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Argentina vs. Germany final referee controversy echoes, 24 years later

Referee Edgardo Codesal, second from left, was at the center of controversy in the 1990 World Cup final between Argentina and West Germany. Photo:

Referee Edgardo Codesal, second from left, was at the center of controversy in the 1990 World Cup final between Argentina and West Germany.

The outstanding image from the last time Germany and Argentina met in the World Cup final, back in Italy in 1990, was not Andreas Brehme striking home the winning penalty in the 85th minute, securing the 1-0 win for the European side, nor was it coach Franz Beckenbauer celebrating with the trophy.

It was actually current U.S. national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann, tackled late by Pedro Monzon after a one-two combination with Lothar Matthaus, rolling three times and then raising up on one shoulder to continue his pained reaction. The challenge was in keeping with the rest of the game, and Monzon, a halftime substitute, was shown a straight red card for the tackle by referee Edgardo Codesal. 

Worse was to come for Argentina: five minutes from time, Codesal awarded West Germany a penalty after Matthaus played through Rudi Voller, who, tightly marked by Roberto Sensini, fell to the ground in the area.

Previously in the match, Codesal had rejected Gabriel Calderon’s claims after a similar clash with Klaus Augenthaler.

Two minutes later, Codesal sent off another Argentine, Gustavo Dezotti, for grabbing Jurgen Kohler around the neck and wrestling him to the ground in an effort to get the ball off him for a throw-in. Codesal ran over and theatrically brandished his second red of the game, reducing Argentina to nine men.

“The referee has been physically manhandled by five players and if Argentina continue like this, FIFA will have to ban them from the next World Cup!” said BBC commentator John Motson. “Surely you can’t have this in the final!”

This was Codesal’s last game as a referee. When he returned to Mexico after the game [he was Mexican-Uruguayan, and his grandfather was born in Argentina], he was confronted with hordes of journalists.

“I was brave and honest, like I always am,” he said. “The foul was Argentina’s fault, not mine. I’m calm and happy.”

At that World Cup, Codesal had taken charge of Italy’s 1-0 win over USA, awarding a penalty missed by Gianluca Viali, and blew for two penalties as England beat Cameroon 3-2 in the quarterfinal. FIFA observers gave him an average rating of 8.5 for his performances.

Codesal’s father, Jose Maria, was a referee who officiated at the 1966 World Cup. The one piece of advice he gave his son: “Don’t ever give a penalty if you think you will have to explain it a thousand times.” Nine years on, he remained convinced that his decision had been the correct one.

“I have no doubt,” he told Ole. “The referees don’t have to look for intent, they have to look for contact. This is what I saw: the Argentine tried to get to the ball first but he stretched his leg and tackled the German. It was a penalty. I was convinced at the time and I have not changed my mind since. For me, it’s a closed case.”

The case, actually, was far from closed. Soon after that interview, Humberto Rojano, the former president of the Mexican Referees’ Commission, went public on how Codesal had been appointed. He spoke of a meeting he had with Javier Arriaga, former head of the Mexican FA’s Referees’ Commission and a key figure in FIFA’s Referees’ Commission in 1990. Arriaga also happened to be Codesal’s father-in-law.

Rojano told Mexican paper La Jornada that “the authorities,” ­a phrase that is deliberately vague, ­had told Arriaga that “Argentina didn’t have to win.”

“I know the Argentines still hate me and that hurts,” Codesal told Reforma years later. “I love them and it hurts that I made them suffer. I would have liked Argentina won their third World Cup back in 1990. If I were God, I would change things, but I’m not God. I do know that in 50 years, they still won’t forgive me.”

Codesal had actually watched the 1986 World Cup final between the same sides in Mexico, and had been supporting Argentina. But in 2011, over 20 years after the incident, Codesal’s stance had hardened against the continued hostility from the losing nation.

“I admire the Argentines for their will to win, but they have not learnt to lose, they just can’t accept it,” he said. “Someone told them that they lost because I was the referee, and they believed it. When Maradona uses his hand to score, that's intelligent; but if they don't win, it’s because someone stole from them.”

FIFA has announced that Italian Nicola Rizzoli will referee Sunday's clash between Germany and Argentina, and while the distinction is surely an honor, he will just as surely be operating with the cloud of Codesal lingering in the memory. 

All Eyes On Rio: World Cup focus shifts to the Maracana

The Maracana is set to be the center of the soccer universe on Sunday for the World Cup final between Argentina and Germany, as all eyes shift to Rio de Janeiro.

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