We often speak of moments when it comes to football. The 90-plus minutes of play are about trends and approach. A lot happens in that span, altering the course of a game. There is an epidemic emerging among onlookers focusing on useless stats, some with meaning but few telling the true story. It's the moments that define a match and decide its fate.
Two particular moments Sunday not only defined their respective matches, but also the tournament as a whole.
No minute played will ever encapsulate the positive nature of this tournament better than in time added between Switzerland and Ecuador in Brasilia. With the match level at 1-1, the South American side saw weakness in an underperforming Swiss team and nobly was pushing for a winner. Antonio Valencia found space down the right side and played a good ball to Michael Arroyo inside the top of the box. Arroyo's touch was heavy and the Ecuadorian hesitated. That moment of indecision gave Swiss central midfielder Valon Behrami time to get stuck in, coming to the rescue with a picture perfect game saving tackle. Behrami, who struggled throughout the match, didn't stop there. He started the counter-attack from inside his own box with purpose, sprinting with the ball down the middle of the field. Behrami was met by a crunching challenge, a clear foul by any standard. Behrami went down but wasn't out.
Many players in that situation would have stayed down, waited for the whistle and killed off the match and settle for the point, but not Behrami. The midfielder immediately jumped to his feet and carried on his run. Huge credit goes to the referee, Ravshan Irmatov of Uzbekistan, who refereed a very good match. No moment was better than allowing play to continue after the foul. Advantage earned, advantage given. So many officials in the game are over-anxious, especially when a player goes down, to blow their whistle and halt proceedings. Irmatov read the play, was patient and the game carried on. It was truly expert officiating. Switzerland carried on their move.
Within seconds, the ball was played wide right by Behrami. The ball kept moving, with the switch of play on. Ricardo Rodriguez had been flying down the left flank all day long. He was open and he got the ball. Rodriguez took a touch, brought his head up and played a perfect ball to the near post. Substitute Haris Seferovic obliged, making the near-post run, getting on the end of the weighted pass to knock in the winner with seconds to play. It was spectacular football in all phases of the build-up and worthy of the game winning goal on any occasion, let alone in World Cup play. It was excellence personified, from the tackle to the fair play, from the officiating to the counter-attack and the finish. The end result may be harsh on Ecuador. They deserved something from a match well played. A goal in such a manner can only sting so much. It was a defining moment for all that's good and right in the game of football.
The second defining moment came between France and Honduras in a rugged, physical match where Honduras was content to kick and hack. The ‘H' on their jerseys must stand for hatchet job. It was largely disgraceful. Nevermind the overall quality of the match, it was the moment goal-line technology made its true arrival at the World Cup and signals progressive change, benefiting the game to the highest degree. In the 48th minute and France up 1-0, Karim Benzema broke in and put the ball off the post, rebounding off goalkeeper Noel Valladares before it appeared to cross the goal-line. Benzema celebrated, but was it a goal? In a matter of seconds, referee Emerson De Carvalho pointed to half and the goal was ruled ‘good'. De Carvalho was notified immediately of the good goal call and pointed to half. The viewer may have been confused, but there was no indecision by the officiating crew. It took a minute and ten seconds for the video replay to show on the screen. Initial panic on Twitter was complete nonsense, as the first goal-line review showed ‘no goal'. Those who were patient enough came to realize the first adjudication had nothing to do with the ball of the post, and that two goal decisions using the technology were needed. The second review came after the ball went off the back of Valladares. By the slimmest of margins, the video showed the ball had crossed the line. The margin for error with the technology is said to be plus- or minus-1.5cm. The ball couldn't have crossed the line by much more than that. But we have to trust the technology. There is no point using it if we don't.
Honduras Head Coach Luis Fernandez Suarez unsurprisingly protested. French Head Coach Didier Deschamps tried to explain, but how do you plead for common sense to someone acting irrational? Arguing against goal-line technology is like arguing against gravity: It is nonsensical. The call was right. There is no point arguing. After the protests ceased, the match carried on. It took two minutes, thirty seconds total to go through the process, celebrate and calm emotions. Two minutes, thirty seconds to make sure the call was right. This was no Frank Lampard foot-over-the-line in Bloemfontein we are talking about here. It was mere centimeters. The debate is done. Good goal and we move on. This stands as a watershed moment for FIFA and world soccer. For goal-line technology to work so effectively on the world stage is a testament to progression in the game. It is an overwhelming success and must be instituted in all major leagues, worldwide. It begs the question what else this technology can be used for and how far the game is willing to go with technology. Offside calls? Perhaps that's the next step in the evolution of the game, to get the call right.
These were two very different moments, but two tremendously important ones. The World Cup continues to live up to all the hype. There have been 37 goals in 11 matches, the most through this many games since 1958. Three goals or more have been scored in 10 out of the 11 matches played and in the game there were not three goals, two were disallowed that should have stood. The tournament has been spectacular. With moments like these, we can truly call it the beautiful game. Sit back and enjoy.
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