Tag Archive: FIFA

New Zealand have pulverized Papua New Guinea 15-0 over two legs to earn the right to represent Oceania at the 2012 London Olympics Women’s Football tournament. An 8-0 win on home soil was followed by a 7-0 thrashing in Papua New Guinea, who had won the first stage of the qualifiers by beating Tonga 2-0. 

PNG goalkeeper Linda Bunaga prepares to perform a familiar role - picking the ball out of the net

The one-sided nature of the two-legged final is another example of New Zealand’s dominance in the region. Papua New Guinea had proved to be stronger than their Stage One counterparts Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu, but against New Zealand’s Football Ferns, they were outclassed. With only one qualifying berth up for grabs in the Oceania Confederation, it would have to take a minor miracle for one of the smaller countries to usurp heavyweights New Zealand. 

The competition provided by other teams in Oceania is also not representative of New Zealand’s opponents at the London Olympics. Despite his side’s convincing 8-0 win in the first leg, coach Tony Readings admitted “there’s definitely things we still need to work on.” The confidence gained from their straightforward qualification could well be misplaced if New Zealand find themselves leaving the Olympic tournament at the first hurdle. 

New Zealand players celebrate their comfortable qualification

Papua New Guinea coach Steven Mune remained upbeat, saying “I’m really impressed with our ladies’ performance” and praising his team’s defending as “just awesome”. It is a sad fact that almost every qualifying tournament like this will end with a young, talented team overcoming their rivals in the early rounds only to be humiliated by the more experienced New Zealand in the final – even Papua New Guinea’s best was nowhere near enough.

Although OFC somewhat improved the situation in these qualifiers by excluding New Zealand from the first round, thereby avoiding more one-sided, demoralizing games, the problems still remain. The Football Ferns will join their male colleagues in London, and although the men’s side endured a more challenging qualifying tournament, their progress was still inevitable. 

After their first leg victory, New Zealand captain Rebecca Smith grinned “8 goals: it’s pretty fun for the fans”. That may be true, but the rest of the Confederation’s teams don’t seem to be having much fun at all. 

Clint Hill’s recent “goal that never was” against Bolton Wanderers has reignited debate on one of football’s biggest talking points – goal-line technology. The twenty-first century has already seen a number of incidents that advocate the introduction of such technology in as much as it would have allowed the incidents to be avoided.

Cast your minds back to 2005. It is January 4 at Old Trafford and Pedro Mendes’ speculative effort from 50 yards – with the game goalless and in its penultimate minute – clearly crosses the line. United’s Roy Carroll claws the ball out of the net and play continues, to the disbelief of Tottenham’s players and almost everyone watching. Everyone except the officials, that is. Referee Mark Clattenburg and assistant Rob Lewis are too far behind the play to be sure the ball crossed the line – understandable considering Mendes had shot from just past the half-way line.

Carroll spills the ball well over the line - but the officials were unable to award the goal

Spurs were robbed of two points and Mendes of what he later described as “a superb goal”. Ex-referees chief Keith Hackett was at Old Trafford that night and claimed he “felt sick about what happened”. Hackett was then inspired to advocate the introduction of goal-line technology, but he has still not achieved this aim.

This, although a freak incident, is not the only example of the human eye failing to detect a goal. 15 August 2009 saw another phantom goal, but in very different circumstances. Neil Warnock’s CrystalPalace are playing Bristol City when Freddie Sears’ close-range effort hits the back of the net andflies out again. City goalkeeper Dean Gerken kneels on the ground in dismay, while Sears wheels away in delight. However, the shot was in and out of the net so quickly, referee Rob Shoebridge is unable to detect a goal and to add to Palace’s outrage, City snatch a late winner and run out 1-0 victors.

Predictably, emotions ran high, with the controversial Warnock saying “We can put a man on the moon, time serves of 100 miles per hour at  Wimbledon, yet we cannot place a couple of sensors in a net to show when a goal has been scored”. Although his actions immediately after the incident – including making goggles with his hands in front of one of Shoebridge’s assistants – were over-the-top, he had a point. Many other sports use similar technology to great effect.

An irate Neil Warnock berates match officials after Freddie Sears' goal was disallowed

Showing their reluctance to answer fans, FIFA attempted to diffuse the situation by giving them an alternative solution, responding with the introduction of two extra officials in the 2009-10 Europa League to aid with deciding goals and penalties. While this helped to some extent, the problem was not fully solved – no matter how many assistants are watching play, there are always going to be incidents that evade them. That is why FIFA is behind the times and that is why goal-line technology is needed.

