My World Cup: More Referee - and Commentator - Problems

In the end -- and certainly this was not an easy process -- Spain squeaked past Paraguay by the same minimal scoreline that it had managed against Portugal: 1-0.

The result seems fair -- it was Spain that had done most of the attacking, that was looking to score. Paraguay preferred the defensive approach. Whether justice was done, though -- that is more debatable. Because of a couple of decisions by referee Carlos Batres that went against Paraguay.

First incident: with the score at 0-0, Nelson Valdez had the ball in the net for Paraguay. The goal was disallowed -- evidently for offside (I say “evidently,” for at first there appeared to be a possibility that Valdez had handled the ball, but a replay showed this was not the case). So, offside it was. Or was it?  As the ball came looping into the Spanish penalty area, Valdez was not offside -- he was level with the Spanish defender Pique. But another Paraguayan forward, Oscar Cardozo, was offside.

The ball did not go to Cardozo. He, along with Spain’s  Sergio Busquets jumped, but neither player made contact with the ball. It sailed over their heads and fell to Valdez who fired it into the net.

By that time the assistant referee’s flag was up. But who was he calling offside? If Valdez, he was flat-out wrong. If Cardozo, a number of questions about the interpretation of the offside rule present themselves.

TV commentators Ian Darke and John Harkes both declared that the goal should have been allowed. Their reasoning being firstly that Cardozo, who was offside, did not play the ball, and secondly that Valdez was clearly not offside. I find that convincing.

But at half-time, we were whisked back to the studio for more expert opinion. We got the view of Roberto Martinez, who had presumably been studying the replays, and who declared that the offside call was against Cardozo, and that it was a good call (it needs to be mentioned that Martinez is Spanish). His reasoning, as far as I was able to follow it, was this: that although Cardozo did not play the ball, when he jumped for it he “became active.”

The offside rule says “active play” means: #1 interfering with play, or #2 interfering with an opponent, or #3 gaining an advantage (as a result of his offside position). Later in the rule book those categories are explained. As far as Martinez’s opinion goes, we can rule out #1 and #3, which both involve “playing or touching” the ball.

The Martinez view, then, stands or falls by #2 -- defined as “preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the player’s line of vision or movements ...” As it is quite clear that Cardozo did not do any of that, I frankly cannot see any merit in Martinez’s opinion. Paraguay was robbed of a goal.

Second incident: The game -- still at 0-0 -- exploded into frantic life in the 57th minute. As Paraguay’s Edgar Barreto swung in a corner kick, the usual free-for-all between attackers and defenders was breaking out in the Spanish goalmouth. This time referee Batres saw something that he deemed too outrageous to ignore: Defender Pique yanking hard on Cardozo’s arm, and pulling him down. Penalty kick to Paraguay, yellow card to Pique.

So far so good. The problems -- for both the referee and for commentators Darke and Harkes -- started when Iker Casillas saved the penalty. At that point the referee should have ordered a retake -- not because Casillas advanced from his line (though he probably did) but because of flagrant encroachment by Spain’s Sergio Ramos and Cesc Fabregas.

The encroachment was clearly visible on the live TV pictures as Cardozo approached the ball, and on the two subsequent replays it was even clearer. Neither Darke nor Harkes spotted it. Nor did referee Batres.

So Casillas was credited with an important save when there was one cast iron reason, and another quite probable reason (his own movement) why the save should have been over-ruled.

Things immediately got more complicated. Within 45 seconds, Batres had (correctly) awarded Spain a penalty kick at the other end. But this time Batres did see the encroachment as Xavi Alonso scored from the penalty spot (there is no explanation for that, as the encroachment was less obvious than that preceding Casillas’s save). On the retake, goalkeeper Justo Villar made the save and immediately brought down Fabregas for what ought to have been yet another penalty.

To close out this shambles, there came another replay of the Casillas penalty save -- one that showed the encroachment with total clarity, and also showed that Casillas had indeed come off his line. Watching this, Harkes once again completely failed to spot the encroachment, noted that Casillas had come off his line early -- and then, having just admitted that Casillas had cheated, called it “a great save by Casillas.”

Obviously, the more important aspect of all this is not the confusion sewn by Darke and Harkes (the Martinez version of the offside rule didn’t help matters, either) but the inability of referee Batres to spot the encroachment on the first kick.

