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Commentary: Referee Should Be Pulled From Tournament

U.S. player Michael Bradley shouts at referee Koman Coulibaly during the World Cup match against Slovenia. Kevork Djansezian/Getty hide caption

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty

Go ahead and engrave Koman Couilibaly's name in the pantheon of awful refereeing decisions at the World Cup finals.

He called a foul to disallow Maurice Edu’s 86th minute goal – that probably would have been the game winner. And what a winner it would have been taking the U.S. back from two goals down to 3-2.

It was a truly terrible call to top a really bad game by the Malian official. Yes, Couilibaly officiated at the 2004 final of the African Cup of Nations. But he looked way out of depth in today’s game.

If there was a foul, it wasn’t committed by the U.S. Two U.S. players had good cases for a penalty after fouls by Slovenians on the same play.

If there is any merit to the FIFA panel that assesses match referee performances, this will be Couilibaly’s one and only game in South Africa. He should not be allowed to officiate again.

Yes, he didn’t have the advantage of TV replays like rest of us. But only he can explain his decision. After the game, he refused.

His call ranks up there with the decision that allowed Diego Maradona’s “hand of God” goal for Argentina against England in 1986. The rather diminutive Maradona out-jumped the goalkeeper Peter Shilton and put the ball in the net. He clearly used his hand to flick the ball beyond Shilton.

Then there was Graham Poll, the English referee, in the 2006 finals. He booked a Croatian player three times in the same match (two yellows should equal one red) before sending him off. Poll eventually retired from football after being sent home from the tournament.

It’s a tough job being a referee. But there are lots of world-class officials available. Couilibaly is not one of them.

It’s time for FIFA to again consider video replays for pivotal decisions like this.

David Sweeney, an Irishman, is NPR's managing editor.