Ref Is Wild in This Game of Cards
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 19, 1998; Page B1
TOULOUSE, France, June 18 South Africa's national team would prefer to remember today's 1-1 tie with Denmark as another historic day during its long-awaited return to the international soccer community. It would like to look fondly on its first World Cup goal scored by 20-year-old forward Benedict McCarthy early in the second half its first World Cup point in the Group C standings and its ability to remain in the chase for a round-of-16 berth.
But what will never be forgotten from this day will be the controversial performance by Colombian referee John Toro Rendon, who issued three debatable red cards and seven yellow cards.
Denmark reserve Miklos Molnar lasted only nine minutes before being ejected for colliding with South Africa defender Lucas Radebe after losing control of the ball. Two minutes later, South Africa's Alfred Phiri was sent off for flailing his arms and legs after getting tangled with Denmark's Thomas Helveg. And in the 84th minute, two minutes after he entered, Dane Morten Wieghorst departed for committing a harmless foul from behind on McCarthy.
All three must sit out their final first-round matches next week. Denmark (1-0-1) is on the verge of advancing to the second round, while South Africa (0-1-1) must defeat Saudi Arabia and hope France beats the Danes.
"You have all seen what happened," Denmark Coach Bo Johansson said, carefully choosing his words to avoid a fine from FIFA, soccer's world governing body.
His counterpart, Philippe Troussier, added: "The scenario changed from minute to minute."
Prior to the start of the tournament, FIFA had instructed its officials to punish players who commit serious fouls, especially tackles from behind. But Rendon's rulings seemed to take that mandate to an extreme, turning an otherwise pleasurable second half into a postgame controversy.
McCarthy said Wieghorst barely made contact on their sequence and that the intent also emphasized by FIFA was not bad.
"The guy hardly even touched me," McCarthy said. "The referee went out of his way to give him a red card and I am sure that was a very silly, a stupid decision from the referee."
When Rendon wasn't blowing his whistle, the teams produced an intriguing, if not brilliantly played, match. Brothers Michael and Brian Laudrup helped Denmark dominate the first 20 minutes. The lead was forged on midfielder Allan Nielsen's six-yard volley in the 13th minute, set up by Brian Laudrup, and the Danes nearly expanding the lead if not for two shots hitting the right post and two others narrowly missing the target.
"We had a good start and we were very hopeful," Johansson said. "I thought we could have scored four or five goals. But we have to accept that for the rest of the game, we didn't play very well."
South Africa, which looked lost in a 3-0 defeat to France in its World Cup debut last week, did play well. Sparked by sneaky midfielders John Moshoeu and Helman Mkhalele, the young squad found a rhythm in the second half to spark an effective and entertaining attack.
The tying goal was a beauty, with Moshoeu beating three defenders and Shaun Bartlett touching a pass to McCarthy, who got by two other Danes in the penalty area before slipping the ball between goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel's legs.
"I felt good about the goal," McCarthy said, "because it is part of our history."
This is South Africa's first appearance in the World Cup finals. Most of its national teams were not allowed to compete internationally for many years because of the apartheid policies of the previous government.
South Africa almost won today's game in the closing moments, but Quinton Fortune's 25-yard screamer slammed off the crossbar. When it ended, the players were applauded by the sellout crowd of 37,000 at Municipal Stadium, and Rendon was unmercifully booed.
"In the last 45 minutes, we really wanted it, we really wanted to win the game," said Troussier, a Frenchman. "I saw a good South African team, a better South African team. . . . We still believe we can make it to the next round."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post