This raises a question that I have brought up before: does the referee take up the best position at penalty kicks?  He has an assistant on the goal line, watching for goal-keeper movement (assistants who rarely see any movement, even when it’s blatant), while he himself stands in line with the penalty spot. Which means that, if he’s watching the kicker, which he presumably is, he is not likely to be able to spot encroachment. But that position is, I gather, the “official,” or at least the recommended, referee position. At any rate, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a referee take up a different position. Though it seems to me that one behind the kicker would make more sense.

If the referee were to stand in the middle of the penalty arc line, his vision would take in both the actions of the kicker, and any players encroaching.

One of the most frequent -- and genuine -- problems that referees face is not being in the best position to see an incident clearly. Which makes it downright perverse for them to choose a penalty-kick position that almost guarantees restricted vision.

17 comments about "My World Cup: More Referee - and Commentator - Problems".
  1. Dick Burns, July 3, 2010 at 11:26 p.m.

    I did see a referee take up a position on the 18 yard line this spring in one of the many games that I watched. Even then he had players behind his back. As a long time referee, I have used the recommended position equal with the penalty spot but know full well that does not permit you to see everything. Most encroachment is ignored because it has no effect on the outcome. Bob Evans tried enforcing the law many years ago in the NASL in a game between Detroit and Chicago after the owners complained that the referees were not enforcing the law and after it took 3 or 4 attempts to have leagally taken kick, the owners quickly backed off. I am sure Paul remembers those guys.

  2. Christopher Holden, July 3, 2010 at 11:59 p.m.

    Of course the commentator's bias is expected -- since he is Spanish. The referee, particularly the AR, should be on the line for PK's, so he blew that call. The encroachment on the PK was so obvious it was sick ... so the referee called back the goal on the other side to make up for his error a minute before -- hard to believe since he likes to see Paraguay lose. Not giving PIQUE a straight red for the tackle in the box was silly. Anyone ref who watched that game knew that most of the calls were favoring Spain. This ref should be fired right away. Yes it is very hard to get an offside call right on a long ball, particularly with all the background noise. That was a really tough call to make, however on the replay it looked like a valid goal to me. Technology would solve this problem within 3 seconds (less time than it takes for a keeper to get the ball and make a free kick). There were plenty of additional mistakes on corners vs free kicks that make you wonder if the referee's are even watching the game. In every game I have noted at least one error on goal kicks (where it should have been a corner). The difference between a goal kick and a corner is huge. Time for video replay. Too bad FIFA likes the excitement behind human error determining the outcome of a game. Furthermore the referee for a quarter final game between a european country and a south american country should be a top notch ref from Asia, not a ref from Guatemala who also helped Germany beat Paraguay in 2002 -- you'd think FIFA would not let this ref call a game with Paraguay but then again who knows why FIFA lets this guy ref at all is beyond understanding. This ref and FIFA blew this game - shame on you FIFA.

  3. Ken Morris, July 4, 2010 at 12:53 a.m.

    The bottom line, for me, is that some rule changes have been a step backward. The offside rule, for instance: Offside used to be called if there were any players in an offside position at the time of a pass -- whether "active" or not (as if there were such a thing as an inactive player). Any player in an offside position must be accounted for by the defense; therefore, any player in an offside position has an effect on the play. The old definition of offside made more sense.

    Secondly, referees are supposed to rule in black and white fashion. The more "judgment" is allowed, the more mistakes are made. When a player handles the ball, for instance, it changes the trajectory in which it travels; it changes the player's intended outcome, so it should always be called, intentional or not.

    We have become flippant with the rules. Players are allowed to creep upwards of twenty yards on throw-ins. And how many times have we seen players favor one arm over another during a throw-in? How about lifting a foot? Refs rarely penalize faulty throw-ins nowadays. And just how long are goalies allowed to hold the ball before distributing it? I can spot a "dive" from my living room couch, yet refs are nearly blind to them?

    Giving a straight red card to an offending player when he is the last one back is ridiculous. It's a double penalty: The offended player gets a PK plus the team loses a player. Shouldn't a striker get a straight red card for fouling the last player between himself and the goal? And a yellow in one game, followed by a yellow in the next game equals suspension for the third game? Huh? That's non-sensical at best.

    The refereeing in this year's WC has been horrible, but to me the bigger picture is the lackadaisical fashion in which we go about enforcing the rules. We get a more accurate result of which team is better when the refs are enforcing rules equally and in a black and white fashion. It would also be nice, of course, if they happened to be competent. Where's Mr. Colima when you need him?

