On the eve of the U.S. team’s final group game, which of the following has been the biggest controversy in the World Cup so far? Is it a high-profile blown call that cost the U.S. a victory? Is it the internal strife within the French national team? Or maybe it’s the players’ concern over the quality of the match ball?
As it turns out, none of those compare to the one issue that’s the talk of U.S. soccer fans across the online community: red cards. A Nielsen buzz analysis of topics surrounding the World Cup found that player ejections were more consistently discussed than other tournament controversies.
In fact, World Cup buzz about red cards has been surpassed by another controversy only twice over the last three weeks. It was most recently pushed to the background in the 24 hours after referee Koman Coulibay called a foul on USA’s potential game-winning goal vs. Slovenia.
Red cards have already affected game outcomes and they threaten to affect even more. Switzerland lost to Chile 1-0 on Monday after midfielder Valon Behrami was ejected following a questionable call. Brazilian superstar Kaka is ineligible to play in Brazil’s next game vs. Portugal after drawing a controversial red card of his own on Sunday versus the Ivory Coast.
“Red cards have the potential to swing an entire team’s World Cup fortunes,” said Pete Blackshaw, EVP of digital strategic services at Nielsen. “Not only does the team have to play a man down for the rest of the game, but it can potentially keep a star player out of the next match. It’s no surprise, then, that every card that comes out of a referee’s pocket is subject to intense online scrutiny.”
While Nielsen’s analysis covers the last three weeks, one storyline that’s peaked in the last few days is the controversy swirling around the French national team. Striker Nicolas Anelka was sent home after insulting his coach, and after a team protest, French officials sent home team captain Patrice Evra, as well. Without its two key players, France lost its final group game to South Africa, eliminating them from the tournament.