It should also be noted that not all incidents are unavoidable mistakes by referees. Take Paddy Connolly’s thumping effort from a corner for Dundee United against Partick Thistle in 1993. Dundee celebrate, a Thistle defender picks the ball up and hands it to his goalkeeper – but the ref waves play on. An honest mistake, but a ridiculous one.

Clint Hill’s disallowed goal for QPR on Saturday follows Frank Lampard’s lob against Germany at the 2010 World Cup. With England 2-1 down, Lampard’s shot clearly crossed the line, but as with Pedro Mendes, he suffered the agony of having a legitimate goal disallowed by unsure officials. England went on to lose 4-1, but had Lampard’s goal been allowed, the game could have had a different outcome.

Hill himself highlighted the agony of having a fair goal taken away when he lamented “That would have been my first Premier League goal, and I feel robbed. You try all your career for a moment like that, and I knew straight away it was in”. At 33, and with QPR battling relegation, Hill may never score in the top flight again. Although the officials are unable to avoid such incidents as they have to be sure to award a goal, it is scenarios such as these – and there are many more I could have mentioned – that make the decision to introduce goal-line technology a no-brainer.

American Samoa, a tiny US territory with a population of just 55,000, recently hit the headlines after winning their first FIFA-sanctioned game. This success, a 2-1 “giantkilling” of fellow minnows Tonga, ended a mammoth 30-game losing streak and brought relative fame (if only for the allocated 15 minutes) to the team and country.

The national side had only previously been acknowledged by worldwide media in 2001 after an infamous 31-0 loss to Australia. Many labelled the side as hopeless and the notion that the team’s players had never kicked a ball between them was created. However, many also failed to realise that American Samoa, already huge underdogs against Oceania’s largest side, were forced to field their youth team after passport issues with senior players. Just one of their original 20-man squad was eligible for the game  – goalkeeper Nicky Salapu – part-time international footballer, part-time Seattle supermarket worker. American Samoa were also forced to field three 15 year olds as many of their under-20 side were unavailable.

Even the name of the country's FA, Football Federation American Samoa, seems backward

Since that loss, American Samoa had seemed to be making little progress, losing routinely and heavily against the likes of Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Fiji. In a country where American Football appears to be more popular, coupled with a smaller population than most of their opponents, this may not appear to be much of a surprise, but this incredible losing run earned the side a kind of cult following – well as much is as possible for a tiny island in the Pacific. People from across the world marveled at the haplessness of the team and decided to follow their seemingly hopeless plight.

The 2011 Pacific Games brought further misery for the players but further joy for the cult following that seemed to revel in American Samoa’s prolonged pain, celebrating each 10-0 loss as some kind of joke. The cult following were happy for the side to lose every game – should American Samoa somehow manage a victory, the enjoyment and humour extracted from following them would be lessened.

A narrow 4-0 loss to fellow no-hopers Tuvalu, a side coached by former Holland U-21 boss Foppe de Haan, seemed promising and bearable, and the same scoreline against the Solomon Islands was viewed as something of an achievement. A close 2-0 defeat to Guam showed considerable improvement from previous competitions but against regional heavyweights New Caledonia and Vanuatu, Iofi Lalogafuafua’s men went down 8-0, inevitably finishing bottom of their group with no points.

Their overseas “fans” rejoiced in another comically bad tournament for the Samoans, but many of the players had had their last opportunity to experience a win at international level – too old to play in future tournaments, they would be consigned to history as part of a side that became the laughing stock of international football.

What a shock then, when on 23 November 2011, the side managed the unthinkable and defeated Tonga 2-1 to scenes of jubilation and disbelief in Apia, Samoa, where the game was held. Many of the cult following probably had the opposite reaction – now they needed a new team to mock in pretend support, someone to patronise with fake encouragement.

American Samoa celebrate their first official win in November 2011

It was no coincidence that the win came soon after the appointment of former D.C. United, Chivas USA and US U-20 coach Thomas Rongen, who clearly instilled belief and tactics to the side. After the win, Rongen stated “This is going to be part of soccer history, like the 31-0 against Australia was part of history”. He recognised that the team had come the full circle in media coverage – mocked for their sheer inability to compete in 2001, they were now being praised for an improbable victory against favoured opponents.

While winning in itself seemed distinctly unlike American Samoa, the fact that the second, clinching goal was tellingly scored by Shalom Luani, a 17 year old defender-turned striker, showed that American Samoa has not changed – it has merely evolved. And good for them.