Did Referee Koman Coulibaly Rob US of World Cup Win?

The play in question. AP

The play in question.
AP

(CBS/AP) It's a question that could only be asked at the World Cup.

Did a referee from Mali rob the soccer team from America of a win over the underdogs from Slovenia?

The United States thought it had scored the potential game-winning goal when Maurice Edu knocked home Landon Donovan's free kick in the 86th minute to break a 2-2 tie.

But referee Koman Coulibaly called a foul on defender Carlos Bocanegra, who had his arms around Slovenia substitute Jejc Pecnik and was preventing him from jumping for the ball.

However, Coulibaly missed two American players being held and grabbed in different parts of the penalty area by Slovenian players.

According to AP writer Simon Hayden, who also happens to be a referee who has officiated amateur English soccer leagues for 10 years, the sport has turned the penalty area into a wrestling ring.

And that's what cost the U.S. a victory in its World Cup match against Slovenia.

Referees are under orders from FIFA to clamp down on the plague of fouls in the penalty area, but it's proving virtually impossible.

English referee Howard Webb received death threats after he penalized a Polish defender for fouling an Austrian attacker in the penalty area in the 2008 European Championships. The penalty, deep into added time, gave Austria a crucial draw and led to Webb having his life threatened and being condemned by the Polish prime minister.

Most referees are unwilling to penalize the defending team, preferring to reject goals rather than give them. This is what Coulibaly did Friday and it cost the United States a victory that would have brought the team close to qualifying for the next round.

Instead, the team is struggling to qualify and must beat Algeria in Pretoria on Wednesday to have any chance of qualifying.

The referee's job is impossible in these situations.

In any game from the lowest league to the World Cup if eight players are fouling each other in the penalty area, the referee can only see a small number of the penalties that are occurring. Cynical professional players tumble and dive in the penalty area, trying to trick the ref into giving a penalty and only television replays reveal the full madness of their actions.

FIFA has rejected the use of video technology, preferring to try to maintain the spontaneous nature of soccer and, in the process, inherently rejecting U.S. sports like football and, to a lesser extent, baseball, that have incorporated replay into the sport.

The only nod FIFA has made is to allow the use of two extra assistants to police the penalty area in some European competitions and help the referee.

Who knows if they would have helped Coulibaly reach his decision at Johannesburg's Ellis Park.

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  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com

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