By Alessia Palanti Special to Published Jun 20, 2010 at 10:01 AM

Blow the whistle ... or, please don't.

The pitch is wide open and the Cup is there for the taking. Predictions, bets and brackets are, much like the football, being kicked about, but the twists to this World Cup are spiraling. With the results at this point, anything could happen. It depends on the vagaries of fate -- or the judgments of a referee -- nearly the same thing.

Until Friday morning's match, I was preparing an essay on the impeccable refereeing, which this World Cup had seen. After the morning matches, I threw away my laptop, bought a new one -- and in my continued frustration -- threw the new one away also. In the first match of the day, Serbia defeated Germany for the first time since 1973. The referee called nine yellow cards. That's right; nine. I wonder what the over/under on yellow cards was beginning the match.

The second match paired the United States against Slovenia. The Americans came roaring back from early first-half sluggishness to tie the match, 2-2. Of course, a particular vagary named Koman Coulibaly -- the game's head referee from Mali -- decided to penalize the States for a phantom penalty on a free kick costing the red, white, and blue the game. I am not questioning referee Coulibaly's honesty, just his eyesight. Under any lens or microscope, it was a horrific call. And I am being gentle.

As an Italian, I am quite sensitive about this issue. I admit that I have a natural, innate skepticism concerning referees. Italian football has occasionally been the object of scandal -- 2006's "calciopoli" incident being merely the most recent and public. As a Florentine, I have become accustomed to the Serie A heavyweights purchasing necessary Christmas items for needy referees. I also accept the total impartiality of aforementioned officials. Our World Cup win sealed by Fabio Grosso in '06 began to heal the deep wounds suffered throughout the country -- a healing symbolized in a single moment by "Il capitano," Fabio Cannavaro, lifting the Cup aloft for all to see.

Italians, and the Italian press, question the mental stability of any individual who aspires to become a referee. It is a thankless job reserved for fools or masochists, at least Italian football journalists argue such. La Domenica Sportiva is the Sunday evening football review program and Italians watch it religiously -- pun intended. "La Moviola" is a segment devoted to analyzing and arguing about and replaying, time and time and time again, mistakes made by linesmen and referees. The segment is unflinching, indelicate and oddly fascinating.

After Friday's matches, I was left perplexed. The power of the referee is crucially influential as to how a match will unfold. Referee Coulibaly disallowed what would have been the third and winning goal for the US team. He is under no obligation to clarify who committed the foul -- or why he has such a beautiful new watch, a Rolex, I believe.

Soccer's ruling body, FIFA, has a problem. Like many individuals with personal issues or addictions, they are loath to admit it. We are in a world of technology. Replays and reviews dominate American sports and have made the temper tantrums of tennis players an anachronism. One would think that the shameful-shame full-dishonesty of Thierry Henry's handball that secured France's spot in the World Cup over Ireland would have been the catalyst FIFA needed to challenge and/or adapt the system.

Unfortunately for them, the silliness and/or absolute ineptitude of Coulibaly call has made ESPN, and more crucially, Alexi Lalas, angry. ESPN paid a lot of money for the 2010 World Cup. If the Americans are robbed of a round of 16 appearance, or lose a number one seeding because of this call, Lalas will take care of things personally.

On a side note, I am very happy for Mexico fans, and by extension, fans of the Irish national team. The win by Mexico served as some revenge for those still muttering about the Henry handball. For Mexico, it was their first-ever victory over a team which had previously won the World Cup (France, 1998). On a purely selfish level, watching fans from Mexico City lose their collective minds celebrating the team's 2-0 victory was as joyous and exhilarating as any image or scene of this World Cup.

Nice job.

Alessia Palanti Special to
Alessia is a freelance writer from Florence, Italy. She has lived in Milwaukee for almost two years, with frequent visits back to her hometown.

She received a BA from Beloit College, where she developed as a modern dance choreographer. She has worked in the arts administration world in Chicago and has interned at The Repertory Theater in Milwaukee.

The performing arts -- film, theater and music -- are her passion, and she believes that the stage is not limited to scripted, but rather expands even the length of the soccer field.

She works part-time at the Highbury Pub in Bay View, which inspires her to share her cross-cultural experiences and her ideas on "the beautiful game."