Referees in Spotlight as World Cup Opens With Arguable Calls

After two World Cup games a theme has started to develop: controversial calls by match officials.

Croatia coach Niko Kovac said the tournament risked turning into a “circus” if officials made decisions similar to the one that gave host Brazil a crucial penalty kick in yesterday’s opening game. In today’s second game, an effort by Mexico was incorrectly ruled out for offside by an assistant referee.

“We have to believe the referees are honest,” Massimo Busacca, who is responsible for refereeing at the tournament, told reporters in Rio de Janeiro today. “Maybe there will be mistakes, but we must respect them.”

Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura made his decision about 20 minutes before the end of Brazil’s come-from-behind win against Croatia. Striker Fred fell to the ground after defender Dejan Lovren made slight contact with the Brazilian’s shoulder. Croatian players swarmed Nishimura after he penalized the challenge, and following the final whistle.

Neymar scored his second goal of the game from the penalty spot to make it 2-1 and Brazil went on to win 3-1.

“I can hardly hold back the tears,” Lovren, who plays for England’s Southampton, told reporters after the game. “Why don’t they just hand out the trophy to Brazil right away? Everything is going their way, everyone is saying they must win it, so why do we play then?”

No Bias

Busacca said it was “fantasy” that there is bias among officials after Kovac said he felt Brazil, as host nation, would get favorable calls and rebuked himself for not making it clear in the pregame news conference that he would be “keeping a beady eye on the referee.”

“You think about the decision, you don’t have time to think ’ah, but I am in Brazil,’” Busacca said.

Mexico recovered from the blown call in the second game to beat Cameroon 1-0.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter two days ago said soccer should consider bringing in video replays and allow coaches to make two challenges to decisions per game.

“Our sport is imperfect when it comes to officiating,” Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber said today. “I hope FIFA continues to evolve their thinking and look to find ways to help officials get it right.”

Goal Technology

Cameras and sensors are being used at this World Cup for the first time to ensure goals are called correctly. FIFA decided to use the goal-line technology after a blunder during a second-round game between England and Germany at the 2010 event in South Africa. A Frank Lampard shot that would have brought England even at 2-2 was incorrectly ruled out and the Germans went on to win 4-1.

That error followed blunders in consecutive knockout games against Spain and Italy in the 2002 edition that allowed co-host South Korea to reach the semifinals, even though it had never gone beyond the group stages before.

“In refereeing, we have black and white but we also have cases that can be on the borderline,” Busacca said.

FIFA Marketing Director Thierry Weil rejected the suggestion that the host nation is favored.

“You are pretending FIFA is helping the home country and that is not even the case,” Weil said. “FIFA has nothing to favor the home country. We are here to make the tournament good.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Tariq Panja in Rio de Janeiro at tpanja@bloomberg.net; Juan Pablo Spinetto in Rio de Janeiro at jspinetto@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net Dex McLuskey, Rob Gloster

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