Saturday 31 July 2010

2009-2010 Season: Hong Kong Amateur Football Leagues

Summary of 2009-2010 Season: Hong Kong Amateur Football Leagues

Results also available at FFL, LL, USFHK and YYL websites, respectively.

Related Posts

Summary of 2008-2009 Season: Hong Kong Amateur Football Leagues

2009-2010 Season: Hong Kong Football Association

Summary of 2009-2010 Season: Hong Kong Football Association

Note: Eastern have declined/decided not to accept promotion to the 2nd Division for the new season 2010-2011. Therefore Lucky Mile, who finished in third place in the 3rd Division "A", will enter the 2nd Division.

Results also available at HKFA website

Related Posts

Sham Shui Po and Eastern division three playoff match (2009-2010 season)

Unpleasant Incidents During Hong Kong Division Three Playoff Match

Summary of 2008-2009 Season: Hong Kong Football Association

Friday 23 July 2010

World Cup Final 2010: Howard’s Way

This post takes a look at some selected incidents during the second half and extra time of the World Cup Final match between the Netherlands and Spain on Sunday 11 July 2010 in South Africa.

This is a rather lengthy post, so if needed please scroll down to the end to see the summary.

By now, from the analysis of the first half and at the half-time break, there are clear indications that Howard Webb has a game plan which is geared towards keeping players on the park, even though some players do not merit being there.

At half-time, the score is 0—0, Holland has three cautions, Spain has two, and players are aware that it is a battlefield out there on the pitch.
The questions are: will Webb continue with his game plan or will he modify it? Will he try something different? At the start of the second half, HKRef believes Webb still has a chance to stamp his authority on the match. Let’s see what happened:

The answer to Webb’s approach is clear to all (except perhaps Webb himself) when in the 48th minute, as Spain prepare to take a corner, Webb whistles and approaches players in the penalty area. Webb publicly warns Ramos (#15) and van Persie (#9) about holding.

[“Anymore, and you’re outta here … is that clear??” says Webb]

The players nearby (i.e. Mathijsen, van Persie, de Jong, Pique, Ramos, Puyol) all hear but do not listen.

[“Peace brother, it’s cool,” says Ramos]

And then the players continue … as if the referee had never ever warned them.

[van Persie is all over Puyol]

Howard's Way is clearly not working!

In the 50th minute, Spain’s Pedro (#18) is sandwiched between two Dutch players (#7 and #5). The referee whistles for a foul. *

In the 54th minute, Holland’s van Bronckhurst (#5) takes out Ramos (#15) again and finally receives a caution. Webb appeared to have cautioned van Bronckhurst for making a tactical foul (rather than for van Bronckhurst’s persistent fouls).
NOTE: when Webb cautioned van Bronckhurst, Mark van Bommel was instantly in Webb’s face, haranguing him. Captain van Bronckhurst has to tell van Bommel to go away.
[Bookings Update: Holland(4) Spain(2)]

In the 56th minute, Holland’s Heitinga (#3) fouls Villa (#7) with a late follow-thru challenge that Webb missed. Webb is ball watching. A few seconds pass and then Webb whistles and goes back to caution Heitinga. This is an example of referee teamwork. Someone must have told Webb about Heitinga’s reckless tackle on Villa, because Webb missed the foul. Was it AR Cann or 4th Official Nishimura?
[Bookings Update: Holland(5) Spain(2)]
The TV commentator said: “Webb is on a record at this rate”. In fact, Webb had just surpassed the previous record number of cards shown in a World Cup final match: Brazilian referee Romuald Arppi Filho gave six cards in the 1986 final.

In the 58th minute, good offside decision by AR Cann. A free kick by Robben is hoisted into the penalty area and Heitinga connects with his head. However, Heitinga was in an offside position as the ball was kicked.

Yet another foul on and free kick to Spain, in the 59th minute. So far, Holland has committed 15 fouls (or at least 15 fouls that were given).

