Referees are the wild card in futbol—they can make or break a game. In a World Cup, a single poor call can change the outcome of the entire tourney.
A good ref (think Pierluigi Collina, Antonio Mateu Lahoz, Daniele Orsato) can become invisible for long stretches and then jump to center stage to set things right. A poor ref can become omnipresent and interfere with the game’s flow by calling little infractions of no import or can be distant from the action, missing important plays, and unable to make an unambiguous call when things get out of hand.
A good ref gives out an early yellow to avoid having to give out a red later on and does not get caught up in “is it enough for” a foul, or a penalty, or a card—it either is or is not an infraction, the rule book does not award fouls for degrees of an infraction. That good ref does not cower away from giving the player he just awarded a yellow card to a second one for again fouling egregiously minutes after the first card. And a good ref calls a penalty when it occurs, or time when the half is over, or for substitutes to come in or wait, regardless of the time of, or situation in, a game.
If a goalkeeper wastes time with a goal kick and gets a yellow card and then decides to waste time again, the second yellow should automatically come out. A ref on top of his game keeps track of sequential fouling so that by the time the third different player gets called for fouling the same opposition star, an automatic yellow comes out for accumulation of fouls and a warning to the team that any continuation, regardless of which new player performs the foul, will result in an automatic yellow for that player. Think Diego Maradona and Johan Cruyff in any of their World Cups.
Unsportsmanlike behavior is such no matter who (Zinedine Zidane correctly called for in World Cup 2006) or when and where—think the 1982 World Cup Semifinals in Spain when German keeper Toni Schumacher clobbers Frenchman Patrick Battiston and somehow the German remains in the match. Or remember the Stade de France 1998 World Cup Final match between hosts France and visiting Brazil, when Fabien Barthez was “no-called” for his clobbering of Ronaldo and then landing on him.
Some refs suffer from a momentary lapse, an instant of blindness, think about the performance of the current head of Premier League Referees, Englishman Howard Webb, in the final between Spain vs the Netherlands in South Africa 2010 as he “misses” Dutch Nigel de Jong’s infamous flying kick landing on the chest of Spaniard Xabi Alonso, or Italian referee Gianluca Rocchi, missing Mexico’s Miguel Layun purposefully stepping on Brazilian Neymar’s recently surgically repaired ankle while out of bounds and pretending to simply be picking up the ball, in the Russia 2018 Round of 16 match.
FIFA has gathered their list (scroll to the bottom of the linked page) of the best referees in the world for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, and those chosen have been given extra training on the tourney’s officiating protocols which Collina himself is now in charge of maintaining. Let us hope these ladies and gentlemen have as good a tourney as we wish the teams will have.
Photo: Italian Referee Daniele Orsato, Shutterstock ID 2143188531, by Mikolaj Barbanell