Tomusange almost missed World Cup

What you need to know:

  • Man Apart. The celebrated and retired Ugandan assistant referee is also quick to dismiss he ruled out Fernando Morientes’ goal at the 2002 Fifa World Cup in Korea/Japan. Actually, the popular image of the Spanish striker going at him was for an offside call against Morientes, and not for a ruled out goal. Writes Andrew Mwanguhya.

Let us deal with it straight away, since whenever retired referee Ali Tomusange - the only Ugandan to officiate at the Fifa World Cup - is mentioned, an image of Spanish striker Fernando Morientes unleashing a salvo at him sticks out.

The above happened during a quarterfinal match between Korea and Spain at the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup, a game that will forever be remembered for both the hosts’ heroics and scandalous refereeing. 

 Not that the incident is all there is about Tomusange’s remarkable journey at the world’s biggest football showpiece!

 Then 38, Tomusange officiated four World Cup matches, including the said quarterfinal - proof that he was highly rated.

 Yet events in that match will always show face, and so will that historic image of the Ugandan and Morientes, and another picture at the final whistle of Tomusange shielding the second assistant - Michael Ragoonath from Trinidad and Tobago from an on-charging Ivan Helguera.

 Helguera scored one of the disallowed goals. Korea had just won the encounter 5-3 in penalties after extra-time failed to separate the two, but the Spanish were beyond livid for perceived injustice.

The controversy

Spain players were furious at two controversially disallowed goals. First, Helguera looked to have put Spain in the lead early in the second-half when he headed past Lee Woon-Jae from 10 yards, only for his effort to be disallowed by centre referee, Egypt’s Gamal Al-Ghandour, for adjudged shirt pulling.

 TV replays showed a clean goal, where the ball from a Spain free-kick hit the back of Korea’s Kim Tae-young head and bounced into the net. There was no pushing, no holding, and certainly no offside.

 Then in extra time, Trinidadian assistant referee, Ragoonath, incorrectly ruled that then Real Betis winger Joaquin Rodriguez had run the ball out before crossing for Morientes to head home a would-have-been golden goal.

Big Wigs. Tomusange (L) is greeted by then Speaker of Parliament     Hon Edward Ssekandi. On the right in action. PHOTOS / EDDIE CHICCO

 Then late on, when Tomusange raised the flag for offside with Morientes through to goal, the Spaniard - sure he was onside - could not take it any longer - racing the full length to vent his agonizing frustrations to the Ugandan official.

 Strong VAR advocate

It was a marginal call, and Tomusange asserts to SCORE that it was the right call. “I think it was,” he said, “But yes, it was a tense match. Very difficult match.”

Tomusange, now working with Fufa as a Fifa and Caf refereeing instructor,  added: “I’m happy that you know I’m not the one who made the call.

 “Most people I meet actually think it was me. But again, we work as a team and I cannot put blame to any of my colleagues.

 “I wish we had the help of VAR (Video Assistant Referee) at the time. Now it is a bit easy for my colleagues.

 “VAR takes pressure off referees. You know if you make a mistake, it can be corrected by the VAR.”

 It could certainly have been a different story had VAR been in place in 2002. Korea were to later be eliminated by Germany in the semifinals before Brazil beat the Germans to the title.

Biggest milestone

But for Tomusange, as sure as any referee, officiating at the globe’s biggest showpiece among several other individual milestones remains a fully etched memory and experience.

 “Just like footballers, officiating at the World Cup is also the epitome for referees. Football and refereeing have taken me places I would never have, met great people. It’s memories you can’t replace.”

 Yet Tomusange almost missed to grab his World Cup chance, thanks to lack of proper communication from Caf, the continental football body.

 “I had just been selected to officiate at the 2002 Mali Africa Cup of Nations ,” Tomusange narrated, “and I was still waiting for Caf to send my air ticket till the last minute.

 “I was at an internet cafe with my friend waiting for a fax. Caf was not very good with communication at the time.

 “It was during that time I received a phone call from one of you (journalists), and he went: ‘Tom, you have been selected to officiate at the World Cup in Korea/Japan, what do you have to say about it?’

 “I was like, ‘what, me’?’ The journalist repeated it. It was then that getting the air ticket to Mali became a life and death matter.

 “That is when I went to Fred Musta (former Fifa referee) and he got me an air ticket to Mali. Of course I refunded him later but he really helped me.

