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SportsMonday: FIFA Fucks Up

Someone give FIFA Jim Joyce's telephone number.

Joyce's actions in the aftermath of making one of the worst calls in the history of Major League Baseball set the standard for grace under fire. The umpire whose clearly erroneous call at first base cost Detroit Tiger pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game earlier this month showed that in the aftermath of a widely viewed screw-up, honesty and accountability make all the difference.

First, Joyce watched a recording of the call after the game and realized that Galarraga had clearly caught a throw from first baseman Miguel Cabrera and stepped on the bag in time for what should have been the 27th consecutive and final out of the game. But Joyce had ruled the base-runner safe.

Then Joyce faced the music. He not only publicly acknowledged missing the call but also didn't hide how much it hurt to have done so. It also didn't hurt that Galarraga also handled himself beautifully in the aftermath of the mistake, simply smiling at the incredible improbability of it all and then calmly heading back to the mound to almost immediately record the final out.

Just 24 hours after Joyce signaled safe instead of out, Tiger fans gave Joyce an ovation at a ceremony honoring Galarraga's achievement. Joyce had been named one of the best umpires in the league in a player survey not long before the controversy. Another identical survey was taken shortly thereafter, and Joyce came out on top again.

Contrast that with the response of FIFA, the governing body of the World Cup, to the understandable outcry after horrific calls put a damper on both of its Round-of-16 showdowns on Sunday in South Africa.

England had seemingly tied its game with Germany 2-2 when Frank Lampard's chip caught the underside of the crossbar and glanced down to land about a yard behind the goal line. Unbelievably, neither the referee nor the side judge managed to see what had happened and when the German goalie quickly recovered and snatched the ball away from the line, the officials ruled no goal.

It could not be easier for FIFA to install technology that would enable the referee or one of his assistants to at least review these sorts of calls. There is no excuse for not stopping and taking a look at a recording of what is actually a very rare sort of controversy. The delays that would result would be short.

But FIFA might have to fire a crony/bureaucrat or two to afford the technology, at least if it was going to put it in play in qualifiers as well as the World Cup Final. And so it has steadfastly refused to upgrade.

After Lampard's obvious goal was waved off by an oblivious official, things steadily deteriorated for England on its way to an eventual 4-1 loss.

Clearly Germany was the better side for much of the match, but it is legitimate to point out that England would have used a different and very possibly more effective scheme had it pulled level before the intermission.

The fact that the Three Lions were chasing a tying goal instead was far from the only reason Germany tacked on two more counter-attacking goals in the second half, but it was clearly at least one of the reasons.

The blown call in Mexico's 3-1 loss to Argentina was also infuriatingly obvious. On Argentina's first goal, not only was the goal-scorer, Carlos Tevez, offside, he was doubly offside. In soccer, a player receiving an attacking pass must have two players between him and the goal line when the passer kicks the ball. More than 90 percent of the time, one of those players is the goalie. But on the goal in question, Tevez had rushed into the penalty box and just tipped the ball with his foot before it bounced off an onrushing Mexico goalie as Tevez jumped over him and on toward the goal.

All-world Argentinian attacker Lionel Messi then corralled the rebound and delivered a perfect touch pass up to Tevez. But not only was Tevez behind the final defender (which is usually the test for offside), but he was also behind the goalie, who was still down on the turf after stopping the first scoring attempt. But the side judge choked and did not raise his flag as Tevez flicked the ball into the net.

It wouldn't be feasible for officials to review all offsides calls at World Cup games. It would cause too many, too lengthy delays. Officials just have to do a better job on those. And when they screw up it sure wouldn't hurt to just acknowledge it.

After this day of disappointment, did FIFA step up and make its officials available for questioning? Did it take accountability for the brutally blown calls? Absolutely not. The official response from FIFA was only that it would not comment on on-field decisions by its officials and that it in fact never comments on on-field decisions by officials.

If they were trying to ensure that tens of millions of soccer fans in England and Mexico would seethe for as long as possible, they couldn't have done a better job.

Anti-Americas' Cup
So this World Cup won't be about the entirety of the American hemisphere after all. The remaining North and Central American representatives went down in flames over the weekend. America dropped a tough decision to a Ghana side that just played better on Saturday and then Mexico was on the verge of embarrassed in the aforementioned game with Argentina Sunday.

But South America still has a great chance to own it. In fact it, could still be an all-South American Final Four after Uruguay advanced to the final in its quarter Saturday; Argentina did the same Sunday and either Brazil or Chile (they play each other) will do so tomorrow. Paraguay faces the toughest road, needing to knock off a Japanese team that has furthest exceeded expectations so far just to make it to the quarter-final, then defeat the winner of Spain-Portugal to reach the semifinals.

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Jim Coffman rounds up the sports weekend every Monday in this space. He welcomes your comments.


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