussed. Blatter had been notoriously unrepentant on the subject. Football, he argued, was a game of human genius and human error. He enjoyed the debate and conjecture which would follow controversial decisions. Video technology, to this end, would deprive football of its humanity.

Two moments on Sunday June 27th changed all of that. The first saw Frank Lampard’s looping shot cannon off the crossbar and bounce a metre behind the line. Inexcusably, referee Jorge Larrionda allowed play to continue and the goal was not given. A potential (if on the balance of play unjust) equaliser had been denied England. Hours later, with Carlos Tevez celebrating Argentina’s opening goal, the wide screen above the goal in Soccer City showed the scorer to be clearly offside when Messi dinked the ball through. Roberto Rossetti’s officiating team saw the replay but could do nothing to change the outcome. In that moment football had moved beyond conjecture and human error and into the realms of technology. The technology was there, so why not use it?

“The international board will reopen the discussion on the technology,” said Blatter, his mind opened by the controversy of the World Cup. Harshly, the meeting will not discuss the idea of penalty goals which have been put forward since Luis Suarez denied Ghana a last minute quarter-final winner with his handball on the line. “If it (the ball) is not in, then no referee can declare it is a goal,” he confirmed.

Even if the International FA meeting introduces the installation of video technology, Sepp Blatter will have his wish. Football’s capacity for controversy is permanent. Using the technology itself is not the problem. The problem is taking the humanity away from the game. Error is just as much a part of football as genius and it is this which makes the game so captivating. Let’s face it, few of the English were complaining when Geoff Hurst’s shot bounced on the Wembley goal line in 1966.


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