Card-happy World Cup refs need to let ’em play |

Card-happy World Cup refs need to let ’em play

A nagging irritation was cemented into full-blown outrage Saturday in the United States’ hard-fought tie with Italy in the second game of group E play.

Throughout the beginning of the 2006 World Cup, the officiating has been suspect.

Whether the referees are simply trying to retain control of the game or not, there have been far too many cards drawn.

In a system of rules where two cards within the first three games warrant a one-game suspension, tossing out warnings like they were party favors is not exactly fair.

It seems that in general, this year’s batch of officials are leaning towards the harsh when calling games.

Violations like shirt tugs, non-malicious late tackles or delay of game calls have been given yellow cards.

These are offenses that should receive warnings first, and cards later ” if a player refuses to head the first warning.

While infringements like these are listed in FIFA’s official laws of the game as grounds for yellow cards and referees are not technically wrong, usually some leniency is given and thus far the officials in Germany have been very quick to show cards.

In the U.S.-Italy game, referee Jorge Larrionda took it to the extreme.

It is accepted that a referee should never be a noticeable force on the field.

If a player commits a foul in the box and the ref makes a good call, it will be that player’s foul that is remembered.

If a referee throws three players out of a passionate but fairly clean game, leaving 10 men to battle nine in the closing minutes, it is the referee who is remembered for influencing the game, not the fouls of the players.

Daniele De Rossi’s blood-drawing elbow to Brian McBride’s face was perhaps the only foul worthy of a red card in Saturday’s game. It was malicious, intentional and caused McBride to leave the field temporarily.

Pablo Mastroeni’s cleats-up tackle that got him sent off looked rather vicious, but in reality was not violent in intent. Mastroeni simply lunged a little late and was taken good advantage of by a skillful dive and exaggeration from Andrea Pirlo.

That’s something a World Cup caliber official should recognize and not reward.

The ejection of American defender Eddie Pope, who brought more fire and life to the U.S. side than perhaps any other player, was the exemplary power trip on Larrionda’s part.

While both of Pope’s offenses were technically deserving of a yellow card by FIFA’s laws of the game, to send a player off for a foul as minor as Pope’s challenge on Alberto Gilardino was unnecessary. A stern warning would have been more appropriate.

“You have a yellow Eddie, next time your leaving the game,” would have been more professional.

In the end, both teams battled hard to stay in contention for advancement. In a game of such importance for both sides ” a game with so much passion and so much on the line ” the referee must adjust his standards accordingly.

Harder challenges must be let to go. As long as violence is not the intent, the passion of the game must be allowed to endure.

Larrionda seemed to enjoy influencing the game. However, he not only influenced that game, but the next games as well. Italy has to make due without De Rossi against the Czechs. The U.S. must face Ghana ” a very dangerous team ” in a game they must win in order to have a chance at advancement, without Pope and Mastroeni, two major contributors to the fire and success brought out in the U.S.’s second game.

Perhaps as lesser teams are knocked out of contention, lesser officials will go with them. There is nothing more tragic than an official effecting the outcome of a big game.

Passion is a part of this game, perhaps the most important part. Officials must remember this and allow it to thrive.

Alex Close is a sports writer with the Sierra Sun. He can be reached at

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