The FIFA Club World Cup opener between Liga MX side Tigres and Ulsan Hyundai was halted on Thursday due to under-inflated balls being used during the match.
Shortly after the match — a 2-1 Tigres win — kicked off at Al Rayyan stadium in Qatar, both teams complained to referee Esteban Ostojich about the apparent softness of the ball on the pitch. Ostojich requested a switch that seemed to end the issue, but following a throw in favoring the Asian champions, a different ball was also deemed to have insufficient pressure.
Following the second round of complaints from players, Ostojich halted the match for three-and-a-half minutes to ensure all balls were properly inflated in order to restart proceedings between Ulsan and Tigres, who made their Club World Cup debut following a 2-1 win over LAFC in the CONCACAF Champions League final in December.
No further issues were reported.
Controversy surrounding under-inflated balls is nothing new to American sports fans. Legendary quarterback Tom Brady was suspended four games and his team — then the New England Patriots — was fined and docked draft picks for what the NFL called “conduct detrimental to the integrity of the NFL” relating to the doctrine of game balls during a playoff game in 2014.
When Thursday’s match restarted, Kim Kee-hee’s opener for Ulsan in the 24th minute was cancelled out by Andre-Pierre Gignac’s first-half brace, sending Tigres to the competition’s semifinal to face Copa Libertadores champions Palmeiras on Sunday in a bid to make history. No CONCACAF team has ever made the Club World Cup final.
Ulsan Hyundai will end their run in the competition in the fifth-place match, also to be played on Sunday. In their only prior experience at the tournament, the South Korean side finished sixth in 2012 after losing to Liga MX’s Monterrey as well as Japanese side Sanfrecce Hiroshima.