The third games in the groups provide interesting tests for our referees.
In Group A any one of the teams could still have qualified, so both matches were always going to be tough. As it was Greece and Czech Republic were the teams that went through after they both won their games. The games were hard fought and the referees had to work hard to keep them under control. Thomson issued two early cautions in the Poland-Czech match, and this served to keep things quite calm, but he needed to issue six more in the latter portions of the game. He did not have any really major incidents to deal with, unlike in the Russia-Greece match. All the cautions in that match were issued in the last third of the match, including one unfortunate one to Karagounis of Greece.
He was clearly tripped in the penalty area, but the referee decided it was simulation and booked him. It should have been a PK, but turned out not to be a match-critical decision since Greece won anyway by 1-0. But this was Karagounis’ 2nd yellow card of the tournament, so he will not be able to play in the quarterfinal. Although the referee may not have had a good view of the trip, the AAR should have had a perfect view of it, and could have informed the referee. If they are going to be stationed at that position during the match, they ought to be allowed to provide this kind of information.
The Italian referee Rizzoli has what is probably the match with the most explosive potential of all the third group-stage matches. Portugal v. Netherlands in Group B is a replay of the infamous battle of Nuremberg in the 2006-WC in which 16 cards were handed out by the beleagered Russian referee Ivanov, and four players were sent off. Several of the players in that match will be playing in the re-match which both teams need to win to progress. For Netherlands only a win will do, and even then they may not qualify defending on what happens in the Germany-Denmark match. A tie in that match would eliminate Netherlands even if they win, and the question has been raised by conspiracy theorists of whether Germany who only need a tie to be sure of qualification would allow that to happen. But Denmark also need to win; a tie would put them out if Portugal win, so it is unlikely that there will be any fix. Nevertheless Rizzoli will need to be aware of what will probably be the Dutch tactics, which will be to stop Ronaldo, and they have the players to do that in van Bommel, de Jong and Heitinga. Also Portugal will pay special attention to van Persie and Robben with their no-nonsense center backs, led by Pepe, and midfielder Miereles who was very fortunate not to have been sent off in the previous match. If Rizzoli does not get firm control on this match early, watch out! Germany-Denmark will be refereed by the Spaniard, Velasco-Carballo. It will be interesting to see if he sticks with the overly strict style that he displayed during his first match. He has given the only red cards and PK of the tournament so far.
Spain v. Croatia in Group C is also a difficult match and Stark of Germany will referee it. It also has some possibilities for a fix. By finishing with a 2-2 tie, both teams can progress at the expense of Italy, even if Italy wins by a cricket score. However I expect Croatia to try to win but in order to do so they will need to stop the creative players, Xavi, Iniesta and Villa. This can be done by committing lots of little fouls high up the pitch, like the Dutch did in the WC-2010 Final. Hopefully Stark will be alert to this and able to prevent it with cautions for persistent infringement early in the match.
Finally, Group D has England v Ukraine, a host team. Ukraine must win in order to qualify and will go all out in front of the home fans. The main danger will come from legandary striker Shevchenko, and he will get special attention from the England defenders, probably Terry, whose lack of pace will not be factor against the aging Ukrainian. England who need only to tie are anticipating having Rooney back after his two-match suspension. Expect the Ukraine defenders to do what they can to wind Rooney up early on in order to get him unsettled and perhaps do something rash. The referee is Kassai, the highly rated Hungarian. He let play go fairly liberally in his first match, Italy v. Spain, and gave six of the seven cautions in the final quarter of the match. This may not be the best approach for England v Ukraine.
Proenca of Portugal is in the middle for the last group match, France v Sweden. Sweden are already out, but will not want to go home with no points and so will still try to win. But France must at least tie to guarantee qualification. This may be a stalemate, with France just content to stop Sweden as they did against England with lots of little fouls and upper body blocks etc., which have been let go in several matches so far. It could turn out to be the easiest match of the tournament for a referee, but let's not speak too soon.