A legendary performance

I watched every World Cup final since 1970 live on TV. I remember some awful refereeing in the World Cup finals – like the 1990 World Cup final – and some very good performances – like the 1974 World Cup final – but the performance of Szymon Marciniak in the 2022 World Cup final was phenomenal and the best I have seen in the past 52 years. Hence it is a legendary performance. 

Who is Szymon Marciniak?

Marciniak is a 41-year-old FIFA and UEFA Elite Class referee from Poland. He has been a FIFA referee since 2011. He played soccer at a competitive level. The only UEFA final he refereed was the Super Cup in 2018. He refereed two games at the World Cup in 2018. Due to a heart problem, he could not referee in Euro 2020. Before the final game of the World Cup 2022, he refereed one game at the group stage (France vs. Denmark) and one in the knockout stage (Argentina vs. Australia). 

What were his assets before the kickoff?

Every referee has a bag of assets and liabilities going into a game. Marciniak had several assets going into the game that helped him through out the 120-plus minutes.

Size and posture

One might think that how a referee physically looks on the field does not make too much of a difference. But it does. Yes, there are short and small referees who can referee at the highest level, but size and posture does help to start with. Marciniak is big like the referee of the final game of World Cup 2018, Nestor Pitana of Argentina. Marciniak is well built and is bald like his boss Pierluigi Collina, even though baldness by itself does not help a referee much. His size and looks intimidate players. Players will think twice before challenging a big and commanding referee.

UEFA Elite Referee

All the French players and most of the Argentinian players (24 out of the roster of 26) play in Europe. Those players play in the top clubs of top leagues and hence play in UEFA competitions. If a player knows a referee form a previous experience – and especially if it is a positive one – then the referee has a credibility with the player. Although some will argue that this game should be refereed by a referee from Concacaf or CAF or AFC, one can assume that any referee from those confederations most probably never refereed a player from France and Argentina except during a World Cup game. I do not have any data to report how many games Marciniak refereed involving the players of France and Argentina, but surely, they know of him with either a hands-on experience or through other players that Marciniak refereed their games. The credibility and good reputation of a referee is an excellent asset to start a World Cup final.

Experience with both teams

Marciniak refereed both France and Argentina in this World Cup prior to the final. He also refereed Argentina in the 2018 World Cup against Iceland. He refereed all three games very well. This mutual experience between him and the teams bring an added level of credibility to the final game.

Ex-amateur player

For a referee, having played the game at a competitive level helps them a great deal during a game. They know the feelings and thought processes of players during a game. The experience helps them understand the spirit of the "Laws of the Game" (LOTG) and “what soccer expects” better than others who never played the game at a competitive level.

How was his performance on key match incidents?

A referee among other things is assessed by Key Match Incidents (KMI) in the game, like penalty kicks and red cards. Here are the three KMIs.

  • Minute 23: Angel Di Maria was brought down by Ousmane Dembele in the penalty area. Marciniak blew the whistle without hesitation for a penalty kick. On replay, there was a slight contact to Di Maria’s right foot by the tackler. Some people might consider this a “soft penalty” but let me remind you that not a single French player, including Dembele, dissented. The art of refereeing includes the ability to sell your critical calls. He did not get any protests or dissents because of his assets outlined above and his perfect positioning.
  • Minute 80: On a breakaway, Randal Kolo Muani was pulled by Nicolas Otamendi in the penalty area. It was another clear penalty to which no one objected. 
  • Minute 118. Kylian Mbappe’s shot hit the outstretched arm of Gonzalo Montiel in the penalty area. Because his hand/arm was not in a natural position, it was a clear penalty kick decision based on the revised handball rule. There was no protest or any noticeable dissent even though if the penalty kick is converted – and it was – it will tie the game.

What were his instances of excellence?

1. Toward the end of second half, a French player was fouled right outside the penalty area on the left side. Normally, a foul should have been called. Instead, Marciniak saw a potential for applying the advantage rule in the penalty area and the French players missed the opportunity. This shows his concentration and ability to read the game, because most referees would have blown the whistle for a free kick from a very dangerous spot.

2. At the 87th minute of the game, Marcus Thuram entered the Argentine penalty area and ended up on the on the ground after a challenge by Argentina's Enzo Fernandez. Marciniak without hesitation blew his whistle for simulation and showed Thuram a yellow card. In replay, everyone saw the simulation and how Thuram dragged his feet to get a penalty kick. 

Only an alien would have seen in real time what the rest of the world saw in replays, a normal human cannot. Marciniak had the guts to call simulation because if the replay showed otherwise, he would have been buried live on the field of play for the rest of the game. 

How was his game control?

