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SOCCER

Friends, Players, Referees: Let Him Lend You His Jeers

June 14, 1998|GRAHAME L. JONES

PARIS — 'The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones."

Shakespeare probably wasn't thinking about referees when he penned that line a few hundred years ago, but he might as well have been.

The best referees are seen but not heard. They are an integral part of the game but do not interfere with its flow. They apply not only the laws of the game but the spirit behind those laws.

The best referees almost never get a decent obituary.

But those who make controversial calls or those, worse yet, who make outright bad calls, well, the "evil" that they do very definitely lives after them.

Not only for the rest of the game or the rest of the tournament, but for the rest of their lives.

Take the case of poor Gottfried Dienst, who died June 1 in Basel, Switzerland. Thirty-two years ago, Dienst was the referee for the World Cup final between England and West Germany at Wembley in London.

The score was tied, 2-2, 11 minutes into overtime when England's Geoff Hurst broke through and fired a shot that hammered into the underside of the West German crossbar, rebounded downward and then bounced back into play.

The English players immediately celebrated the goal, while the Germans rushed over to linesman Tofik Bakhramov of the Soviet Union to protest. They insisted the ball had not crossed the line.

Bakhramov, who had pointed to the center spot indicating a goal, stuck to that position when Dienst walked over to consult him. As a result, Dienst allowed the goal to stand.

Hurst went on to score another in the game and record the only hat trick in a World Cup final as England prevailed, 4-2, to win the world championship.

Decades later, Dienst was still being asked about the goal, but always stuck to the same answer.

"I still don't know if the shot . . . was in or not," he said. "I have to say that I was standing in a poor position for that shot, exactly head-on instead of diagonal to the goal. I wouldn't have allowed the goal if linesman Bakhramov hadn't pointed to the middle with his flag."

Bakhramov had to endure the same question for the remainder of his days. He died five years ago in Azerbaijan.

THE HAND OF FUENTES

It took only three games for World Cup '98 to have its first officiating controversy, and Nigerian referee Lucien Bouchardeau will carry with him to his grave the horrendous decision he made.

Chile was well in control of the game against Italy in Bordeaux on Thursday when the incident occurred. The South Americans were leading, 2-1, on the strength of goals by Marcelo Salas and were only six minutes away from a famous victory.

Then Roberto Baggio got the ball to the right of the penalty area and struck a cross that slammed into the right hand of Chilean defender Ronaldo Fuentes.

It was plainly evident that Fuentes made no attempt to play the ball with his hand. His arms were at his sides and, in fact, he pulled back his right arm as Baggio hit the ball. Fuentes was doing everything he could not to handle the ball.

It was, in soccer terms, "ball to hand," which is not a foul, rather than hand to ball, which is.

But Bouchardeau saw it differently. He awarded a penalty kick and Baggio scored to salvage an undeserved 2-2 tie for Italy.

It would not be far out of line to suggest that Baggio, who can put the ball on a dime from 30 yards, deliberately hit the ball so that it would strike Fuentes' hand, hoping for just such a bad ruling.

The stakes are huge in the World Cup, and gamesmanship such as that is not beyond the pale. Experienced players are always taking advantage of naive referees in a variety of ways.

"I did not try to stop the ball with my hand," Fuentes insisted. "The ball came to me. I am very sad, because of the effort my teammates made. We deserved to win."

Yes, Chile did deserve to win.

And if FIFA has any sense of justice, Bouchardeau will not be refereeing any more games in this World Cup.

REPLAY, WHAT REPLAY?

No sooner had Baggio's penalty kick flashed into the net than television commentators in Europe were dissecting the controversial call. The widespread belief was that it had been, in the words of one analyst, "a travesty."

Steve Sampson, the U.S. coach, agreed with that opinion.

"I think overall the refereeing has been pretty good," Sampson said. "I'm happy to see that the fouls from behind are not being interpreted as dramatically as was announced by FIFA. I think for the most part they have made fair assessments of the fouls and given fair judgments.

"I think the hand ball is a one-off decision by a referee. I think 95% of the other referees would have made a different decision in that case."

Even so, Sampson is not in favor of using video replays as a tool to prevent such mistakes in the future.

"Certainly, I'm all in favor of rule changes that help improve the game, and I've been in favor of recent rule changes that FIFA has made with regard to the goalkeeper [not handling back passes] and offside [level no longer being considered offside]," he said.

"I'm also in favor of this new tackle-from-behind rule [mandating a red card for such fouls]. I'm just not in favor of the timing of the new rule [coming into force in a World Cup].

"I'm not in favor of replays. I think it would disrupt the rhythm of the game too dramatically."

LOOK, MA, NO GOAL

After decades of studying film and still photographs of Hurst's third goal at Wembley, and using newly developed techniques and computer imagery, analysts finally determined a few years ago that the ball probably had not crossed the line when it ricocheted down off the crossbar.

In other words, no goal should have been awarded.

Human error continues to be a part of the game and probably will remain so. But that comes as no consolation to Fuentes and his Chilean teammates. Especially if they are ousted from the competition after having a near-certain victory taken from them by a bad piece of refereeing.

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