June 22, 2014

Yesterday's pivotal Nigeria/Bosnia-Herzegovina match featured a blown offsides call that deprived BIH of the only goal it scored. Moments later Nigeria scored courtesy of a controversial no-call on the play that produced the goal by (of all people) Peter Odemwingie. The Bosnians were aggrieved, to put it mildly.

Replays showed that Edin Dzeko's goal was, in fact, onside, and should have been allowed - to the point where the announcers, who normally employ hedging language in these cases (he appeared to be onsides) spent the rest of the match (and post-match show) speaking not only directly about the blown call, but emphatically.

In a discussion of the events on one of my sports groups this morning, the always astute Matt Browner Hamlin argued that the offsides call was the worst of the tournament so far, and compared it to the Koman Coulibably debacle from 2010.

Matt is pretty sharp when it comes to football, but I don't know that I agree on this one. The Bosnia call was wrong, but it was close.

Offsides is easily the hardest call in sports. I probably reffed as many as 1000 games once upon a time, and I speak from a measure of experience. I also called some hoops, which is also really tough, and no single infraction in that fast-paced, physical sport comes close to being as tough to get right very time. The Dzeko call was bang-bang, especially at live speed. The still makes clear that it was a bad call, and one that an official at this level must get right. But the worst of the tournament?

When it comes to the worst call... I don't know, Fred's dive timely fainting spell in the opening match of the tournament, a pathetic, cynical flop that the ref inexplicably fell for (as it were) probably gets my vote for Most Disappointing Decision so far.


When it comes to bad officiating, there's a hierarchy of error.

  • Level 1: Blown call by good ref. Everybody makes mistakes.
  • Level 2: Blown call because the ref was out of position. Professional negligence.
  • Level 3: Blown call because the ref is incompetent. MLS fans see this one all the time.
  • Level 4: I wonder how much money the ref has riding on the match, anyway? (Or equivalent corruption, personal bias and spitefulness, perhaps even involving organized crime or institutional rigging - and yes, I'm still suspicious about the NBA.) On the personal bias front, think any match involving Chris Foy and Chelsea.

Couibaly's suspect call was a 3 at the least, and maybe a 4. We'll never know. The BIH call was, in all likelihood, a simple 1. The lineman was in position and made the call in due course, same as you would any other call.

On the other end, with Nigeria's goal, the ref thought it might be a foul - he raised the whistle to his mouth - but he wasn't sure, and immediately checked with the linesman, who had the better angle. This was proper procedure. The linesman didn't think so, and left his flag down. Play continues, goal.

For whatever my diagnostic is worth, this all looked legit, even though the offside call was wrong. Further, the foul/no-foul decision could have gone either way. I couldn't argue with the call either way.

None of this changes the outcome or the tragedy for Bosnia, though. Getting shot in the balls on purpose and getting shot in the balls by accident - it's all pretty much the same injury, innit?

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