<
>

Coaches entitled to question the refs

As an announcer myself, I always try to pay careful attention to the commentary when I'm watching a soccer game, especially in this World Cup, for which ESPN has assembled some of the best broadcasting talent in the history of the sport. Certainly, the announcers are way ahead of the referees in this FIFA World Cup so far.

Live game announcers take a risk when offering opinions on events unfolding in front of their eyes. Even though they see the action with the naked eye (and have the benefit of replay monitors), they have to make snap judgments and put events in context on the fly. Unlike writers and pundits back in the studio, the guys in the booth put their opinions out there in real time and don't always have the luxury of rethinking or rewriting them in advance.

So it was with interest that I listened to the first-rate tandem of Martin Tyler (arguably the gold standard at his position) and Ally McCoist saving so much of their criticism around the Brazil-Ivory Coast game for Brazil coach Dunga. Yes, he went ballistic at almost any perceived foul or contact to one of his high-priced superstars. Yes, he fueled the confrontational tone to the game with his remonstrations against French referee Stephane Lannoy. I, however, thought it was mostly justified, given the way the game went. For me, Lannoy was the problem, not Dunga.

Luis Fabiano's two-handball, "beautiful" goal in the 49th moved things toward farcical territory in a tense matchup between two strong sides. Then to see Lannoy apparently joking with Fabiano about the play turned the stomach of anyone who saw the super-slow-mo replays of the goal.

And after Elano struck for Brazil in the 61st to make it 3-0, it was wheels off. There were some terrible tackles flying around, most of them by players in green-and-white Ivory Coast jerseys. When Ismael Tioté sent Elano hobbling off the field after a studs-up challenge that went uncarded, the Brazilians were always going to try to show up the Ivoirians. All the confrontations that ensued could have been avoided if Lannoy had gotten control of the game. The ridiculous sending off of Kaká for a bogus second yellow (Kader Keita initiated the contact, not to mention perpetrating the worst play-acting since Rivaldo in 2002 versus Turkey) should have never happened.

There have been other controversial and outright bad calls that have gotten headlines -- Swiss midfielder Valon Behrami's red against Chile and South African goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune's sending off versus Uruguay come to mind -- but no call has gotten the negative attention that the foul call by now-infamous Koman Coulibaly has.

By robbing the U.S. of a legendary comeback against Slovenia, Coulibaly has done a lot of things. Yes, his call hurt the USA's opportunity to advance, but it also stirred tremendous interest and debate around the World Cup in this country and set up a win-and-you're-in scenario for the Yanks on Wednesday against Algeria. That's all -- in a backhanded way -- good for the game here in the States.

But that's not what we want here. Americans want a rational, just approach and feel entitled to be outraged when they don't get that. For that reason, it's been impressive -- if a bit frustrating -- to hear Bob Bradley's philosophical approach to FIFA's maddening unwillingness to use instant replay or at least have their refs explain their controversial calls on the field or after the fact.

Which is why I would have focused on Lannoy's behavior and not Dunga's. Just as the games in this tournament have started to get some juice, some real excitement, the referees have become too much a part of the story. Let the coaches rant and rave. The way things are going right now, they're entitled to.

Brad Feldman is the television and radio play-by-play voice of the New England Revolution and supervising producer for all of the Revolution's regional telecasts. He is host of the online programs RevsWrap and In the Net and has 12 years of experience announcing and producing MLS and international soccer TV. He will be blogging on the FIFA World Cup for ESPN Boston throughout the tournament.