  4. Dave Kaufmann, July 4, 2010 at 4:18 a.m.

    What you see is not what you hear.
    Once a long time ago in a major City in Blue grass country a Belicose overweight over 40 Brit called this Colonial Refree a "F@#***g Twit!" for a dubious "hand to ball" in the box.
    Straight RED you say ? NOT! this dolt out weighd me by at least 140 #
    Not even a yellow.
    The Penalty kick was GOOD enough.
    "Donworri be appy mon!"
    Back to Samba Futebol

  5. Timothy b Sullivan, July 4, 2010 at 8:50 a.m.

    I disagree with Mr Gardner's interpretation of the offside rule. When Cardozo rose to head the ball from an offside position, he was “preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the player’s line of vision or movements ...” BECAUSE the keeper had to play Cardozo's threat, not knowing whether the ball would get to him, and not knowing if offside would be called. In doing so, the keeper was hampered in his ability to defend against Valdez.
    Otherwise, I agree with your other comments about the referees. It's a shame this takes up so much of the thinking about the games. Football is a fast-moving sport - that's what is so beautiful about it. The referees need to be able to be in a lot of places at once. American football, arthritic in its movement in comparison, has half a dozen referees scattered around the field to watch different aspects of play. To insist on "venerable" standards for officiating, when thoughtful people who love the game could come up with useful changes that would not alter the game's character, is madness.

  6. David Mont, July 4, 2010 at 9:39 a.m.

    I do agree that the offside call on the disallowed goal was a good call. Cardozo clearly interfered with the play and was indeed an active participant in that particular play. Whether or not he touched the ball is irrelevant.

    To Ric Fonseca -- that Macsomething is actually Steve McManaman a former Liverpool, Real Madrid, and England player. And he never said anything about Latinos; his comment was that an official from Guatemala, not a major footballing nation, shouldn't be in charge of such an important game. A eurosnobish remark, if you ask me, and the one ignoring horrible officiating decisions by referees from "major" nations, but not necessarily an anti-Latino one.

    Batres did make a few blunders. An encroachment by the Spanish players during the Cardozo penalty was far more blatant than the one he did call -- a truly puzzling non-call. And, of course, there should've been another penalty called following Villar's save.

  7. Hal Lohn, July 4, 2010 at 10:17 a.m.

    It would seem logical to have one AR on the end line and the other AR on the line of the 18 when a PK is taken.

  8. Kent James, July 4, 2010 at 11:24 a.m.

    The Paraguay-Spain game simply demonstrates how difficult a job the referees have. The disallowed goal could have been simple (and understandable) human error. When Cardoza was in the offside position (as he went to head the ball) was blocking the AR's view of Valdez (to be able to determine if Valdez was in an offside position also), so the AR might have thought that Valdez was also offside. But since the AR's flag went up just after Cardoza attempted to head the ball, I'm guessing the AR thought he did head it, and if he did, then Cardoza would have been rightly judged as offside. I agree with Sullivan's argument that Cardoza should be called offside even if he does not make contact because his actions force the keeper to react differently (being ready to defend the Cardoza's header instead of moving over to cover Valdez's shot), but people who have officiated at higher levels than I say that if defenders adjust their positions to deal with players who are offside, that is the defender's fault, and referees should not save them (of course, this view contradicts with the referee's general admonition players should not think about violations of the laws and let the referees call the game!).
    For me, this goes back to the 1994 WC game between Brazil and the Netherlands when Bebeto (I think), who was clearly in an offside position, had the ball played to him; the Dutch defenders, knowing he was offside, stopped playing, but Bebeto never touched it (I can't remember if he dummied it or simply never attempted to play it, though I think the latter) and another Brazilian attacker (who was onside) took the ball and scored (I think the winning goal). In my book, Bebeto clearly gained an advantage (whether he intended to or not) from being in an offside position, but I can understand the argument that if Bebeto makes no attempt to play the ball, he should probably not be penalized. In the Paraguay case, Cardoza was clearly trying to play the ball, which is why I think Sullivan's argument is justifiable. On the other hand, if FIFA has determined (for consistency's sake) that "active involvement" requires that the player touch the ball, then the goal was wrongly disallowed. And, of course, the AR has to decide all this in a fraction of a second. Not easy.

