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Germany got what it deserved.

Commentary
By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Tuesday, July 7, 1998) -- No sympathies exist in this corner for Germany, hit with a justified red card that turned around its quarterfinal match against Croatia. It was fortunate not to have had players expelled in the opener against the United States. And in the second round against Mexico.

Germany was the team that wasn't going to curtail its play despite world soccer governing body FIFA's demands that the game be cleaned up. The reluctance to change cost it a semifinal berth against France.

Remember midfielder Jens Jeremies whacking U.S. star Claudio Reyna in the groin in the first minute of the opening game, sending a message or whatever. No yellow card from referee Said Belqola of Morocco. Remember Mexican players, particularly Cuauhtemoc Blanco, being pulverized throughout the Germany game. Four yellow cards from referee Victor Melo Pereira (Portugal), but there should have been more.

The rough play caught up with Germany. Christian Woerns, a defender, came in high and late on Croatia star striker Davor Suker near the middle of the field. It was a safety-endangering tackle. Rune Pederson (Norway) whipped out a red card. And Germany, in control the first 40 minutes of the match, lost momentum, and Croatia went on to win, 3-0, while a man up.

Germany whined afterwards that the referee cost it the game.

No way. The penalty was just, though it's unfortunate we don't have a Germany-France semifinal.

Argentina was involved in the other two controversial World Cup red cards, winning one and losing one. First was the ejection of England midfielder David Beckham for his rather modest though stupid retaliatory kick at midfielder Diego Simeone, after the Argentine had knocked him down with a tackle (for which he got a yellow card), then pushed the ball against his back as he was getting up.

Some think a yellow card for Beckham would have been more just, but England paid dearly for his lack of discipline. England had to play a man down for 73 minutes including extra time. It threatened several times but lost in a shootout in one of France '98's most gallant performances.

Second was the quarterfinal ejection of Argentine midfielder Ariel Ortega, who was in the process of being yellow-carded for diving in the penalty box when Netherlands goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar rushed over and taunted him for acting. Ortega got up and his head made contact with the Dutchman's chin, bringing expulsion.

The Dutch, dominant most of the game, had been playing a man short for 11 minutes, so this brought the two teams even again. And two minutes later, in the goal of the tournament, defender Frank de Boer unleashed a 60-yard pass to Dennis Bergkamp, who controlled the ball, faked out defender Roberto Ayala, and scored the winning goal.

It was good to see a referee (Arturo Brizio Carter of Mexico) call a dive.

That's been the problem in this World Cup, players diving on the slightest bit of contact - and in at least once instance no contact at all - and too often getting the calls from officials. The "victims" usually get up quickly if play proceeds, with no apparent ill effects.

This also involves confrontations not involving the ball. Van der Sar deserves a "C" for his flop after Ortega's modest headbutt. The "A" should go to Belgium defender Lorenzo Staelens, who went down writhing and clutching his face after an opening-game elbow in the chest from Netherlands' Patrick Kluivert, earning the Dutch striker a two-game suspension.

"(Diving) does seem to be an epidemic right now," FIFA spokesman Keith Cooper said. "One coach, who will remain nameless, said he told his players if they get a chance to do it, do it. But it is cheating, and the more yellow cards handed out, the better it will be."

Maybe Ariel Ortega, the best attacking midfielder in the 1998 World Cup, will require a little more contact in the future before heading to the ground.

Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at jlangdon@gns.gannett.com.