In the 60th minute, the ball hits Webb on the ankle; then Robben fouls Alonso.

In the 83rd minute, Robben breaks with the ball and races towards the Spain penalty area. Puyol has his arm around Robben’s waist, but Robben continues until keeper Casillas blocks the attack. Robben is furious at not being awarded a foul (and perhaps a second caution for Puyol). However, it is clear that Webb (who is positioned near the halfway line directly behind the play) did not have the optimal angle to see Puyol’s attempt to hold Robben.

Webb gives a public warning to Robben to calm down, but Robben continues his dissent. Webb cautions Robben, and once more van Bommel is in Webb’s face harassing him.

In the 87th minute, a free kick is awarded to Holland. After Spain’s Fabregas is substituted on, Sneijder takes the free kick and it hits Spain’s Navas who is standing only 7 yards away. Sneijder complains to Webb, who does nothing except to signal the throw-in to Holland. **

[Spain’s Navas is only 7 yards away during the free kick]

In the 89th minute, good offside decision by AR Cann against van Persie (#9). However even though Webb has whistled, van Persie continues forward and shoots across goal and onto the far post. Webb goes over to talk to van Persie (who has already been cautioned). ***

The 2010 World Cup Final goes into extra time (this is the sixth time this has occurred in the history of the World Cup).

Comical scenes in the 91st minute, as three Spanish players (Fabregas, Iniesta and Xavi) tumble in sequence one after another, starting from outside the penalty area. The Spain bench appears to want a penalty (especially for Xavi, Spain’s third player to go down), but the replays show there was no foul. Heitinga was merely shielding the ball as Xavi kicks Heitinga's leg and then trips over his own feet.

In the 97th minute, van Bommel fouls Xavi. Xavi is angry and asks Webb to caution van Bommel (who is already cautioned) by signalling an imaginary card. However, Webb continues with his game plan of talking to and verbally warning players.

In the 109th minute, Xavi and Robben tussle for the ball. Robben loses out and flaps his arms, asking Webb for a foul. Webb, as usual, simply waves down Robben’s protests.
Then, as Iniesta charges towards goal with the ball, Heitinga puts his arm over and across Iniesta who promptly falls down. Heitinga receives his second caution, and is sent off. Webb manages the wall and gets 10 yards. However by the time Xavi takes the free kick, the wall distance is 8 yards. **

[Webb correctly paces out 10 yards]

[But as Webb moves away, the wall distance creeps down to 8 yards]

In 113th minute, offside decision against Robben. But Robben (who has already been cautioned) continues forward and kicks the ball into the net. Webb simply warns Robben (as he did to van Persie for the same action in the 89th minute ***). Some might argue that Webb is being consistent; however, considering that Holland are down to 10 men with seven minutes remaining, some may consider Robben to be time-wasting.

In the 115th minute, Fabregas fouls Holland’s Elia about 33 yards out from the Spain goal. Webb’s wall management is poor. The wall distance is only 7 yards and as a result when the free kick is taken the ball hits Fabregas, who is at the end of the wall closest to the referee, and is deflected out for a corner kick. Webb missed this deflection and gives a goal kick. **

[Wall distance is only 7 yards and the ball subsequently hits the wall and goes out for a corner]

Next, in the 116th minute, Webb is unconvinced that Holland’s Elia is fouled (sandwiched) by two Spain players.
[NOTE: is Webb consistent? See 50th minute. *] Subsequently, the ball breaks for Spain and Iniesta scores.

After the goal, Holland’s Mathijsen berates AR Mullarkey for not flagging offside, and then throws the ball down against the ground. Webb cautions him. Webb then cautions Iniesta for removing his shirt for celebrating his goal.

