The Man in the Middle!!!

July 17, 2010

17 July 2010

So another world cup has come and gone and with it the usual array of talking points, golden moments and controversy. Without doubt though, the over riding memory of the tournament – apart from the performances of the All Whites – is the substandard level of refereeing and the associated controversies.

Howard Webb’s appalling performance in the final summed up a litany of poor performances by fellow whistlers from around the globe. Webb seemed intent on ensuring that the game ended with eleven players on each side, however hard some players tried to be sent off. Hettinge became Webbs first red card of the tournament in the 109th minute, but by then the final had been ruined. Strange that prior to the final Webb went on record as saying he wanted the final to be remembered for the football not the officiating! The result of course was instead of the final being an exhibition of Spain’s quality possession football and Netherlands ability to counter attack swiftly, we were presented with a stop start game full of late tackles and blatant attempts to injure opponents. It appeared that Netherlands knew they were no match for the Spanish and decided to stop them winning by any means possible. How different it might have been, had Webb sent off Van Bommel early on or De Jong for that atrocious foul on Xavi Alonso. As the match wore on it appeared that Van Bommel had free reign to kick any Spaniard at will with no repercussion. His late challenge on Iniesta resulted in the normally placid Spaniard retaliating – fortunately Iniesta had the last laugh, scoring the goal that won the cup.


But Webb was not alone. Throughout the tournament there were many decisions which left fans and players speechless and materially affected the outcome of games. Where would New Zealand have finished had Robert Vittek’s goal been rightfully disallowed, or Daniele De Rossi’s dive been punished with a yellow card instead of a penalty? What would have happened in the second half in Bloemfontein had Frank Lampard’s goal been given? I had the good fortune to be at the wonderful Soccer City to watch the Mexicans taking on Argentina and find themselves go behind to a Carlos Tevez goal which was so startlingly obviously offside that we were shocked that it wasn’t disallowed.

Football everywhere is littered with close decisions, many which look surprisingly different when viewed on replay or from a different angle. The examples above though, need no replays. Each and every one of them was clear to the naked eye, yet was missed by the officials. In this column earlier this year I criticised FIFA for dismissing, without discussion, the argument for using video technology. If there is one good thing to come out of the world cup refereeing levels, it is that it appears that technology may well be back on the FIFA agenda. Following the England & Mexico incidents Sepp Blatter said “It is obvious that after the experiences so far at this World Cup it would be a nonsense not to re-open the file on goal-line technology” I’d suggest it was a nonsense to have closed it in the first place.

Sepp Blatter though continues to offend. He went on….“The only thing I can do is yesterday I have spoken to the two federations (England and Mexico) directly concerned by referees mistakes.”

I wonder if he apologised to NZ Football for the mistakes against New Zealand? Somehow I doubt it. There are rules for some and rules for others. The rules are different if you are a big nation with a strong standing in the sport, as opposed to a minnow from Oceania. Who cares if an Oceania nation is on the bad end of a shocking refereeing decision? Now a self proclaimed giant like England????  We can’t have that can we?


FFA wrong again…..

March 7, 2009


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The FFA’s decision to overturn the red cards shown in last weekends A-League Grand Final is controversial to say the least. I would go so far as to say that it is fundamentally wrong – in one of the cases.

Lets deal with the simpler case first. Melbourne Victory striker Danny Allsopp was red carded by referee Matthew Breeze for a supposed head butt on Adelaide defender Robert Cornthwaite shortly after Victory took a deserved lead. Despite having 16 cameras around the ground broadcaster Fox Sports couldn’t find any record of the incident taking place. The nearest point was when the two players clashed shoulders as they took positions for a free kick. Matthew Breeze didn’t see the incident either. He produced the red card on the advice of his assistant Matthew Cream.

To say the red card was a shock to the 53000 in attendance is something of an understatement. They had expected red cards for both Cornthwaite & Adelaide goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic whose actions were disgraceful – Cornthwaite clearly assaulting Allsopp and Galekovic assaulting Breeze & Victory playmaker Carlos Hernandez.

Put simply, the incident for which Allsopp was shown a red card never happened, and as such the FFA were 100% correct to overturn it. One would also expect a reprimand for Assistant referee Matthew Cream who created the incident from his mind.

The other red card though is a different matter and the FFA got it wrong.

After 11 minutes Adelaides lone striker Cristiano rose for a high ball and in doing so clearly elbowed Victory defender Roddy Vargas. Vargas fell to the ground with blood streaming from a head wound, little more than an inch from his temple. Breeze whistled for the foul immediately and ran brandishing his YELLOW card towards the players. He spoke to Cream and then produced a red card.

To most of those present it didn’t appear a controversial decision. Elbowing is after all a red card offence and one that  FIFA have focussed on in recent times. If players and commentators don’t know that then they really shouldn’t be in the game. The following link makes it quite clear.

“….the Board  (IFAB) supported FIFA’s request that special instructions be issued to the match officials who will be in action in Germany. As a result, they will be asked to severely sanction all cases of elbowing, reckless tackling and serious foul play with red cards, while shirt-pulling and holding an opponent will incur a yellow card.”

See also this UEFA directive…

You may of course recall Italy’s Daniele De Rossi & Holland’s Khalid Bhoulahrouz being red carded for their elbow use during the last world cup

Matthew Breeze (& Matthew Cream) was, then, 100% correct in issuing a red card, despite the protestations of Adelaide’s players and supporters and notably one very ill informed tv commentator.

But why have the FFA overturned the decision?

Well I can’t answer that. Clearly as a point of football law the FFA are in the wrong.  One would think that administrators at the highest level would be fully informed of the laws of the game they administer but obviously not. Perhaps in their naivety they were unaware of the FIFA decision and thought that intent came into it?

Even then, its hard to prove that there was no intent by Cristiano. He left his elbows high in the air knowing that he was being challenged and in full knowledge that there might be a clash. I have no doubt that initially his arms are raised as leverage for jumping  but that is no excuse. He can also argue that Vargas’s arms weren’t that much different. That’s true too – but of course Vargas didn’t actually elbow Cristiano.

The FFA should not have rescinded Cristiano’s card and they should have supported their referee. Breeze made a decision on the spur of the moment based on his vision of an incident. The incident clearly took place. His reaction was completely correct within the laws of the game and the FIFA directives. He, more than anyone else, is in tune with the emotion and the pace of the game, as he is a central participant. Incidents adjudicated in the heat of the moment often look different when analysed days later in the comfort of a lounge chair and away from the pressure and emotion prevalent at the time.

Breeze’s decision was not wrong and the FFA have successfully undermined their top official.