We have seen several different styles of referees in the opening weekend of the Euro 2012 tournament.
In the first match, the referee, Velasco Carballo of Spain, called a lot of minor fouls early on and then sent off a Greek player after two cautions in the first half. Neither of the incidents looked to be cautionable, especially the second one, where the Polish player simply slipped as he turned in front of the Greek defender. He also sent off the Polish keeper in the second half for a clear DOGSO. The interesting point in this incident is that the Greek player was running diagonally across the penalty area when he was tripped by the keeper, and he may not have been in full control of the ball. By a strict application of US Soccer DOGSO guidelines, known as the 4Ds this incident would not be considered a true DOGSO. However it was very obvious that the Greek forward would have reached the ball, with an open net at which to shoot if he had not been tripped. There was little protest from the keeper nor his teammates. As it was the substitute keeper came on and saved the PK. But the Poles had to play with 10 men so now the sides were even and the Greeks eventually scored to tie the match 1-1.
In this match Martin Atkinson appeared as an AAR. Their duty is to determine if the ball crosses the goal line for a goal. This was ironic in that it was Atkinson who was the referee in two matches in England during the past season that had controversies regarding this issue. In one case he did not award a goal when the ball had crossed the line, and in the other he awarded a goal when the ball had not crossed the line.
Holland v. Denmark was refereed by Skomina of Slovenia. Overall this was a good performance, with a deserved caution to one of the “usual suspects,” van Bommel and one for a delay of game at a throw-in by Paulsen of Denmark when they were protecting their surprise and unexpected lead. There was one fairly strong appeal for a PK for handball by a Danish defender that was denied by the referee. It seemed to be unintentional to me and using time and space theory, the ball came up to the defender before he knew anything about it. Yes his arm was in the air, and using the “unnatural or making himself bigger” criteria this would seem to be a handling offense. But in this case the short time period and closeness of the ball overrides these and so the "no call" was correct.
The Italian referee Rizzoli called the England/France match. The major impression from this match was that he was not prepared to call upper body fouls. Three were several times were English players were blocked off from their runs and knocked over by body checks only for the referee to wave play on. It was clear that the English players were expecting these fouls to be called. It was apparent that the French realized this and took advantage of it. Cabaye committed several simple fouls and probably should have been cautioned for PI. The cautions to Young and Oxlade-Chamberlain were good decisions. Rizzoli’s outstanding feature was his ability to keep himself behind the play so that he was not using space in front of the ball. This was effective for him and a good lesson for all referees.
The game between Italy and Spain promised to be a good one and it was. The referee, Kassai of Hungary, was prepared to let a lot go and refrained from issuing yellow cards when it certainly seemed that they were deserved for some fouls and tackles committed by the Italians. Had the Italians learned from the Dutch in the WC 2010 about how to stop the Spanish rapid passing tactics? Instead he booked Balotelli, another of the “usual suspects” for PI, which was correct in and of itself, but seemed trivial compared to what else was going on. However, in the second half, perhaps after their half-time discussion, the referee decided to issue yellow cards for fouls even though they were not as bad as those that happened in the first half. He finally ended up with six more cards, three to each team. It would have been much better had he issued a caution or two in the first half and then perhaps it would not have been necessary to give out those in the second half. Late cautions are not as effective for match control. I hope that the teams have not figured out his style, because they will take advantage of it, but I am not holding my breath. His second match will be telling.
It was fascinating that the Poland V. Russia match was refereed by a German, Stark, given all the historical and political circumstances involving these three countries over several centuries. But like Webb before him, he was very lenient on the heavy tackles committed by the Russians, several of which met the criteria for yellow cards. But he issued a caution for the very public and clear dissent by #17 of Russia in the 74th minute. This is something that is seldom seen in top matches these days, due to the emphasis on man-management and allowing players to “vent" but it was good to see Stark showing that he was not going to accept it. The Russian coach, Advocaat, who played in the original NASL in some games that we both officiated, sensibly took #17 off shortly thereafter. Stark’s positioning and movement was very good. This was particularly true when the play went down the left wings. He got himself very wide to follow the play, so that he had a very good panoramic view of the entire field and the players in front him rather than having some of them behind his back as happens if referees look at play on the left from a more central position.
It was apparent that there is variability in the flag handling technique that we discussed in the previous blog. Some keep the flag in the left hand during attacks and at corners, whereas others use the right hand method when side-stepping. Sometimes one AR in a match would use one technique and his partner would use the other one, so it is not a nationality based matter. It seems that they are being allowed to use whatever technique is most comfortable, which is the most sensible way to go, rather than insist that everyone use the exact same method. Additionally, it could be clearly seen that ARs stop at the six yard position if the ball is clearly out from a long shot for an obvious goal kick. As we have mentioned before, it is still not entirely clear what the Additional Assistant Referees really do most of the time and we have yet to observe whether they make any contributions whatsoever to the officiating of the match.