In the 120th + 1st minute, Holland receive a free kick but Xavi kicks the ball away. Webb cautions Xavi for unsporting behaviour (time-wasting). ***
[Bookings Update: Holland(8+1) Spain(5)]

In the 120th + 2nd minute, whilst running for the ball Spain’s Torres pulls up injured. Holland do not put the ball out and continue with play.
NOTE: HKRef agrees with this approach, because the decision whether to stop or continue play rests (and should rest) with the referee.
Law 5 states that the referee:
• stops the match if, in his opinion, a player is seriously injured and ensures that he is removed from the field of play.
• allows play to continue until the ball is out of play if a player is, in his opinion, only slightly injured.
However despite Law 5, time and time again it is usually players who decide whether to stop or continue play; players usually take this decision away from the referee. This time though, because time is so tight, players forget all manner of ceremonial sporting gestures and simply get on with the game until they hear the referee’s whistle.

At full time, van Bommel and Sneijder continue to complain and protest at Webb. When AR Cann arrives next to Webb and tries to calm down Sneijder, Sneijder snaps and emits an angry outburst.


1) Throughout the match (and even after the final whistle), there were signs that Howard’s Way did not work. Players simply did not respect the referee. Webb perhaps had a couple of opportunities to change his game plan but instead stuck to his guns … with disastrous consequences.

2) Webb’s game plan was to try to keep players on the pitch, no matter what, and for that he had to rely on his man-management skills. This post shows mainly pictures of wall distances, and these provide a snapshot of Webb’s (mis)management of players during this highly-charged final.

3) The importance of teamwork. There is no doubt that the two ARs were excellent, especially with their offside calls. The 4th Official was relatively incognito, although to be fair we do not know what his actual contributions were to Webb. As stated previously, Nishimura is probably a non-native English speaker and he appears “culturally polite”, which may impact on how the match officials communicate with one another. Nishimura has to understand Webb’s Yorkshire accent and Webb has to understand Nishimura’s English through their two-way earpieces. Two incidents where teamwork was needed—due to Webb perhaps being unsighted or guilty of ball watching—occurred in the 29th minute (de Jong’s studs challenge on Alonso) and the 56th minute (Heitinga’s reckless follow-thru on Villa). During these incidents, was it the AR or the 4th Official (or both) who communicated what they saw to Webb?

4) Was Webb consistent? No and yes. For “no”, please see selected incidents marked with * and ***. For “yes”, Webb was consistently poor at managing the players (also see incidents with **). The players simply lost respect for him because they knew he was too lenient.

Finally, much has been written by outside observers about Howard Webb’s performance at the 2010 World Cup final match. But the truth about “Howard’s Way” has yet to emerge ... and no doubt a book deal will be offered. Perhaps then, a better insight into how Howard Webb prepared for and performed in the biggest game of his refereeing career will surface.

Related Posts

How Does a Referee Prepare for a World Cup Final?

World Cup Final 2010: Mixed Signals and Expected Teamwork

World Cup Final 2010: First Half

World Cup Final 2010: Importance of the Half-time Break

Puzzled by Poll

Thursday 22 July 2010

Player in Chile Gets 27-Match Ban for Strangling Referee

The following incidents occurred during a Chile Primera B league match between Deportes Concepcion and Rangers on Saturday 17 July 2010. The match finished 3—0.

Earlier in the match, referee Mercelo Miranda awarded a penalty to Deportes Concepcion (blue). It was duly taken and scored, but the referee spotted encroachment by the same attacking team and ordered a re-take. This time the penalty was saved, but the AR flagged that the GK had moved off his line, so the referee ordered another re-take. The third penalty was again saved, but the AR had spotted that the GK was again off his line, so the referee ordered another re-take. There was lots of dissent from Rangers (white) the defending team and subsequently the referee cautioned white #6. At the fourth time of asking, the penalty kick was deemed legitimate and Deportes Concepcion scored. Following this incident (see video clips below), the Rangers players’ attitude towards the referee changed.