His strategy was to call a tight game at the beginning and try to use his cards in black/white situations. He used effective communication skills and warnings when necessary to keep the game under control. He called 21 fouls in the first half and the first yellow card came at the end of the first half. In the second half, he allowed the game to flow more and hence we had 14 fouls in the second half. There were eight yellow cards in total, one for a player on the bench (Olivier Giroud) for entering the field of play without permission and another one to Argentine goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez during kicks from the penalty mark for unsporting behavior.  

He managed the game with eight yellow cards, all of which were correct. His personality, his assets outlined above, and his communication skills helped him with very high level and efficient game control. Toward the end of overtime, there was a small mass confrontation which he managed extremely well.

To summarize, he made a very difficult game into a difficult one using his refereeing skills, correct calls and his assets.

Did he have any mistakes during the game?

Clearly, like any human he did make a few mistakes in the game. Other than a few fouls he missed, he had two instances in which he could have done better.

  • Minute 80: When he called the penalty kick against Otemandi, the French player was at least in a position that would have warranted a yellow card to the defender for stopping a potential attack. One can argue against denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity because of his direction not directly toward the goal. Since Otemandi pulled Kolo Muani, the case for trying to play the ball can be ignored. I believe he thought that awarding a penalty kick was a just and fair penalty for the offense in a final game and decided not to issue any cards. But the LOTG says otherwise.
  • Minute 90+8: French player Kingsley Coman was brought down by Marcos Acuna as Les Bleus were starting a counterattack. Marciniak blew his whistle for a free kick and issued a yellow card to Acuna. But France kept possession of the ball. Playing the advantage and issuing the yellow card — if needed — later would have been the better choice.

What makes this refereeing “legendary”?

If a referee in a World Cup final awards three penalty kicks and all of them are correct, if he has no major dissent on any of his decisions, if he has full control of the game and if he makes the above mentioned two excellent calls that are very difficult calls to make, then the refereeing in that game is legendary.

Ahmet Guvener ( is a Partner with The Game Planners, LLC and the former Secretary General and Chief Soccer Officer of the Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as a Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Georgetown, Texas.

Photo: Sportimage/Imago/Icon Sportswire

11 comments about "A legendary performance".
  1. Kent James, December 23, 2022 at 11:44 a.m.

    A very difficult game to referee, with lots of very close calls (and players looking to get penalties), and of course, doing it in front of half the planet.  Not perfect, but very well done, given the circumstances.  I think Ahmet's assessment is spot on.  

  2. stewart hayes replied, December 23, 2022 at 12:22 p.m.

    I would agree except for the capriciousness of giving penalties for shots that deflect off a player's elbow as he is turning his back.  At least that is my recollection of the play. 

    A 75+ chance of scoring is given for an unintentional act.  Such penalties are not in the spirit of the game.  

  3. Kent James replied, December 30, 2022 at 3:30 p.m.

    Stewart, I agree that should not have been a penalty, but that's the new rules' fault, not the refs.  People should not be penalized for having arms, only if they use them to gain an advantage.  

  4. Fajkus Rules, December 23, 2022 at 3 p.m.

    Stewart -- referee clinics provide numerous videos of legal and improper arm positions.  That player's arm position was not completely valid as the elbow position did make him "bigger" and, thus, subject to a handling call.  We see numerous other players at this level making the effort to have their arm extended down the side of their torso, or hidden behind their back, which ARE positions that refs and VARs can look at and say no penalty.  Definitely something that refs will NOT say is "unintentional" as we can't determine that.

    As for the SPA YC in minute 90+8, the referee has to whistle the call there or play the avantage; he absolutely cannot give a delayed caution for SPA IF the advantage is realized and played.  If a reckless foul is played on after, then a reckless caution may be assessed after the advantage is realized, but not for only SPA.

    Finally, the most commonly missed foul at high levels of play (from my experience and observation) are the aerial challenges which are commonly not sanctioned in any way.  The charge of the French defender into the Argentinian trying to beat Lloris to the ball early in the game was an absolute penalty and VAR had plenty of time to review while Lloris remained down for a couple minutes after the incident.  Someone should have to explain how that was ignored.

  5. stewart hayes replied, December 23, 2022 at 4:06 p.m.

    F Rules, explanation accepted.  I could not agree more on the last paragraph.  Players are getting away with murder in situations like free kicks and corners.  The game would be higher scoring if the rules were enforced as written.    

  6. Ahmet Guvener, December 23, 2022 at 3:31 p.m.

    That one did not have all the requirements of a SPA. If he thought it was SPA yes he does not have to issue a caution. But he if considers that an unsporting behaviour - shows a lack of respect for the game - then he can issue a YC. That is what tactical fouls are categorized under. 

  7. R2 Dad, December 23, 2022 at 4:29 p.m.

    Great write-up Ahmet. Good perspective on this match; I appreciate your detailed breakdown. Interesting for me, as I am usually in agreement with you but in this instance, not entirely. The center ref is only as good as his ARs/VAR and I don’t know how you can evaluate the officiating without feedback on the rest of the team.


