Two incidents of serious foul play were incorrectly dealt with—the referee gave only cautions for both red card offences—and it was perhaps fortunate that there was no escalation of violence. The Australia coach's withdrawal of the two offending Socceroos at half-time may have helped.
[Vince Grella (yellow) launches a two-footed challenge on Leo Bertos (white), and then claims he is "innocent" to the referee]
The best referees, like Pierluigi Collina, make extensive preparations for their matches and have useful knowledge of player profiles and their likely behaviour on the pitch. Ultimately, no matter what has occurred or has been said before the match, referees must respond calmly and correctly during the match to the players’ actions on the pitch.
The media reports before and after the Australia and New Zealand match make interesting reading, and may even help referees prepare for matches. A Reuters pre-match story presented the friendly as a “grudge-match” befitting of the “trans-Tasman rivalry”. New Zealand player Rory Fallon said:
"When it comes to playing Australia, all bets are off. I don't think anyone is going to hold back against them. I'm certainly not going to hold back. I wouldn't be surprised if there are a few injuries."
Australia player Vince Grella responded with:
"It's a man's game and it should be played in a man's way. But I would never wish it upon any of the New Zealand players to get injured ... For [Fallon] even to be thinking about things like that is unprofessional."
Note: it was Vince Grella who launched into a two-footed challenge that could have broken New Zealand winger Leo Bertos’ leg. This is an example of why referees must always consider a player's actions and not the player's words.
In a post-match Daily Telegraph article, Australia coach Pim Verbeek, spoke against his players. It is rare for football coaches to publicly condemn their own players, so credit must be given to Verbeek.
Pim's anger over horror tackles by Tim Cahill and Vince Grella (Daily Telegraph)
May 24, 2010 10:54PM
SOCCEROOS coach Pim Verbeek has promised to give star midfielders Tim Cahill and Vince Grella a dressing-down over the X-rated challenges which marred Australia's 2-1 friendly victory over New Zealand at the MCG on Monday night.
Cahill and Grella were lucky to remain on the park after rash, ugly tackles on New Zealand winger Leo Bertos which may have put the Wellington Phoenix player's World Cup hopes in jeopardy.
Grella launched a horrible two-footed lunge at Bertos midway through the first half.
Then Cahill followed up with a less vicious, but no less illegal challenge which led to Bertos being stretchered off with a leg injury.
Both received only yellow cards.
Verbeek labelled the challenges unprofessional following a win even he called fortunate - sealed by a last-kick winner from Brett Holman after the Socceroos had been played off the park by New Zealand in the first half.
"They know it was not good what they did. I don't have to tell them, but I'm going to tell them it's unacceptable," Verbeek said.
"I can only give the compliments to New Zealand that they behaved themselves.
"They were very professional. My players were not.
"You cannot afford to go into any game and make tackles like that. In the World Cup, it's probably two red cards."
New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert felt the Socceroos were lucky to keep all 11 men on the park and admitted Bertos' condition would be assessed on Tuesday to see if he was fit enough to continue on to the World Cup.
Defensive midfielder Tim Brown also popped a shoulder and was taken to hospital for scans.
No holding back for New Zealand as they play Socceroos in warm-up (Reuters)
Ian Ransom in Melbourne
May 22, 2010
An ostensibly harmless World Cup warm-up between Australia and New Zealand has taken on grudge-match proportions with players from both sides firing verbal potshots before the friendly in Melbourne on Monday.
The trans-Tasman rivalry, traditionally fierce in rugby and cricket, has had less time to develop in soccer, but with both countries competing in the same World Cup for the first time, the teams are keen to head to South Africa with bragging rights secured, and with pain inflicted, if necessary.
"When it comes to playing Australia, all bets are off," forward Rory Fallon said this week as the All Whites gathered in Auckland for a training camp. "I don't think anyone is going to hold back against them. I'm certainly not going to hold back.
"I wouldn't be surprised if there are a few injuries."
Monday's friendly at the 100,000-capacity Melbourne Cricket Ground will be the teams' first meeting in five years. The 20th-ranked Australia hold a 36-13 winning record over 78th-ranked New Zealand, many of whose players play in Australia's domestic A-League.
Yet the Kiwis have been known to embarrass their more fancied neighbour on big occasions.
New Zealand upset Australia 1-0 in 1998 to advance to the Confederations Cup and by the same score again for the same result four years later.
Fallon's bravado was not well received by the Socceroos' own hard man, Vince Grella, whose playing style of fierce tackling has been known to infuriate opponents and opposition coaches.
"It's a man's game and it should be played in a man's way," said Grella, who has struggled with injuries this season with English Premier League club Blackburn Rovers.
"But I would never wish it upon any of the New Zealand players to get injured ... For [Fallon] even to be thinking about things like that is unprofessional."
After reaching a surprise second-round appearance at the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany, Australia have higher expectations than New Zealand in South Africa.
Although facing Germany, Serbia and Ghana in group D, one of the tournament's toughest pools, the Socceroos have set themselves a target of reaching the last 16 again.
New Zealand will be happy to secure a point from their Group F matches against champions Italy, Slovakia and Paraguay.
All Whites coach Ricki Herbert has promised to field a strong team for the friendly with Australia and urged counterpart Pim Verbeek to do the same rather than use it as a platform to experiment as he pondered how to cut the Socceroos' 30-man squad to 23 players by June 1.
"There's no such thing as a friendly game, I believe," the Socceroos' Turkey-based midfielder Mile Jedinak said in Melbourne yesterday.
"I'm sure we'll be taking the game seriously and it's a good preparation for us."