Video Clips of the Penalty Kicks and Other Match Highlights

Later in the match, Rangers defender #4 (José Pedrozo from Paraguay) fouls an opponent near the touchline and then runs off. The referee whistles for the foul and then approaches Pedrozo. His teammate (white #13), knowing that the referee was taking out a card (for serious foul play), tries to intervene only to be pushed aside by white #4. Pedrozo then proceeds to take out his anger on the referee. Here are three freeze frames.

[Pedrozo (white #4) pushes aside his teammate and proceeds to strangle and choke the referee.]

Click on this Video Clip to see the incident from various camera angles.

The Disciplinary Committee of the Chile National Association of Professional Football promptly banned José Pedrozo for 27 matches.
NOTE: It is interesting to compare sanctions of similar incidents from different countries. For example, a player in China received a life ban after chasing and pushing over a referee in 2009.

Pedrozo was quoted:
“I'm not sorry. I was being persecuted by the referee, because it's the third time he has sent me off - I think I made a grave error but what's done is done.”

Pedrozo has now left Rangers, but apparently the Chile National Association of Professional Football said the sanction would apply to Pedrozo at any club in Chile and elsewhere.

Related Posts

Life Ban for Chinese Player Who Attacked Referee

Europa League Penalty Kicks and Encroachment

Friday 16 July 2010

World Cup Final 2010: Importance of the Half-time Break

This post considers the importance of the half-time break for match officials. It is a good time to take stock, review and, if required, modify the approach to a match.

Towards the end of the first half, Webb should have had a huge wake-up call especially when Holland’s Mark van Bommel pushed him in the back and then yelled at him for getting in the way (see here in the 45th minute). How did Webb manage that situation? It appears he just ignored it.

It was clear that Webb was trying to keep players on the field of play by attempting to man-manage them. But was Webb’s game plan effective? Looking at van Bommel’s behaviour towards Webb, the answer would appear to be no. Van Bommel should have realized he was fortunate to be shown only a yellow card 22 minutes into the match, so why did he continue to hound, heckle and harass Webb? The short answer is: because he knew he could.

Furthermore, here are some freeze frames of van Bommel as he walks past AR Mike Mullarkey after the whistle is blown to end the first half.

[Mark van Bommel shows his feelings towards Mike Mullarkey. Nice guy! To be fair, they kinda shook hands but the expression says something else.]

HKRef’s believes it is clear what van Bommel thinks about Mullarkey and the match officials in general. There is certainly no “Respect the Referee” feeling emanating from van Bommel, that's for sure!

The consideration here is what should the match officials have done at half-time when they retired to their dressing room? The Referee needs to collect and review as much relevant information as possible, and then prepare for the second half. It is a time to re-double their efforts. Given the way the first half has unfolded, the officials should be considering what are the likely scenarios or incidents that may occur in the second half? Howard Webb needs to consider whether to stick with or modify his game plan, and he needs feedback from his ARs and the 4th Official.

For example, perhaps Mullarkey could have told Webb about the "nasty attitude” van Bommel had, so that at the start of the second half a final, stern warning could be given to him. The plan could have been: Any more dissent from van Bommel and he will be dismissed.

Also, HKRef believes Darren Cann should have had the best view of Nigel de Jong’s chest-high studs challenge on Xabi Alonso. Here is the first-half incident from a wide-camera perspective.

[Darren Cann, the nearside AR, is just out of the shot from the bottom right corner. Nevertheless because he is a top AR, we know he is in line with the two central Holland defenders and therefore should have a clear, unobstructed view of de Jong and Alonso in the middle of the park ... providing he is looking in that direction.]

If Cann saw the incident, the question to ask is whether Cann communicated this to Webb. Did Cann tell Webb that it was a red card offence? It would be interesting to see how Webb arrived at his decision to caution de Jong.

