Filed by Gentry Estes
For the inexperienced soccer fan, this year’ s World Cup has resembled a parlor trick. Pick a card, any card.
There has been enough yellow and red to appease the staunchest Kansas City Chiefs supporter, only in the game of soccer, those seemingly constant whistles and bookings have dire consequences on the level of play.
Before the quarterfinals have started, this World Cup has already seen more cards dished out than any in history. Several contests, such as the U.S. draw against Italy and the Round of 16 match between Portugal and the Netherlands, has seen multiple players sent off the pitch.
Truly horrible, fans and coaches have said for weeks. But really, the heavy-handed approach from the referees marks the same song and dance that occurs each time. FIFA opens a tournament by promising to crack down on rough play, instructing refs from around the globe to enforce rules strictly and not hesitate to book an offending player.
Yet when those refs follow orders and create controversy, FIFA is the first to publicly throw them under the bus for their harsh actions. Then privately, those same refs are patted on the back for a job well done.
Take FIFA’ s assignments for the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals. After this week’ s first cut, two villains to America are still in Germany. Markus Merk, who awarded the dubious penalty kick to Ghana that essentially knocked the United States out of the Cup, is still around. So is Jorge Larrionda, who red-carded two U.S. players in the Italy match.
FIFA obviously applauded the actions of those referees, no matter what they said after the fact.
Now, on to this weekend’s quarterfinals:
Germany vs. Argentina, 11 a.m., Friday
There may be no match in the tournament better than this one. On paper, Argentina is stronger and would likely win at any other time in any other place. But it’ s being played in Berlin, before an electric crowd that won’ t rest until it gives the home side the edge in a high-scoring classic. Who knows? I’ ve changed my pick three times ... Argentina, 3-2.
Italy vs. Ukraine, 3 p.m., Friday
Most consider Ukraine fortunate to be here after a lackluster penalty kick victory over Switzerland.
Spain drilled Ukraine 4-0 during the group stage, which is an alarming warning flag before this date with the Italians. No team in the field plays better defense than Italy, which is bad news for a Ukraine side that has had trouble scoring goals. ... Italy, 1-0.
England vs. Portugal, 11 a.m., Saturday
The skeptical English are already bracing for a defeat to the coach that knocked them from the 2002 World Cup (with Brazil) and the 2004 European championships (with Portugal). But the Portuguese left it all on the field in a harrowing match against the Netherlands, while the Brits have yet to hit their stride. It could happen here, but if it goes to penalty kicks, the English are in trouble. ... England, 2-1.
Brazil vs. France, 3 p.m., Saturday
As good as they are, the Brazilians did not want to see the French in this game. Memories of the 1998 World Cup final (France 3, Brazil 0) are still fresh in the minds of players on both sides. Although France has underachieved of late, there is enough talent to give Brazil’ s shaky defense trouble. … France, 1-1, advancing on penalty kicks.