Tuesday's two matches were the end of the first part of this year's World Cup. We now have a couple of days to catch our breath, take care of some personal tasks and get ready for the quarters and beyond. But there were some aspects of the two referees' performances that are worth discussion.
The Paraguay/Japan match was refereed by Frank DeBleeckere of Belgium. He is clearly a very competent referee at this level in all aspects, but there were some puzzling decisions in this match. I did not understand the cautions for the simple handballs. It seems that almost every handball foul now results in a caution. It used to be that only deliberately blatant handballs by defenders to break up an attack, or sneaky handballs by forwards designed to deceive the referee e.g. Maradona's HOG goal, were to result in a caution. When did this change and why? Once again we have to ask what kind of instructions are the referees receiving, and why are they following them so blindly. I seriously doubt that DeBleeckere issues cautions for these simple handballs in his domestic league or the Champions' League matches he officiates. Overall these cautions made him look ridiculous and petty.
One other idiosyncrasy is his arm signals. He indicates with a straight arm with his palm down, sometimes looking almost like a Nazi salute. It is fortunate that he did not referee the England/Germany match! What happened to signaling with the palm facing out, which most of us were trained to do?
Hector Baldassi of Argentina was the referee for the final group-of-sixteen match, potentially the top match in the round between two favorites Spain, ranked #2 in the FIFA rankings, and Portugal ranked #3. I have mentioned previously that I thought he did a good job, but had an unusual style, so I paid particular attention to his performance in this match. He runs around with a lumbering gait, but is always in position to make decisions. He does this by being able to read the play very well and understand what the players are doing and anticipating the next move.
He referees the game by managing the players with his style and body language, not by adhering rigidly to the book and instructions. There is nothing flashy; for a simple foul he gives a couple of little tweets and points direction and gets on with it. He does not make each foul seem like a major event, and does not sprint over to the site of the foul unless it is needed. He allows a lot of flow, ignores trivial fouls and silly dives (Ronaldo), and constantly talks to the players. On one foul, the Portuguese would have preferred to have advantage, but Baldassi had already whistled because it looked as though they would not keep possession. He gave them a shrug, intimating that he was sorry, but he couldn't help them this time, admitting that he wished he had given the advantage. By doing this he kept the tension level of the game quite low, even though there was a lot at stake.
Did he do everything perfectly? Of course not, but he was still tremendously effective. It is unfortunate for him that Argentina look likely to go a long way, which may keep him from some later matches. However, his name is on the list of referees who still involved in the tournament, so we may see him again. Overall it was a pleasure for me to watch his performance.