Despite
an impressive display of honest, hard working football which earned the
Socceroos plenty of admirers worldwide, Australia’s memorable 2006 World Cup
came to a dramatic end this morning against a theatrical Italian side.

With
the score locked at nil-all deep in injury time, Italian striker Fabio Grosso
was awarded a controversial penalty after tripping over Australian defender
Lucas Neill.

In
yet another spectacularly ridiculous officiating decision, referee Luis Medina
Cantalejo deemed Neill to have fouled Grosso, making way for substitute
Francesco Totti to take the penalty kick with just seconds remaining. Yet it
isn’t just the Australians crying foul about the decision. Commentators around
the world also judged the Socceroos to have been treated unfairly.

“It was hard luck on the Socceroos,
with Grosso appearing to dive over Blackburn defender
Neill,” reported The Sun.

“The
Socceroos were tough on Italy. The referee was tougher on Australia. Another questionable call in
this World Cup showed Italy the way to the quarterfinal. Italy’s
Fabio Grosso was dribbling a few strides from the goalmouth when Lucas Neill
slid in front of him. The Italian cut in Neill’s direction and tried to leap
clear, but tripped over the defender’s back,” observed the Houston Chronicle.

“Lucas
Neill was harshly adjudged to have brought down Fabio Grosso with ten seconds
left of injury time,” noted The Times.

“As predicted, the Azzurri
resorted to method acting instead of playing football and were rewarded by a
match-deciding penalty,” said one New Zealand blogger.

“Fabio Grosso challenged for a loose ball down the left wing with Marco
Bresciano. Shoulder-charging his opponent to the floor with ease, Grosso
rampaged into the area. There seemed little danger until Lucas Neill slid in
idiotically to challenge – at which point Grosso needed no prompting to throw
himself over the prone Australia defender and claim the penalty,” said The
Guardian.

Even with
the world on his side, you can bet none of these assessments will make Neill
feel any better about the incident. That said, history will not judge him
harshly.

PICTURE: Australia’s Lucas Neill, left, reacts after he
tackled Italy’s Fabio Grosso, right, in the penalty box during the last
minutes of the Australia vs Italy Round of 16 World Cup soccer match at
Fritz Walter Stadium in Kaiserslautern, Germany, Monday, June 26, 2006.
Italy was awarded a penalty and won 1-0. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Peter Fray

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