Soccer’s knack for weirdness
on the way to a 2-0 halftime deficit and an eventual 2-1 loss. This wasn’t David over Goliath, it was Goliath getting clipped by David’s little brother, Ted.
The U.S. exit also happened in the most soccer way possible, as the team would have survived if either Honduras lost to Mexico or Panama lost to Costa Rica. Mexico was unbeaten through nine games and Costa Rica had lost just once; both teams were already qualified for the World Cup. Both also took early leads in their games, with Mexico actually taking a lead twice, and yet both lost by a goal. Costa Rica even lost on a blown call, as a ball that rolled around on the goal line was mistakenly ruled a goal despite not actually crossing the line.
In an era where North American pro sports in particular are absolutely nuts for replays and challenges and reviews and anything else that could eliminate the possibility of human error even if it maddeningly takes away from the emotion of the game, here comes soccer to ignore the most basic of reviewable calls — did the ball cross the line? — and affect the World Cup fortunes of two nations in the process.
Soccer has an undeniable knack for such weirdness. In part because it’s the only truly global sport and in part because the nature of the game at high levels limits scoring chances and creates the greater possibility of a statistical outlier, wacky results happen with some regularity.
Iceland qualified for Euro 2014, its first major tournament, and then made it all the way to the quarterfinals, beating England in the first knockout stage. England! Now the plucky Icelanders have done it again, winning their UEFA group stage to qualify for the World Cup. Iceland, the whole of the country, has a population of less than 340,000, which is about the size of the Toronto suburb in which I reside. I am pretty sure Markham would have a tough time qualifying for the World Cup, although I am willing to try out for centre-back, or whichever position involves the least running. Iceland, to put it another way, it is about one one-thousandth the size of the United States, population-wise.
Iceland isn’t the only unlikely World Cup contender, either. Panama’s Tuesday win qualified it for Russia despite a negative goal differential in the latest round, while Honduras is still alive — it will face a playoff against Australia — even though it gave up six more goals than it scored in the last CONCACAF round.
Then there is Burkina Faso, the African nation that has a shot at making Russia with one game left to play. Burkina Faso has never played in a World Cup and only twice finished in the top three at the African Cup, both times in the past four THE EXPOSITOR years. They could yet be edged out by Senegal, which should have one more game left but instead has two, both against South Africa. Senegal lost 2-1 last November against the South Africans, but FIFA ruled that the decisive penalty was awarded on a non-existent handball and the referee was eventually banned for life for match fixing. Drama!
South Africa, despite one win in its four games, could yet leapfrog Burkina Faso and Senegal if they manage to beat Senegal twice next month. Meanwhile, Senegal’s best attacker, Sadio Mane, who plays for Liverpool in the English Premier League, suffered a hamstring injury on the weekend — as an 89th-minute substitute — that will likely keep him out of the qualifiers. Even with that injury, the prospect of a pair of South African wins to jump into Russia seems highly unlikely.
But then, this is soccer.
Trinidad and Tobago players celebrate their second goal in a 2-1 win over the U.S. on Tuesday in their World Cup qualifying match at Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago. The loss eliminated the U.S. from the next World Cup.