The breaks all even out in the end, as they say today in Chile, no longer the home of the unluckiest team in the 1998 World Cup.
After missing victories against Italy in part because of the referee (a bad “hand ball in the box” ruling) and Austria because of Ivica Vastic (stunning equalizing goal in the 92nd minute), Chile played catch-up in the karma division Tuesday--drawing, 1-1, with Cameroon in Nantes and qualifying for the second round with the considerable help of the officiating crew.
One Cameroon goal was ruled offside, another was nullified because of a foul and two Cameroon players were red-carded for brusque second-half challenges on Chilean striker Marcelo Salas, decisions that helped deprive the Lions of a victory.
It was little wonder that Salas credited divine intervention for Chile’s passage into the second round without winning any of its three Group B matches.
“I would just like to say thank you to God,” Salas said after Chile’s third consecutive tie clinched a second-round matchup against Group A winner Brazil on Saturday in Paris.
“It’s mission accomplished. It took a lot of effort to qualify. I think we should keep to our faith in God.”
Meanwhile, a livid Cameroon Coach Claude Le Roy blasted Hungarian referee Laszlo Vagner as “incompetent.”
“I’m very sorry we have been eliminated on the basis of an incompetent decision,” Le Roy said. “I don’t want to say anything about the red cards, but if [FIFA President] Mr. Sepp Blatter is watching, he should know we can’t understand why our second goal was ruled out.”
With only 10 players on the field after Rigobert Song’s 52nd-minute red card, Cameroon equalized the game on a 56th-minute header by Patrick Mboma and flooded the Chilean penalty area again in the 58th minute.
Mboma outleaped two Chilean defenders at the top of the box to nod the ball down for Francois Oman Biyick, who pounced on the loose ball and fired it past Chile goalkeeper Nelson Tapia for the apparent go-ahead goal. Vagner, however, ruled that Mboma had fouled Chile’s Nelson Parraguez and disallowed the goal.
Television replays supported Le Roy’s contention that the ruling was unjustified. “We just don’t know why,” Le Roy said. “The players can’t understand it.
“I just hope FIFA will draw a lesson from what happened today. . . . I cannot understand how a referee could refuse such a goal.”
The Lions, who would have advanced to the second round with a victory, felt they had done more than enough to defeat Chile, having another apparent goal--by Omam Biyick in the 35th minute--called off by a highly suspect offside decision.
Instead, Cameroon bows out of the tournament with two points at 0-1-2, while Chile (0-0-3) moves on with three points.
Chile scored its only goal of the match in the 20th minute on a beautifully executed free kick by midfielder Jose Sierra, who curled the ball left to right around the Cameroon defensive wall into the upper right corner of the net.
Chile was fortunate to have that 1-0 lead stand up through halftime. Besides Omam Biyick’s offside goal, Mboma barely missed on a spectacular try in the 39th minute--juggling the ball, flicking it chest high and volleying a hard strike from inside the Chilean box that sailed just outside the right post.
Cameroon, faster and more physical than Chile, had numerous chances in the second half. Mboma dribbled through two players in the 47th minute and slid the ball past an onrushing Tapia--only to have the ball cleared off the line by the Chilean defense. Omam Biyick nearly struck in the 74th minute, one-timing the ball from 10 yards and hitting the side of the net.
The final 15 minutes were devoted to Chile desperately fending off Cameroon. Even after Lavriano Etame was red-carded in the 89th minute, leaving the Lions with only nine players, Omam Biyick threatened again with a header pushed barely wide in the 94th minute.
Undiluted relief was the prevailing emotion for Chile.
“You can imagine how I feel,” forward Ivan Zamorano said. “Chile is now through to the second round of the World Cup after much sacrifice and effort.
“I think we owe it to the players, the coaching staff and everyone else back home.”
Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions would say that Zamorano forgot someone--the Hungarian with a whistle and a red card in his pocket.