Thomas
Hunter at the Crikey sports desk writes:

Even before the euphoria of the
Socceroos qualifying for the second round of the World Cup subsides, the
refereeing of Australia’s game against Croatia
will come under intense scrutiny.

At least this time the Australians
were able to control their sense of injustice at game’s end, but that probably
had more to do with the fact that the result, despite the errors, didn’t go
against them.

English referee Graham Poll might not have been as
consistently wrong as Markus Merk was in the Brazil game, but he made up for it
in the size of his errors. The first blunder came when Mark Viduka was virtually
wrestled to the ground in the box – no whistle, no spot kick. “Simunic’s manhandling (of
Viduka) bore more resemblance to the sort of thing that goes on in the goal
square at the MCG or on a rugby field, but English referee Graham Poll
astonishingly waved play on,” writes
Michael Lynch in The Age this morning.

Croatia were physical, Australia desperate,
and the Socceroos drove on in search of the goal that would tip qualification
their way. Kewell tried a speculative long shot, a Jason Culina effort was
deflected after he was set up by Tim Cahill, and then Viduka and Kewell worked
an opening but could not get a shot away. Croatia were, however, dangerous on
the break, and Vince Grella was forced to defend well in a covering tackle
Goalkeeper Stipe Pletikos then kept out a Cahill header before pulling off
another save from a Kewell shot after Cahill and the Liverpool man had carved
out space with a one-two.

It seemed as if the goal just would not come after Viduka was thwarted by a
Stjepan Tomas tackle and another Culina shot sailed over. But in the 37th
minute Australian salvation was offered by Poll when he pointed to the spot
after Tomas handled a cross from the right.

Veteran Craig Moore, the man replaced as skipper by Viduka, replaced the
striker as penalty taker and slammed home a deserved leveller.

But the Croatians came out with more adventure in the second half,
playmaker Niko Kranjcar shooting over the bar in the 49th minute and Niko Kovac
heading over four minutes later. Kovac’s luck turned for the better, and
Australia’s for the worse, four minutes later when Kalac made his catastrophic
error.

Australia came closest to levelling in the 71st minute when a Pletikosa
fell on the ball in a goal mouth scramble as the Australians claimed it had
crossed the line.

Later, a Croatian hand reached above
a group of players in front of the Australia goal and helped the ball out of play. Replays showed another
penalty should have been awarded to Australia, raising the questions, how did the ref miss it, and why aren’t
video replays used in a sport where the stakes, especially at the World Cup,
are so high? It was not arguable – Australia had been robbed by a glaring error.

And finally, Josip Simunic, the Canberra
born Croatian defender, was given three – THREE – yellow cards before Poll
deigned to show him the red. Surely this is a blunder that cannot escape some
sort of response from FIFA. Put simply, the governing body cannot afford to
have a later game – a quarter final, a semi, or the final – decided by such a
basic error. The outrage could endanger lives.

Meanwhile, it appears Merk’s wayward
decision-making in the Australian game was not an aberration. He presided over
the Ghana vs USA match overnight and again left fans and players bemused,
confused, and angry.

“… If the German dentist (Merk) took
the same approach to his first trade as he does to his refereeing, then his
hometown would be teeming with gummy youths who had their teeth wrenched out
during dinner for getting food on them”, wrote
blogger Paul Doyle for The Guardian.

Peter Fray

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