Finally, is the 4th Official really a part of the team? The 4th Official should know his duties and be ready to communicate anything he sees, if he believes the Referee has missed something. Perhaps Nishimura is a non-native English speaker and, as others have commented, he is extremely polite. These are not necessarily bad attributes, but could they influence the way the 4th Official interacts with the English trio? Therefore, is the 4th Official comfortable with communicating clearly and quickly in English to Webb?

With all these considerations in mind, the match officials should have used their half-time break wisely to prepare themselves for the second half.

More to follow …

Thursday 15 July 2010

World Cup Final 2010: Mixed Signals and Expected Teamwork

This post takes a look at what transpired during the “nervy” few minutes leading up to the kick-off of the 2010 World Cup Final match. Oftentimes, it is easy to overlook this almost “surreal, twilight” moment. However, lots of information directly related to the next 90-120 minutes can be gleaned by observing the body language and facial expressions of the match officials at this time.

[England’s Referee Trio with their World Cup Final medals. But where is Japan’s Yuichi Nishimura, the 4th official? Is he “lost in translation”? Pic from Reuters.]

Let's go back to the very beginning ...

The following are a series of freeze frames that show the behaviour of the match officials immediately prior to kick-off.

[The match officials are, from left to right, Mike Mullarkey (AR2), Howard Webb (R), Yuichi Nishimura (4th) and Darren Cann (AR1). Giovanni van Bronckhorst (Orange) is Holland captain and Iker Casillas (Green) is Spain captain.]

[The coin toss is won by Spain’s Casillas, who indicates his choice of ends by pointing with his finger to his chosen end.]

With Spain having chosen ends, it is obvious that Holland have the kick-off. But here’s where Howard Webb gives off mixed signals or confusing messages:

[Webb turns to van Bronckhorst to tell him something, and uses a one-finger gesture. It is not clear that Webb has told van Bronckhorst that Holland has the kick-off.]

[Webb turns back to Casillas and uses both hands to make a round gesture of a “ball”. Is he telling Casillas that Spain has the kick-off?]

So what does a one-finger gesture mean to a captain whose team has the kick-off?
And what does a “round gesture using both hands” mean to a captain who has won the coin toss and chosen ends?

With the completion of the coin toss, the two team captains shake hands and Howard Webb simply walks away from the group. The English ARs stand there, ignoring the 4th Official, waiting only to shake hands with the two team captains. The Japanese 4th Official looks completely lost and alone. For a moment, Nishimura even looks around expecting something from the ARs. Where’s the team support and signs of encouragement?
[NOTE: Perhaps the officials eventually shook hands with each other later prior to kick-off but if so, this was missed by the TV cameras.]

[Webb walks away from the group without saying anything or giving a final handshake to his team. Nishimura looks isolated and uncomfortable.]

[This frame shows that Holland has the kick-off, which means Spain won the coin toss and selected the ends. Why then did Webb make a round ball gesture with his hands to Spain’s Casillas?]

This pre-kick-off incident may appear trivial and unimportant, but HKRef believes it may have some direct relevance on how the match unfolded for the match officials.

Are we seeing clear communication or mixed signals from the match officials?

Are we seeing group cohesiveness or individuals lost in their own thoughts?

It is obvious that the England trio is a tight unit (because they have worked together for a number of years), but they appear insensitive to Nishimura’s status as the 4th Official. Can they communicate clearly with him, or is there a cultural or language barrier present?

This begs the question: Will there be teamwork, free communication, support and encouragement?

Such questions and observations will be referenced in HKRef’s analysis of the second half (plus extra time) of the 2010 World Cup Final match.

An analysis of the first half is posted here.

More to follow …

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Puzzled by Poll

Graham Poll has come out in defence of Howard Webb’s performance during the 2010 World Cup Final between the Netherlands and Spain … but his reasoning is faulty. Poll’s reason for supporting Webb is puzzling, and demonstrates an unhealthy bias towards his refereeing colleague and fellow countryman.

[Graham Poll and Howard Webb. Pics from BBC Sport.]