  9. Kent James, July 4, 2010 at 11:25 a.m.

    (cont) But assuming Cardoza should only be called offside if touched the ball, the referee crew could have dealt with this in two ways. One would be for the center, if he knows the AR is calling Cardoza (not Valdez) offside, could have waved the AR's flag down if he knew Cardoza did not touch the ball (and knew that Cardoza was the player the AR was flagging). The other alternative would be for the AR to not put up his flag, but after the goal was scored, talk to the center about the situation before the kickoff, and tell him Cardoza was offside but the AR could not tell if he was in the play, and if the Center felt Cardoza was "actively involved", disallow the goal. The former makes it difficult to allow the goal (since the Spanish players would have seen the AR's flag go up), while the latter approach would make it difficult to disallow the goal for offside (since the Paraguayans would have seen the AR keep his flag down). I believe the appropriate cliche is "damned if you do, damned if you don't".

  10. Charles Stamos, July 4, 2010 at 11:25 a.m.

    In my opinion, the best referee performance in this WC has been by the Japanese gentleman, Nishimura, who had the very difficult Netherlands v Brazil game. I don't see Japan as the bastion of soccer, so it would seem that the individual makes the ref, not the country. Look for him to be doing one of the semis or the final. On the offside call, Cardozo tried to be active, so that would make him offsides. Batres has had many ??? calls in CONCACAF games, I was not happy to see him on the pitch for this important game. He did not favor either team, he blew calls both ways, esp the take down of Fabregas by Villar. The AR ref missed that one bad as the play happened right in front of him! But it's ultimately Batres's call. Encroachment should have been called on the Spanish on both PKs. Unfortunately, that is not consistent with the way it's been called in the past, so FIFA needs to clean up the game with proper advise/emphasis to the refs/players/coaches before the games begin. By the way, besides the ref, AR, and 4th ref who else is on the headsets...? Could there be a FIFA official upstairs who puts in his 2 cents? Anyone know?

  11. Kent James, July 4, 2010 at 11:29 a.m.

    As for the PKs, almost every kick has encroachment, and almost every keeper comes off the line (at least a bit). The reason most refs don't drop back to see encroachment is that usually the center is the one who will call the keeper for coming off his line, so he needs to stay close enough to judge that; the AR is there only to judge if the ball has crossed the line. The keeper call is too much of a judgement call to leave to the AR (though in theory, it shouldn't be). But these situations highlight the bottom line in refereeing; do you enforce the letter of the law or only enforce the law when it matters? In most cases, encroachment does not make a difference. Why did Batres make Xavi Alonso retake the kick (since the encroachment did not make a difference in the outcome)? I'm guessing he had second thoughts about the foul. I'll be willing to bet if he had not just called a PK for Paraguay, he would not have called the one for Spain. The Paraguayan defender did make a desperate tackle from behind, but it was not cynical or dangerous, he did get the ball (barely), and the Spanish player certainly went down looking for the call. The other issue, which I"m surprised no one raised, is why was the Paraguayan defender not sent off? Was he not the last man, preventing a goal-scoring opportunity? Had the foul been cynical or professional, I think he would have been (rightfully) sent off. But Bartres fudged it (and probably rightfully so).
    Cardoza, who had been held by Pique on the corner kick, encouraged the referee to call that foul by going down, even though Pique's holding did not pull him down (he fell away from the direction Pique was pulling him, and it was a bit after Pique let go); of course, in this case, Pique's foul was cynical and intentional (and probably made a difference), so I think the PK was justified, but probably would not have been awarded had Cardoza not gone down. So I think the encroachment call was Batres second guessing himself.
    To make Batres job even more difficult, the keeper's take down of Fabregas (?) after Alonso's kick was saved was another awful dilemma for the ref (assuming he sees it as clearly as we do on replay). Fabregas is fouled (another PK), but another Spanish player is lining up a shot on goal from point blank range with the keeper on the ground. Blow the whistle, then you may be taking the ball out of the net to award a PK (oops). Allow the advantage, the Spanish miss (or Paraguay blocks it), and it's hard to call back and award the PK (since the advantage did materialize; the Spanish player did get a good shot off). Between a rock and a hard place.
    So the bottom line is that officiating ain't easy. The better team doesn't always win, but given all the controversies, in this case, I think justice was done.

  12. Charles Stamos, July 4, 2010 at 11:38 a.m.

    One of the best refs ever at the WC has been our own Brian Hall who did 2 games in 2002. Having to retire from the Int game at the mandatory 45 y/o age was a shame. We lose a lot of great experienced refs by that age limit. The same goes for Colina; he should be on the pitch. I do appreciate how well the current crop of officials stay up with play, but if a 45-55 y/o can prove that he's fit, he should be allowed to continue reffing at the highest level.