 “Remember, at the time you could not get your own ticket without authorization from Caf.

 “But a lot was at stake. I got the ticket, anyway and once I arrived in Mali and explained, they understood and I was refunded. I also discovered I was not alone who had experienced the same.”

 Had Tomusange missed Mali, his World Cup dream was also gone since that Afcon edition was part of the tests for Korea/Japan confirmation. 

Rich profile

 Before the World Cup peak in 2002 Tomusange, 58 in December, had already established himself as an elite assistant referee having got his Fifa badge in 1993.

 By then he had - between 1998 and 2002 - already officiated at the Women Afcon and Men’s U20 Fifa World Cup in Nigeria, Caf U20 Afcon, Fifa Club World Cups in Brazil and Spain where he took charge of great sides like Manchester United and Real Madrid and 2000 Afcon Finals in Ghana/Nigeria and Sydney Olympics.

 After Korea/Japan, Tomusange - who is also remembered for being trusted by Egypt to take charge of the country’s derby involving Al Ahly and Zamalek, went on to officiate six games at Tunisia 2004 Afcon, including the final, four and two Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010 World Cup qualifying games respectively.

 Actually, the man who started out as a goalkeeper before moving to striking in his low-key football as a player at Kings College Budo, was supposed to officiate at the 2006 Germany World Cup but was ruled out by his long-standing knee injury.

To back that up, he officiated at the 2005 Fifa Confederation Cup, the tournament that usually ushers in the real World Cup. Match officials from this tournament normally proceed to the World Cup finals.

Tale you must hear

One of the interesting tales of Tomusange’s continental breakthrough came in 1998. It was a pure case of luck meeting preparation.

 Match officials from Niger were lined up to officiate this Champions League game between Young Africans and South African side Manning Rangers in Tanzania.

 The refereeing cast indeed started the journey but along the way were hit by flight connection challenges. The match was on Saturday, and by Friday morning it was confirmed the Niger referees would not make it in time to Tanzania.

 Soon, the refereeing head at Caf was over the phone to then Fufa president Twaha Kakaire seeking urgent help.

 Charles Masembe, who officiated at the 1996 South Africa Afcon, including the final that was won by the hosts, was the most elite referee in the region and is the one Caf wanted as immediate substitute.

 “But Kakaire told Caf that ‘no, you have already seen Masembe. Now I want you to see my other talented referees,’” explained Tomusange.

Earned Plaudits. Tomusange (L) receives a Legendary Award from Fufa president Moses Magogo a couple of years ago. Tomusange still volunteers and serves as a football administrator. PHOTO / FUFA MEDIA

 “Caf later gave in that Friday evening and myself, centre referee Ali Waiswa and David Katabira flew out to Tanzania on Saturday morning, had some rest and workout, attended the pre-match meeting and were ready for the match.

 “During the pre-match meeting, the match assessor was worried when he discovered Waiswa, the shortest amongst us, was the centre referee,” added Tomusange, laughing, “But by half time, he was impressed, and at full time, he came to congratulate us. That was the beginning.”

Africa in Qatar

 Now the 2022 Qatar World Cup is upon us in November and December, and Tomusange, who retired aged 45 in 2009, will - like most - be following events on TV.

 Like most referees, predicting games is a no-go for Tomusange. “I normally never predict these things,” he said when asked how far African countries would go in Qatar, “But just for you! I think Senegal and Cameroon have chances (to progress from the group).

 “The final two, that would be real guessing! After seeing all teams play, I can. But not now!” But one thing Tomusange is confident about is “it will be an interesting tournament.”

CAREER Milestones

Competitions Officiated

2002 Fifa World Cup in Korea/Japan. Four matches, including the quarterfinal

Germany 2006 (4) and South Africa 2010 (2) Fifa WC qualifying matches

Five matches at Sydney 2000 Olympic Games

2005 Fifa Confederations Cup in Germany

Three Africa Cup of Nations editions at Ghana/Nigeria 2000, Mali 2002 (5), Tunisia 2004. Officiated six games in Tunisia, including the final

Fifa Club World Cup in Brazil 2000 and Madrid 2001

2000 Fifa U20 World Cup in Nigeria

Nigeria Women Afcon 1998

Caf U-20- Ghana 1999

Derby between Egypt’s Al Ahly and Zamalek

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