Koman and the soccer gods

Just when we were waxing lyrical about the high standard of refereeing at the World Cup, along come two poor performances back to back, like when you’re waiting for a bus.

First on Friday was Spanish ref Alberto Undiano, who controversially ejected Miroslav Klose for a seemingly innocuous challenge and handed out 10 cards in Germany’s 1-0 loss to Serbia.

And then comes  Koman Coulibaly.

While perplexed U.S. fans were still wearing out the rewind button Friday afternoon to see exactly why the Mali official chalked off  Maurice Edu’s effort against Slovenia, passionless England was creating its own headlines with an abysmal 0-0 tie against a gritty Algeria.

The latter performance was enough for the Three Lions’ disgruntled players to hold a clear-the-air crisis meeting with management Sunday following huge criticism from fans and the media.

So, considering, a 2-2 deadlock after a 2-0 half-time deficit doesn’t look too bad now for Bob Bradley’s boys, and victory against the Algerians tomorrow morning (10 a.m.) will see the U.S. through to the last 16.

Easier said than done, however. Bradley has a lot think about, none more so than shoring up a less than adequate defense. You can only come back from behind so many times, and chasing the game against a well organized Algeria is not recommended.

Will he consider dropping Onyewu, who was shaky ( played Zlatan Ljubijankic onside for Slovenia’s second goal) and still has question marks over his fitness? It’s probably too late for a reshuffle, which would probably  involve moving Bocanegra to partner DeMerit in central defense.

There was also the huge gaping hole in front of the back four which resulted in an unchallenged Birsa scoring their opener.

Maurice Edu, who had a good second half, is likely start and hopefully plug some gaps, while Dempsey may be deployed up front to partner Altidore for the suspended Robbie Findley.

On the plus side, the teamwork and tenacity shown in the second half was very encouraging, and the U.S. goes into the game in good mental shape, despite the disallowed effort.

Speaking of which, the “goal that wasn’t” seems to have sparked a lot of interest nationally, so maybe the controversy isn’t so bad overall — perhaps helping the sport in terms of awareness — if no real harm is done (like getting eliminated) in the process.

The French Squad: Well, what's left of it

Whatever the interest, the incident was quickly replaced as global headline news this weekend by the French camp shambles. Nicolas Anelka’s early departure due to his refusal to apologize to coach Raymond Domenech for using naughty words during the half-time break against Mexico is eerily similar to Roy Keane’s exit from the Irish team in Saipan back in 2002.

That particular incident spawned several books and a musical comedy. A show on this would surely be funnier. Domenech did, after all, contemplate wearing a Mickey Mouse tie to the interview for the French coaching post six years ago, and has admitted his team selections are influenced by astrology.

The opening scene could be the Henry ‘Hand of Gaul’ goal in the World Cup play-off game against Ireland last November. Then, of course, the ensuing outrage. Cut to South Africa and a tie against Uruguay; then disaster against the Mexicans. Nicolas is sent home after his outburst, which was leaked to the press; Les Bleus refuse to train in protest; the fitness coach goes nuts; players get on the bus; team director resigns in disgust.

With the squad in total turmoil, it goes into today’s third, and last, group game against South Africa seeking a minor miracle to progress. The finale, perhaps?

Sochaux coach Francis Gillot, who branded the players’ attitude as both “pathetic and disgraceful,” said, “France is the laughing stock of the world. Today I am thinking of the Irish – they should have been there in our place.”

Maybe the soccer gods felt that way too.


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