Glancing at the World Cup: 5 questions from my once-in-every-four-year soujorn to the beautiful game

One fantastic thing about the World Cup is that it makes experts out of people who take only a vague passing interest in the sport. The ability to check in and invest time and emotion in something like this only every four years means you can store up all your research and casual reading and confidently say that Belgium were the dark horse you tipped ages ago.

It’s also like the Olympics, when you take a weird but confident and concentrated interest in sports you don’t usually see, and get fascinated by it. For me, that’s usually handball. Brilliant game to watch.

And of course, nothing warms the heart more than waiting for whatever controversy will eliminate England. Sadly, after previous World Cups saw Beckham and Rooney red cards and that goal against Germany that wasn’t called, this time it was simply a lack of ability that saw them fly home early.

But as a novice follower, who likes the top level stuff from Europe and knows a few names, but isn’t going to bother much with the A League, if I am going to follow the sport more, there are some question I need answered:

  1. With the ball being able to be kicked such long distances, changes in ball technology meaning it swings more and travels faster, and greater player endurance, why does soccer continue to only have one referee? The AFL has 3, NFL at least 5, and other games that flow quickly over similar sized fields, like NRL and field hockey, have 2. Sports played on much smaller areas like basketball and ice hockey are patrolled by 3. But soccer sticks with 1, seemingly a lot of work and pressure for one referee (with line judges only seeming to be there to judge offside)? I imagine that there’s just so much soccer player around the world that mandating 2 refs every game is impractical, but can you make an exception at the very top level? Or…
  2. Why, in a sport where scoring is rare and valued, and the stakes so high and decisions so debated, hasn’t soccer added to goal-line technology and implemented video reviews? I accept that the goal technology in AFL is still having teething problems and NRL had enormous issues last year. However, tennis seems to work fine with Hawkeye and the recent Hockey World Cup in Holland, where teams are given the chance to challenge a corner or penalty decision, and lose the chance for more if wrong, was an example of an extra eyes settling nerves in a fast-paced game. Would one challenge a half, and a failed challenge meaning no more, help those panicked and emotional last minute penalty decisions that cause so much debate and controversy and rock a country’s emotions for another four years? It would remove issues of bias, favouritism, diving and recriminations that last until the next World Cup and beyond. Witness the number of late, game changing and controversial penalties already given in this tournament.
  3. Why does the accidental trip of a player not in a scoring position but just inside the penalty box get rewarded the same as a deliberate handball on the line or somebody dragging down a player and stopping a clear shot?
  4. Why do so few players choose to smash a penalty straight at the centre of the goals, when the vast majority of goal keepers seem to pick a side and dive, leaving the centre free?
  5. Why hasn’t medical science investigated more the remarkable super-human recovery and restorative powers of top-level soccer players, who seem to be able to regenerate their legs from potentially being broken to being able to run normally within a few minutes of falling over in agony? They must have some sort of magic spray in those trainer’s kits.

About Sean Curtain

"He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad". First line of 'Scaramouche' by Sabatini, always liked that.


  1. Rick Kane says

    Good questions Sean, and I trust your tongue is firmly planted in your cheek for a couple of them. One small but necessary quibble. It’s football not soccer. (“In 2005, Australia’s association football governing body changed its name from soccer to football to align with the general international usage of the term”.) Unless you are getting behind the Oranje and then you can call it voetbal :)


  2. MGLFerguson says

    Sean, I love your observation about the quadrennial interest and instant expertise that World Cup soccer engenders. It totally hit home for me, as I have been wholly absorbed by the tournament, and have become oh-so-eager to expound on its minutiae.

    I think that some of the answer to question #1 and #2 overlaps: It occurs to me that soccer is a world game like no other, and in being so has to attend to the world’s varying economic considerations as much as technical ones: A game played in the Central African Republic or Afghanistan should ideally be played under the same conditions as one in England or Germany. And because replay equipment, goal-line technology, separate countdown clocks and extra officials all cost extra money (some, a lot of extra money), many of those things are impossible to provide for a lot of the world’s less-wealthy associations, and particularly for games any level beyond their very highest. Providing them for the World Cup but not for lesser competitions also seems a bit wrong: ideally, a game should be played under the same rules and conditions no matter the occasion, else the specially-equipped tournament starts to become a test of something different. And FWIW, I really don’t like the video review in field hockey. It destroys the flow of the game, and contributes to an erosion of trust in the officials.

    Rick, I think Sean’s question #5 is why I will continue to call soccer, soccer: Real men don’t writhe on the ground in elaborately-concocted agony; real men play football. And when I start to see more diving/flopping/simulation in a football game such as the supremely enraging blight that was the Netherlands/Chile group stage game, I will start calling football, soccer too.

  3. Dave Nadel says

    Rick, I don’t care what Soccer Australia calls itself. In a country where there are four codes of football played soccer is in no position to arrogate the term football to itself. Association Football (soccer for short) doesn’t even have the support to play its winter game in winter because it cannot draw large enough crowds to compete with the AFL or the NRL. International soccer is terrific and does draw large Australian crowds. The local professional game remains a poor cousin to the two top professional codes of football in this country.

  4. Gregor Lewis says

    Imagine what orthopaedic wards in hospitals round the world would be like, if this magic water and spray were made available to everyone?


    Soccer? Football? I call it one thing when it shits me, t’other when it makes me proud. The only association for me, is word association.

    The rest? Semantics … lol

    Whatever you want to call it, the local product is played here at the right time and in the right places (stadiums) for the sport to grow. Added winter competition is as blindly stupid as needing a perennial blockbuster turned into a relative wasteland to tell you people won’t attend Sunday Night Football.

    Thankfully the FFA has moved past such mule-headed idiocy & a rusted-on dick-waving approach to inter-sport comparisons in Australia. I think they realise, folks’ll ‘go blind’, if they keep that up.


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