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Colombia’s national soccer team is not about to forget its short stay in South Africa. The South American players, who failed to qualify for the upcoming World Cup, may have felt hard done by when they discovered after practice earlier this week that their hotel rooms had been robbed, but their hardship continued when several controversial calls by Kenyan referee Langat Samwel Kipngetich contributed to their 2-1 defeat to South Africa’s Bafana Bafana.
The match, played in front of a sell-out crowd at the refurbished Soccer City, served as a tune-up for South Africa, who will open the World Cup against Mexico on June 11. From the Colombians’ point of view, though, it was a friendly in name only. The referee awarded two penalties to South Africa, and the one he gave Colombia wasn’t enough to calm the South Americans’ fury. They collected yellow cards for dissent and refused to attend the post-match conference in protest.
Colombia’s misfortunes highlight two issues that will draw much attention during the World Cup.
The first one is security. With an average of 50 murders a day, crime is a legitimate concern for visiting fans, but organizers and many locals argue it has been blown out of proportion. During last year’s Confederations Cup – a dress rehearsal for the World Cup – the hotel rooms of the Egyptian team were also burglarized, but the incident threatened to turn into a diplomatic row after the South African media claimed the crime had been committed by prostitutes let in by the players. All this for a little more than $2,000 gone missing.
Similarly, officiating will receive intense focus from the press and fans alike during the tournament. FIFA, the world governing body, refused to heed renewed calls to use video to assist referees after French captain Thierry Henry’s handball helped his team qualify at the expense of Ireland. It also had to address recent bribery allegations by a senior English official that were leaked to the British press. FIFA said Friday it found no basis to the allegations, but referees’ decisions will no doubt be subject to extreme scrutiny starting June 11.