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- It Seems To Me. . .-

Referees might have been harsh, but U.S. was not cheated against Italy.

Injuries have trashed conventional wisdom on Cup Group E.

Injuries have trashed conventional wisdom on Cup Group E.

At the World Cup, Arena chooses to do things his way.

With U.S. team in Germany, Adu makes gains at home.

MLS should lead the way by using second referee.

Arena's World Cup selections were made with a purpose.

Arena's selections for World Cup roster are fairly evident.

Arena needed to make no apology for loss to Germany.

Contiguglia presided over U.S. Soccer period of progress.

MLS business model is being eyed by European leagues.

Arena selections for Poland game give hints of World Cup roster.

Arena still doesn't get the respect he deserves.

It Seems To Me . . .

FIFA must examine World Cup policies.

By Robert Wagman

NUREMBERG, Germany (Saturday, June 24, 2006) -- In the wake of the United States' elimination from the 2006 World Cup, U.S. manager Bruce Arena raised several issues that deserve close examination by world soccer governing body FIFA.

Things began to go wrong for the U.S. World Cup pursuit almost a year ago when the German Organizing Committee received permission from FIFA to tinker with the formula used to seed the eight seeds which would head each of the preliminary groups in the competition. The new formula gave greater weight to a country's results in the three previous World Cups and less weight to where a country stood in the world rankings. Had the same formula been used as was used to seed teams in South Korea and Japan in 2002, the U.S. would have been one of the eight seeded teams. With the new formula, both Italy and Mexico jumped ahead of the U.S. because of the Americans' dismal showing in the 1998 Cup in France.

It makes little sense that a game played in the 1994 World Cup would have bearing on the fair application of the 2006 world championship tournament.

Had the U.S. been seeded, almost by definition, it would not have had major European power in its group. Instead, it would have another European nation, more likely one of the lesser South American teams, as well as an African team that -- luck of the draw -- would not have been as strong as Ghana turned out to be.

Then things went from bad to worse when in the draw December 9 in Leipzig, the U.S. found itself in a group with two top European teams -- Italy and the Czech Republic -- and Ghana. Once the draw was completed, the U.S.'s chances to advance out of the group became problematic.

As it turned out, the Czechs fell apart because of injuries and suspensions in its two matches following its 3-0 defeat of the Americans in the opening Group E match. Ghana was stronger then anyone expected and became the best African team of the tournament, while Italy pretty much did as expected.

When all is said and done, and all 64 group matches are played, there was no doubt that U.S.'s Group E was the strongest group in the tournament. It was the only group going into the final match day with no team qualified for the next round and all four teams still having the possibility of advancing.

"I have absolutely no doubt, if we had been played in any number of the other groups, we would have advanced," Arena said. And looking at how poorly some of the teams played in the group phase, one has to agree with that assessment, even given the Americans' inability to generate much offense in any of its three matches.

So Arena put forward a simple solution: "Seed all 32 teams."

If all 32 teams were seeded in some intelligent manner -- never a given where FIFA is concerned -- one would not have the wild imbalance that occurs now between groups. There would not be "groups of death" with four strong teams, nor would you have groups with two dominant teams and two also-rans where which teams will advance is fairly obvious from the opening kickoff of the first match.

Now, in an effort to avoid the appearance of favoritism, blind luck, good or bad, is used to make up the eight four-nation groups. Thus, inequalities reign at every World Cup. This even leads to disparities among the seeded teams.

The host team is always seeded and put into Group A, so it has the ceremonial opening match. Then the other seven seeded teams are assigned to groups by chance, picked out of a bowl. This often leads to unbalanced brackets and to situations like this year where more of the strongest teams are in the upper bracket so that two of the strongest teams in the competition -- Germany and Argentina -- will meet in a quarterfinal.

There probably has never been a World Cup where referees decisions have been so debated in so many matches and where those decisions have clearly influenced the outcome of those matches. This is not just happenstance. The referees at this competition have all been brainwashed by FIFA to almost reflexively punish certain fouls and actions.

The referees here have been told exactly how to call matches in terms of what actions to look for and punish. Each referee is evaluated after each match, his every call and non-call is examined and graded. An official who does not grade well will be on a plane home long before the July 9 championship match. And although it has never been publicly stated as such, a referee is probably better off making too many calls than too few.

Obviously the U.S. was adversely affected by the officiating, but it is far from the only team. Ghana is going to have to face defending champion Brazil in the Round of 16 without its best player, English Premier League champion Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien, who is suspended for yellow-card accumulation after receiving his second caution of the first round early against the U.S.

Essien was as dumfounded as was Eddie Pope against Italy when he was sent off with his second yellow of that match.

"It was one of the worst moments of my life," Essien said. "It was minor, ridiculous, never a yellow. But what can I do?"

Arena agrees and has challenged FIFA to reexamine this new policy of pressuring officials to make calls that has led to a rate of almost 25 percent more yellow cards handed out than in 2002.

"Not every contact is a foul and not every foul warrants a caution," Arena said. "This insistence on yellow cards is crazy. It's taking good players like Essien out of the tournament. It's just unfair. His tackle was actually good. This mandate to show yellow cards has gone overboard. I feel bad for Essien. They need him for the next game. But it's been mandated and I think that's wrong.

"This policy is taking good players out of the game and is affecting this tournament. FIFA has to reexamine this."

This is not sour grapes coming from a defeated coach. In every Cup match, there have been calls and cards that have bordered on the bizarre. Furthermore, the relative strengths of groups is out of whack to the point that in some groups every team needs to play full out for 90 minutes, while in others, reserve-laden squads can walk their way into the next round.

FIFA needs to thoughtfully look at both issues.

Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.

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