Monday, August 2, 2010


It is often said in one language or the other that the present has to pay for the sins of the past. That is some form of justice. “Only connect”, as E.M.Forster put it, and you will see how justice works in the world of football. Think of just the World Cup!

Brazil was playing Turkey at the league stage in WC 2002. Rivaldo, who eventually had a great WC, did some mean acting that directly led to the Turkish international, Hakan Unsal’s dismissal. The referee was deceived into believing that Rivaldo was badly hurt on his face. The player later admitted his pretension, and said that he had wanted Unsal out. He was lucky; he escaped with the relatively mild punishment of a fine. The teams played again in the semi-final; it was a tough but incident-free match, which Brazil won by the narrowest of margins. In WC 2010, Kaka, the creative midfielder and a gentleman footballer, who was expected to play a pivotal role for Brazil, had to pay the penalty that Rivaldo had escaped paying. Kaka was the victim. Abdul Kader Keita of Ivory Coast did some acting to get the Brazilian red-carded.

Still on Brazil, the equalizing goal against Brazil by Holland in the quarter-final match was clearly a self-goal. It was the first ever self-goal scored against Brazil in the eighty year history of WC, in every edition of which this country had participated. It was of course later credited to the Holland midfielder Sneijder, but many thought it was only a technical award. Now whether Brazil was spared the disgrace of a self-goal or not became a matter of opinion. Now was that self-goal an act of justice for Luis Fabiano’s double hand goal in Brazil’s match against Chile?

WC 1966 gave football narrative a term: “Wimbley goal”. A Wimbley goal is a “strike which bounces down on or over the goal line”. In WC 1966, England won the final match against Germany by a disputed (as far as the Germans were concerned, a dubious) goal – a Wimbley goal, scored by Hurst. Incidentally, the relevant rules have changed: for a goal, the whole of the ball must cross the line. The Germans never got over their hurt. Until recently, to some measure at least.

Going by some press reports, Germans seemed to have rejoiced over Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal more than England’s humiliating defeat by their national team. Jorge Larrionda, the referee and his assistants, had failed to see the ball having crossed the goal line. Lampard believed, as did the English team’s coach, Fabio Capello, and many others that had that goal not been disallowed, the results of the match might have been different. It is this view, rather than the English captain Steven Gerrard’s (that the goal would not really have made any difference in the outcome), that warmed the German hearts so much. They had felt cheated, more than forty years ago, and felt compensated that a legitimate goal that was disallowed, showed the English the exit gate of WC 2010. “Now we are quits” is what Westdeutsch Allgemeine and Welt newspapers reportedly said.

An Iranian minister is supposed to have seen some justice in the fact that those who had worked for sanctions against Iran had an early exit from WC 2010. If one does not subscribe to this view, then one might consider the case of France in this WC. France had come to South Africa by elbowing out Ireland unfairly through Gallas’s goal from Henry’s double handball pass, unnoticed by the Swedish referee Martin Haussoon. They had usurped Ireland’s place at the WC. Quite understandably, the Irish rejoiced at France’s early exit. But early exit was only the less important aspect of France’s predicament in South Africa. There was indiscipline in the team, the players and the coach were at loggerheads with each other, they refused to practice, they were not playing as a team, and one or two players were later found to have indulged in sexual misdemeanour. The team brought their country disrepute, and was thoroughly condemned by the country.

Cristiano Ronaldo manipulated the dismissal of Rooney in WC 2006. There was no room for doubt about his complicity in it - after Rooney was shown the red card, he winked at the Portugal bench, and got caught in the camera. England lost the match and was out of the WC. Ronaldo became the World Footballer of the year in 2008, and he went to WC 2010 as a celebrity footballer, and as the captain of the Portugal team. He was expected to sparkle in the tournament. He did nothing of the sort; his performance was a shining example of a “damp squib”. He scored just one goal, which arguably was the silliest in the competition. Now, in this WC, was he paying for what he had done to Rooney in the last?

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