The Mystery of Koman Coulibaly

By Cali Nelson


On June 18, 2010 the US Men’s National Team took on Slovenia in Johannesburg as part of the 2010 World Cup Group Stage.  After one match the US was tied with for second with England, behind Slovenia, and a win would keep the team’s hope of advancing from Group C alive. 1

By halftime the US were down 2-0 and Slovenia was 45 minutes away from securing a berth in the round of 16, a dream result for a team few had given any chance to advance.2  Yet Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan brought the US storming back.

Then, in the 85th minute, Maurice Edu appeared to win the game for the US, volleying home a perfectly placed Landon Donovan free kick, and completing a spectacular comeback.  The celebration, however, lasted only a second as Malian referee Koman Coulibaly immediately waved the goal off.

This was Coulibaly’s first World Cup assignment, and it was not an auspicious beginning. 3  The game was poorly officiated from the start, a series of bad and missed calls, all leading up to his now infamous decision in the 86th minute. 4

After Coulibaly pointed for a free kick, instead of to the center circle, the US players protested. Throughout the rest of game the US players continually asked Coulibaly what exactly was called, but he refused to explain.  5

The initial thought of many viewers was that offsides had been called, 6 but upon review it was clear that Edu was onsides.  Michael Bradley may have been a sliver offsides, but he was out of the play and his path to Donovan’s cross was impeded by overly physical play from a Slovenian defender.

The play by play on FIFA’s website listed the result of the play as a holding foul by Maurice Edu, but Edu contests that he can’t remember contacting anyone on his run to the ball.  Bob Bradley, the US coach at the time, agreed that fouls for holding should have been called, but on Slovenia rather than the US.  7  The replay seems to support Bradley’s position, showing one Slovenian player bear hugging Michael Bradley, another with his left arm wrapped around Edu’s midsection, along with quite a bit of jostling for position by both teams as Donovan struck the ball.  

Unlike many other sports leagues, FIFA almost never admits fault on the part of its officials, or explains controversial calls, 8 so the actual nature and correctness of this call remains a mystery to this day.  Luckily for the US, Algeria stunned England with a draw, and left the door open for the US to eventually win Group C and advance to the Round of 16.  The only comment FIFA ever made on Coulibaly’s performance, and a slight consolation for American supporters, was the fact that this remains the only World Cup game Coulibaly has ever officiated. 9 10 



Highlights from the game. The controversial goal starts at 3:17.

  1.    “World Cup 2010: United States Fume over Disallowed Goal.” BBC Sport. June 18, 2010. Accessed February 18, 2016.
  2. Longman, Jere. “Stunning Rally, Shocking Call.” New York Times, June 18, 2010. Accessed February 18, 2016.
  3.  Klein, Jeff Z. “Referee Again In Center of Controversy.” New York Times Soccer Blog. June 18, 2010. Accessed February 18, 2016.
  4.  Osuoji, Kelvin. “USA vs. Slovenia 2010 World Cup: A Closer Look at the Referee’s Decisions.” BleacherReport. June 18, 2010. Accessed February 18, 2016.
  5.   Longman, “Stunning Rally, Shocking Call”
  6.   Lewis, Michael. “Robbed at the World Cup! Late Goal Disallowed as U.S. Forced to Settle for 2-2 Draw with Slovenia.” NY Daily News. June 19, 2010. Accessed February 18, 2016.
  7. Longman, “Stunning Rally, Shocking Call”
  8. Ibid
  9.  Creditor, Avi. “U.S. Ref Geiger to Work World Cup; Koman Coulibaly Left out of FIFA Rotation.” Sports Illustrated. January 15, 2014. Accessed February 18, 2016.
  10.    Rig, Zach Lee. “World Cup 2010: Controversial USA-Slovenia Referee Koman Coulibaly Left Out Of Next Round Of Games.” June 22, 2010. Accessed February 18, 2016.