For Koman Coulibaly’s sake, I hope he isn’t a social media fan, because in the court of online opinion, he has been tried and convicted.
It has been a rude introduction to the relentless, often brutal global online community for Coulibaly, the hapless referee from Mali who today became public enemy number one for American fans in Johannesburg’s Ellis Park Stadium due to his often dubious officiating in an unlikely U.S. vs. Slovenia draw.
The game, which was on course to become one of the greatest American comebacks in World Cup history - no team has ever come back from a 2-0 deficit at halftime to win – ended instead with a 2-2 tie after what appeared to be a go-ahead goal in the 84th minute by American midfielder Maurice Edu off a Landon Donovan free kick was disallowed by Coulibaly.
According to the official FIFA game log, a transgression by Edu earlier in the play disallowed the goal. But for thousands of in the stands and millions of people watching around the world, the apparent foul appeared to be a phantom call.
The result was still good enough to make this U.S. squad only the fifth team to ever come back and tie from such a deficit. But it’s well short of the expectations of fans who believe they watched Edu score and give the Americans their first-ever World Cup victory against a Central European team.
Not surprisingly then, the online backlash amongst World Cup fans around the world has been swift and merciless.
The unlucky referee from Mali quickly became the top trending subject on the popular digital social media, with 87 new tweets alone in the time it took to type these first two sentences.
“Rumour has it BP paid off idiot referee Koman Coulibaly to distract everyone from the oil spill!” guffawed one tweeter. “Unlike Malian #worldcup ref Koman Coulibaly, at least USA has a shot at making the knockout stage. It was fun while it lasted huh Koman?” wrote another German fan, smarting from his country's own officiating disaster.
On popular online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, Coulibaly’s page was altered 250-plus times – including one unfortunate comparison to BP CEO, Tony Hayward – before it was finally locked. Meanwhile, on Facebook there were more than 120 new groups expressing their outrage, ranging from the relatively tactful “Fire Koman Coulibaly” to the ironic, “Koman Coulibaly Fan Club”
'We were robbed!'
Not surprisingly, the mood back in Johannesburg was equally sour as American fans exited the stadium.
“3-1! 3-1! 3-1! We were robbed!” was the line by many fans – referring not only to the blown Edu call, but another perceived Coulibaly mistake on the 41st-minute goal by Slovenian Zlatan Ljubijankic, whom many fans in the stands thought was offsides.
“We were in the front row, we won that game,” called out one American fan as he walked sullenly out of the stadium, “I went into tears, I couldn’t believe it – that was our goal!”
Another dejected U.S. supporter said: “At the end of the day, all you can ask for is for the referees to call it right. If you aren’t sure, don’t call offsides.”
Those sentiments were echoed by many of the U.S. players who were still awaiting an official explanation for the disallowed goal. "I'm a little gutted to be honest," said star striker Donovan. "I don't know how they stole that last goal from us. I'm not sure what the call was. He (the referee) wouldn't tell us what the call was."
Said Bob Bradley, "I still don't know why the goal was disallowed.”
FIFA will have a tough time explaining the ruling on the field, especially as replays now seem to show Slovenian players committing fouls on American players. In the meantime, expect poor Koman Coulibaly to remain the most unpopular man in the digital world.