In the wake of Ireland’s play-off defeat in Paris, Giovanni Trapattoni walked into his press conference, turned to the Italian journalists present and uttered one word. “Moreno.” The Mediterranean throng nodded in silent understanding. Those who knew the veteran Italian understood his long-held grudge toward Ecuadorean referee Byron Moreno.
Henry’s handball had been far from the greatest injustice which Trapattoni had felt in his long career. His talented Italian team’s loss to eventual semi-finalists and hosts South Korea in 2002 had left a mark upon him. With South Korea losing to an offensively limited German side (Saudi Arabia thrashing notwithstanding) Italy, with their defence of Maldini, Cannavaro, Nesta and Zambrotta and a plethora of attacking options, felt that they had a realistic chance of winning the competition outright. They had negotiated a tricky group, advancing to the last sixteen. Then they met Moreno.
The parallels between the Brazil side of 2014 and the South Korean’s 2002 vintage are few but they are obvious. Both sides, while hosting the tournament, were eliminated at the semi-finals, having advanced there by virtue of what many considered to be questionable refereeing decisions. The oft-used cliché of the referee being a “homer” appeared to have benefited both sides greatly.
A dive also played a crucial role in both their progressions. In Brazil’s case, Fred’s voluntary tumble and the awarding of a penalty secured an undeserved Brazilian victory over Croatia. In the case of the South Koreans, it was Moreno’s decision to award Francesco Totti a second yellow card when his leg had been clearly clipped in the box that greatly enhanced their chances of defeating the Italians. As the Croatians were eventually eliminated due to an abysmal performance against Mexico, it is doubtful that Niko Kovac will harbour the same resentments that Trapattoni holds for the man he feels denied him the chance to win a World Cup.
The Italian public never forgave the 1966 team for their defeat to North Korea in that year’s World Cup. The blame for their defeat to the other Korea was placed elsewhere, however. The Italians looked like they had claimed victory in normal time, with Christian Vieri’s 19th minute header giving them what looked like a comfortable one-goal lead. In the 87th minute however, Christian Panucci failed to clear a South Korean cross, allowing Seol to score the softest of equalisers.
The Italians had not been happy with Moreno’s performance in ordinary time, feeling that Kim Tae-Young and Choi Jin-cheul should have been sent off for an elbow on del Piero and a two-footed lunge at Zambrotta, respectively. They would find far more reasons to be unhappy with his performance in extra-time.
In the 102nd minute, the Italian players briefly thought they had been awarded a penalty, only to see their number 10, Totti, receiving a second yellow card. Their fury was compounded minutes later, when Damiano Tommasi had a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside. Tommasi had been marginally onside, and though incorrect, the call was close enough to be within the realms of reasonable human error. The fact that this had been Italy’s fifth incorrectly disallowed goal in their last three games, however, created an understandable frustration.
Italy would then fall prey to the now discontinued and wholly inhumane golden-goal rule. This set of players had their hearts broken by golden goal in the Euro 2000 final by David Trezeguet in Rotterdam. In Daejeon it was Ahn Jung-hwan’s turn. He rose above Paolo Maldini in the 116th minute to send the Italian’s home.
This game was not the final controversy to engulf the South Korean team in 2002. They disposed of a tired Spain team on penalties in the quarter-final. Spain had a goal apiece ruled out in normal and extra time, with Fernando Morientes thinking he had won the game in extra time only for Trinidad linesman Michael Ragoonath to say the ball had gone out of play, when it clearly had not. Five goals which had been scored against South Korea during the 2002 tournament were ruled out, but nobody held onto the pain of injustice quite like Giovanni Trapattoni.
Trapattoni’s great disappointment is his time with the Italian national side. The greatest peak which an Italian manager can reach is to take the helm of the Azzurri and his time ended in ignominy. He stayed on until Euro 2004, with Italy being eliminated in the group stages and his legacy being one of failure. He has strongly contended that were it not for Moreno, his side would have gone far in 2002, and he would be remembered in a far softer light.
Trap would have felt a mixture of frustration and vindication in September 2002. Moreno was handed a 20 match ban following an irregular performance in an Ecuadorean league match between Liga de Quito and Barcelona of Guayquil. He played 13 minutes of injury-time, having signalled for six. In this time home side Quito scored twice to secure a 4-3 victory. The game also saw two disputed penalties, two red cards and a goal being disallowed having been first awarded.
Moreno once again came to the attention of the international press, and the veteran Italian manager, now in charge of the Republic of Ireland, in 2010. He was arrested in 2010 at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport for heroin smuggling. Several kilogrammes of heroin were found strapped to his body.
Moreno was sentenced to 30 months in prison and Trapattoni felt utterly vindicated. His harsh view on the world is well-known by followers of the Republic of Ireland and it was evident again in the wake of Moreno’s arrest.
“The facts now are so serious that they speak for themselves.”
This proof of Moreno’s total lack of moral fibre was, to him, complete vindication for the loss of 2002. This heroin-smuggling, hometown-ref had denied him glory, and he would sleep easier, safe in the knowledge that everyone now agreed with him.
Eoin Hallissey, Pundit Arena.