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Were the Americans Robbed?

It’s usually the case that any time a headline asks a question the answer is No. This post is no exception to that rule. The Americans were not robbed today and nor were they the victims of any anti-American bias. Sorry, Jesse, but that’s the sort of fanciful, solipsistic whingeing one normally associates with Notre Dame fans. 

A friend has just told me that someone on ESPN has just said “Jo-burg has an international reputation for crime. There was a crime committed tonight in Ellis Park.” Really? Get a grip. Equally, lambasting Koman Coulibaly as a “rookie ref” as though he’d just wandered in from the Sahara and never whistled a match in his life is, shall we say, distasteful. And wrong: after all, he did the final of the African Cup of Nations this year.

Simon Hayden gets it absolutely right:

Maurice Edu committed no foul as he scored from just over six yards. However, just about every other player in the penalty area was holding, grabbing, pulling or pushing as the U.S. free kick sailed in to the 18-yard zone.

Referee Koman Coulibaly of Mali saw one of several fouls. Unluckily for the U.S., he saw the only one committed by an American, defender Carlos Bocanegra.

Bocanegra had his arms around Slovenia substitute Jejc Pecnik and was preventing him from jumping for the ball.

Coulibaly was ideally placed to see the foul he called. He was 10 yards away from Edu as the striker hit the ball home, but the Bocanegra-Pecnik grappling took place just one yard away, in the referee's direct line of sight.

Quite so. I'd add that while Americans were certainly being fouled too, these were off-the-ball incidents. Pecnik, by contrast, was the Slovenian defender best placed to deal with the free-kick. In other words, the foul on him had an impact on the game in a way that others committed at that moment did not. You might think it a questionable or even harsh decision but that doesn't mean it’s either incomprehensible or unwarranted.

But even if Coulibaly got it wrong, so what? The referee is the referee and his word is final and it doesn’t matter if he's wrong. That's part of the game.

Generally speaking, players can't control the referee's decisions. They certainly aren't responsible for them. They are, however, responsible for their own actions.

So if the United States want to find scapegoats they'd be better off looking at their own shortcomings—failures that left them 2-0 down after all. Slack marking gave Valter Birsa so much time and space in which to pick his spot that a goal was a just reward both for the quality of his strike and to penalise the Americans for their carelessness.

Then Tim Howard's moment of comedy goalkeeping turned Zlatan Ljubijankic's goal from a good one into an opportunity a ten year old would be disappointed to squander. Howard mis-timed his approach and then, worse, put his body in a position that it became harder for the Slovene to miss than to score. It was terrible goalkeeping.

Howard's normally a pretty decent stopper but I confess I'm mystified by the talk in the U.S. about him being one of the best in the world. He’s good but he's not even in the top four in the English league, far less the rest of the world.

Still, let’s acknowledge this: the self-pity, howls of outrage and the dark mutterings of conspiracy proves that, in these respects at least, the United States is truly a part of the international footballing fraternity these days. Welcome to the club, lads.