    That said, I thought Marciniak got lucky and the 2nd half saved him from a potentially disastrous first half:


    2:00 jabbering ref begins jabbering

    3:30 forearm/elbow on Messi’s neck - more talky-talk from ref

    9:45 should have shown a card to ARG for hitting keeper with no attempt to play ball. Things are heating up.

    12:30 handling? No card against ARG

    21:00 di maria crazy chicken legs routine works, pen. Embellishment. Exact same contact happens at 25:30 but Di Maria stays on his feet—because he’s not in the box

    25:45 the diving begins in earnest. The ball’s away but Giroud goes down after leaning back too far, trying to draw the foul. He gets a free kick in a dangerous area and the gamesmanship notches higher. How is the match control now?

    26:15 ARG flopping from that free kick. Embellishment.

  8. R2 Dad replied, December 23, 2022 at 4:30 p.m.


    26:55 Officially a flop-fest at this point. ARG and FRA players on the ground. Messi runs into Hernandez, knowing he won’t get a card even though not playing the ball. Hernandez playing dangerously. If a card were to be played, it would have been here, possibly to both players. Players from both sides swarming the ref. Match control good here? Messi pretending like he has no idea what is going on—pathetic. I have very low hopes this match won’t descend into farce. This match had 9 yellow cards, only 1 in first half. Is that good match control?

    37:00 Julian Alvarez picks up the dead ball and throws it in the air, then wants to talk back to ref. He gets jabbering. 

    38:00 macallister flopping. From minimal contact. Is this what the game expects? No foul, no card.

    40:00 di Maria slips while running with the ball and draws a foul? I know VAR isn’t tasked with reversing this call wrong call but 1 billion people get to see this bad call but nothing can be done about it?

    42:00 tagliafico gets cleaned out by Kolo Muani. This is a card all day long but ref wants to jabbering some more. Good control yet?

    45+1 Hernandez picks up the ball because…reasons….no card, no problem. That was just done a few minutes earlier with no consequences so we get more of the same thing. De Paul flops, pretending some slight foot-to-foot touch requires him to hop then fall to the ground due to some invisible amputation we can’t see. Embarrassment. American football, Aussie rules football and rugby players across the planet throw their collective beers at their TV screens while screaming at all the fragile girlie men on the pitch.


  9. R2 Dad, December 23, 2022 at 4:31 p.m.

    45+6 de Paul actually touches the ref here while he has his yellow card out, but no worries refs liked to be touched. Fernandes fouls Kolo Muani. Ref immediately pulls yellow card, which Fernandes sees and suddenly falls to the ground. Sniper fire? I’m hating the game so much at this minute. Ref waives on stretchers for Fernandes who won’t get off the ground. Fernandes immediately hops up fresh as a daisy. Now ARG players surround ref as if they were ever going to talk ref out of rescinding this card? I mean, maybe this happens in ARG leagues but I don’t recall ever seeing that happen at a World Cup unless it was a case of mistaken identity.


    I don’t know if officials are allowed to discuss with national team representatives during the break at the half, as this is never discussed. But I could see how the 4th official might be able to deliver a message to either/both teams regarding fouls, diving and cards so as to reset expectations for the 2nd half. Does that occur? FIFA won’t say.


    2nd half it’s 2-0 and I’m imagining catenaccio with 45 minutes of boredom. Thankfully the managers decided to continue playing, and Italy is not in this final.


  10. R2 Dad replied, December 23, 2022 at 4:32 p.m.

    There is an unwritten law that refs don’t want to card in the first half, and that appeared to be the case here. I just thought all his talking had not achieved much in the first 45 minutes and he finally, begrudgingly, gave a card. How might things have changed if he’d given a yellow earlier in the first half?


    He wanted to ignore all the diving in the first half, but then gave a card for simulation in the 2nd? I would have thought a no-call would have been better, but since he had ignored all the diving in the first half maybe he thought he finally had to card. Again, I’d rather see cards for fouls against players than fouls in dead ball situations. I thought he was uneven in that regard,  Argentinian substitute who got hold of the match ball after a goal and sent it into the stands—no card. Giroud in the dugout yapping about something—card.


    There were many instances in the first half when maybe he should have pulled a yellow and just held it in his hands? Perhaps he could have nipped some of the player whining if they thought he was serious about cards in the first half—he wasn’t. Lucky for him the two teams continued to play.


    As I’d mentioned on another thread, I thought there were a couple goal kick/corner kick decision the ref got wrong, but VAR is not configured to address those mistakes.

  11. John Polis, December 24, 2022 at 8:55 a.m.

    Ahmet I always look forward to you articles on refereeing because you are one of the few people living in the United States with experience at many levels of international soccer administration and refereeing. But I was surprised at your use of the superlative "legendary" as a capper on your story. I did not like his early penalty to DiMaria, something that I think a performance that was truly hailed as "legendary" would have avoided. 

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