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World Cup referees taking shots over blown calls

Controversies over the officiating are causing as much noise as the plastic horns that are blown with uninterrupted vigor by fans at all the stadiums. The U.S. team has been among the victims.

June 28, 2010|By Grahame L. Jones

In the recent NBA Finals between the Lakers and Boston Celtics, for example, there was one late-game sequence in which officials' possession decisions were overturned three consecutive times down the floor. And in the NFL, a "coach's challenge" — the decision by a team to challenge the accuracy of an official's ruling — has become part of the sport's vernacular.

Even in baseball, the slowest-moving of America's pastimes, video replay is now used to determine a home run — whether the ball was fair or foul or left the playing field. (However, it's still not used on other close plays, such as the recent missed call at first base that thwarted Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga's bid for a perfect game.)

In soccer, it was at Mexico City's Azteca Stadium in 1986 that a missed call allowed Argentina's Diego Maradona to successfully pull off the most brazen bit of cheating the World Cup has ever seen.

Leaping into the air and punching the ball past England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, Maradona completely fooled Tunisian referee Ali Bennaceur and his two assistants, who failed to spot the infringement.

Maradona's goal put Argentina on its way to a quarterfinal victory and an eventual world championship. "The hand of God," Maradona dubbed it at the time, and the phrase has been a part of international soccer's vocabulary ever since.

Sunil Gulati, the president of U.S. Soccer, said Monday he was confident FIFA would consider making adjustments, including some "limited form of goal-line technology."

"It's the toughest sport in the world to officiate," he said, "the size of the field, one person, the speed and physicality of the players has increased dramatically, it's a low-scoring game, so one goal usually makes a difference, and then there are so many decisions."

But, he added, "Can you possibly stop all of them for a replay? I don't see how."

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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