Norwegians Take What’s Given Them, Stun Brazil
With one shrill blast on his whistle late Tuesday night, Esfandiar “Esse” Baharmast earned himself a place in the World Cup history books.
With one debatable call at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille, the American referee from Aurora, Colo., changed the course of the tournament.
Brazil and Norway were tied, 1-1, with less than two minutes remaining. In Saint-Etienne, meanwhile, Morocco was beating Scotland, 3-0. Had both results stood, the North Africans would have gone through to the second round and the Norwegians would have gone home.
But fate, in the form of Baharmast, intervened.
With Norway desperately seeking a goal, the ball was floated in from the left wing. Brazil’s Junior Baiano and Norway’s Tore Andre Flo rose to meet it. There was slight contact, but nothing untoward.
Flo fell to the ground and Baharmast, after briefly pausing, blew his whistle and pointed to the penalty spot.
Kjetil Rekdal then drove a perfect penalty kick into the lower left corner of the net beyond the reach of diving Brazilian goalkeeper Taffarel. That made it 2-1 in the Norwegians’ favor. Moments later, the game was over.
But not the controversy.
Naturally, there was no argument from Norway, which advances to the second round for the first time and will play Italy in Marseille on Saturday. But Baharmast’s call had additional impact:
* It cost Brazil its unbeaten record in the tournament and was the defending world champions’ first loss in a World Cup game since a 1-0 defeat--eight years ago today--to Argentina in Turin during the Italia ’90 World Cup.
* It knocked the luckless Moroccans out of France 98, even though they had tied Norway and thrashed Scotland.
* It caused Italy a far greater headache in Saturday’s second-round game. The Italians would have been overwhelming favorites against Morocco, but will find Norway a much more difficult opponent.
Not surprisingly, there were two views on whether the penalty kick was deserved.
“It was definitely a penalty,” Flo said. “Baiano was pulling my shirt, and if the referee hadn’t given it I would have been furious.”
Stig Bjornebye agreed. “The only surprise was that the referee took so long to give it,” he said.
But Brazil’s Cafu was more circumspect. “It is very unusual for a referee to give a penalty in that situation,” he said.
Teammate Leonardo’s thoughts were with the Moroccans.
“I didn’t see the incident,” he said, “but I feel sorry for Morocco. It’s a very sad situation. They won, 3-0, they play nice football but they have been eliminated.”
Brazilian Coach Mario Zagallo did not even concern himself with the controversy. He was still trying to figure out why Brazil has never beaten Norway, a team, he said, that plays “anti-football"--all defense and no sparkle.
“We lost in a way I did not like and maybe it will be useful as a lesson to us,” Zagallo said.
The game had been disappointing until it finally sparked to life in the final 15 minutes. The Brazilians, whistled at and booed by their fans, struggled to break through a rugged and determined Norwegian defense, in which Dan Eggen and Bjornebye were outstanding.
The world champions eventually found a way past the Norwegians in the 78th minute when Denilson, bundled to the ground by Henning Berg, recovered the ball, regained his feet and sent a cross into the goal mouth, over goalkeeper Frode Grodas’ reach.
Bebeto, sprinting in at the far post, headed it powerfully into the net for his second goal of France 98.
It looked bleak for the Norwegians, who had to win to advance. But with two goals in the final seven minutes, they achieved the improbable.
Flo netted the first in the 83rd minute, running onto a long downfield pass from Bjornebye, beating Baiano and firing a shot past Taffarel to tie the score.
All that was left was for Rekdal, in the 89th minute, to take full advantage of Baharmast’s generosity.
“I felt under enormous pressure,” Rekdal said, “but I wasn’t that nervous.
“To beat Brazil in a World Cup is an incredible achievement. At halftime, we all knew Morocco was beating Scotland, so we really went for it and we knew we had nothing to lose.”
His coach, Egil Olsen, was still too stunned to take it all in.
“It’s quite amazing what’s happened tonight,” he said.