NATAL, Brazil– Two games down. Two (maybe three) critically cockeyed calls by referees. Too much unwanted attention focused on the dudes with the whistles and rear-pocket notebooks.
Giovani dos Santos of Mexico easily could have been working on a hat trick during the second half against Cameroon. But his two apparent goals were vetoed by referee Wilmar Roldan of Colombia and his unhelpful linesmen for the alleged infraction of offsides.
Replays confirm that Dos Santos, a hotly debated lineup replacement for the esteemed Javier Hernandez, was stationed inside the Cameroon back line when a cross was aimed his way inside the penalty area. The officiating crew, perhaps temporarily blinded by a downpour, saw it otherwise.
A subsequent corner kick bounced off a defender's noggin toward the far post, where Dos Santos muscled it past keeper Charles Itandje. Though not as clear-cut as the previous canceled goal, it appeared legit. Roldan, alas, waved it off again.
On a clear day, you can see forever, unless you are Yuichi Nichimura. Just a few feet away on a sun-splashed Thursday, the Japanese ref misread insignificant bumping as high soccer crimes and failed to detect a dive by Brazil's Fred that would have warranted a flopping fine in the NBA. Nichimura awarded a penalty kick that turned the match in Brazil's favor against Croatia.
As other sports increasingly rely on technology to correct officiating wrongs, FIFA's idea of progress is allowing the refs to spray a line of foam on the field for defensive positioning on free kicks. (To the organization's slight credit, video reviews are allowed to determine if a ball penetrates the goal area).
Turned out, the deserving team won. Dos Santos unleashed a shot in the 61st minute that was denied by Itandje, but Oribe Peralta collected the rebound and left-footed the ball in. Mexico's 1-0 lead held up as Cameroon did not mount enough offense to require El Tri's keeper to record a single save until stoppage time. Only Samuel Eto's first-half attempt that grazed the left post and two unfulfilling forays into the box in the fading minutes caused Mexican hearts to flutter.
The referee was off the hook--at least until the next match one hour later.
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