  13. Charles Stamos, July 4, 2010 at 12:44 p.m.

    The correct positioning on PKs and all set pieces is just one aspect of good referring. The other more important one is consistent and fair application of the Laws. Batres was able to see the Spanish encroachment on both PKs. He chose not to call it the second time, ask him why. You can find fault with most PKs today, it would grind the game to a halt to call it, so being fair and consistent is the most you can ask of a referee. It's the same argument as in the NBA; do you call every little foul or not? What is the emphasis for the season/series? Let them play or tight control? FIFA probably runs a referee clinic for it's WC refs before the competition and gives them instructions on how they want the game called. Unless they say call all encroachment for a competition and let the players/coaches know that, then it's not fair to start arbitrating that way. The time to start calling the game differently is not during this competition, but before or after it. FIFA has some 'splaning to do' and they hate that. They don't like explaning anything. Blatter must have deployed giving the Mexico/England apology. It hurts the integrity of the game when there's no good reason for a call/noncall and you cannot explain away poor decisions. It's human nature and it happens. The best FIFA can do is give the refs all the tools they can and maybe some goal line technology is appropriate.

  14. Ken Morris, July 4, 2010 at 1:24 p.m.

    Kent, you are so right about the Netherlands vs. Brazil game back in '94, and that's my point about the current offside rule. A team's defense has to react and respond to anything any offensive player does; therefore, any player in an offside position, whether or not he is receiving a pass, should be penalized. That particular play in the '94 WC gave Brazil the win, and it makes me angry to this day. Because of this idiotic change in the rule, Brazil was given an unfair advantage over the Netherlands on that play, somewhat tainting the least for me.

  15. beautiful game, July 4, 2010 at 1:34 p.m.

    I agree with Paul. The ref failed to enforce the rule book for both teams. The AR blatantly missed the take down of Fabregace with the assumption the ref's view was blocked. When the AR and ref have audio-communication, it's a simple matter that can be transmitted within a second. As for Harkes, he lives in his own world of commentary. Not only did he miss some critical plays, his critique of players is totally uncalled for. And what about Harkes' commentary in general, elementary, no substance and meaningless. Thanks for ESPN for hiring true commentators aside from Harkes who at most is a token contribution.

  16. Nancy Carr-swaim, July 4, 2010 at 2:54 p.m.

    There has been much discussion about the world cup officiating problems. As a viewer either at a stadium or watching on television, we have a broader view of the field and location of a majority of the players and ball at any given time. What about placing an extra official high up in the stadium to get a better view and relay that info to the refs on the field. The AR being on the sideline cannot view at the same time, the ball being kicked by one player maybe 25 or 40 yards back and also the players receiving that pass ahead. This is probably why there are so many wrong. calls about the off-side rule. Sounds a lot like Americal football coaches "spotting" during a game, but it might help.

  17. Austin Gomez, July 4, 2010 at 6:19 p.m.

    Gentlemen: All great Comments and Opinions, but in my humble Opinion--- the SCOREBOARD at the end of the 57th minute (plus 45 seconds) should have read: 2 Retakes, 3 PKs, 2RCs, 1YC INSTEAD OF 1 Retake, 2 PKs, 0RCs, 2 YCs................ but also remember the "R O M A" principle concerning 'Referee-Officiating' at any Level of the Game!

    That the Game of Soccer is filled with RISKS, OPTIONS, MISTAKES, ANGLES: all these 4 Elements have infiltrated various correct/wrong Decisions during these exicting/suspenseful 2010 World Cup Matches so far.

    SOCCER should be a 'Player/Game Management' Concept for the "effective" Referee! NOT just 'Robot-Type" officiating via "Instant-Replays" etcetera - etcetera - etcetera.

    Because Soccer has the 'Human-Element' of 22 Players & 3 Officials (at least),
    the 'Human-Factor' will always be prevalent!

    On "Critical Match Incidents" that truly effect the Match, no Problem with utilizing Goal-Line Technology, taking only a matter of seconds to produce an unbiased "Fair" Decision, in my Opinion!

    Nota Bene: POSITIONING at the 18-yd Line of the Penalty-Area for the Referee is a "must" --- as a necessary 'deterrent' for Non-Trivial/Blatant/Flagrant 'Encroachment' (wherein this 'optimal' View lends itself for the Referee to notice any Misconduct by the PK-Kicker, as well as any 'blatant' Movement by the Goalkeeper, as well as the other 'possible' 20 Players, before the actual P-Kick)!


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