Poll has correctly acknowledged that Webb did not apply the Laws of the Game appropriately. Two incidents that come to mind are the non-decisions to send off Mark van Bommel in the 22nd minute for serious foul play (a tackle on Andres Iniesta from behind), and Nigel de Jong in the 29th minute for violent conduct (putting his studs into the chest of Xabi Alonso). These incidents of misconduct are covered in the LOTG, so it would be interesting to uncover what Webb’s take on them were.

However, Poll has incorrectly taken the view that the reason Webb did not apply the LOTG appropriately was because Webb was worried about the media headlines and the lack of support he would get from FIFA after the match. Here are Poll’s exact words:

1) We should look at why all referees feel so hamstrung when faced with having to take strict disciplinary actions at any high-level match - let alone the World Cup final.

2) The laws of football are in place to enable referees to deal strongly with the anti-football tactics used by the Dutch to stifle Spanish creativity. No new ones would need to be introduced to punish tackles which endanger the safety of opponents.

3) Had Van Persie been shown a yellow card in the first minute and three Dutch players been dismissed in the first half hour, what would the headlines have been - 'Ref madness mars final'?

4) When players surrounded Webb, as they did all too frequently, had he cautioned all of them, as the law allows, what would the reaction have been?

What Poppycock from Poll! Poll’s reasoning is flawed … in so many ways. Here’s why:

Firstly, Poll has removed emphasis on Webb’s decision by grouping Webb with ALL referees and claiming that ALL referees feel “so hamstrung” when faced with taking strict disciplinary action.
This is an irrelevant argument because the focus should be on Webb’s decision NOT to send off players involved in serious foul play and violent conduct during the World Cup Final. We are not here to debate or discuss what ALL referees “feel”. We are here to comment on Webb’s performance.

Secondly, Poll has removed emphasis on Webb’s decision by stating: “no new laws need to be introduced to punish tackles which endanger the safety of opponents”.
Again, this is an irrelevant argument, and attempts to misdirect. We are not here to comment on any changes to the LOTG, but on Webb’s performance in applying the LOTG appropriately.

Thirdly, Poll hypothetically asks: “had van Persie been shown a yellow card in the first minute and three Dutch players been dismissed in the first half hour, what would the headlines have been?”
This is another irrelevant argument and an appeal to ignorance (because there is a lack of evidence to support what Poll has claimed). This is particularly surprising because Poll has previously used the counter-claim many times in his newspaper column that a first caution will affect and modify the behaviour of individual players and also teams (i.e. if players are on a caution they will try not to put themselves in situations that could result in a second caution, while other players will also know that the referee has drawn a line).

Other people (including HKRef) could hypothetically say that: “had van Persie been shown a yellow card in the first minute, then Webb would have immediately stamped his authority on the game which would have made the Dutch players rethink their approach to dangerous tackling with excessive force”. At least this argument has some evidence to support it: that is, consider the actions of the previous two World Cup Finals referees (Pierluigi Collina in 2002 and Horacio Elizondo in 2006) and how they immediately stamped their authority on their respective matches.

Furthermore, since when have referees been “influenced” by future media headlines? If Poll genuinely believes referees are concerned about future media headlines so that it significantly impacts the way they referee, then he is in the minority. Poll’s negative experience with his “three card trick” (i.e. giving three yellow cards to the same player in a World Cup match in 2006) may now be hovering over him like a dark cloud; so much so that Poll is now forced to consider the media’s position, especially since he now works in the media industry too.

A referee—whether a lowly parks referee or one who officiates the World Cup Final—must perform his duties without fear or favour, with integrity and to the best of his ability. Thoughts about the consequences, particularly towards future media headlines and to FIFA’s “wrath”, should be furthest from the mind of the referee.

Fourthly, Poll claims that when players surrounded Webb: “had he cautioned all of them, as the law allows, what would the reaction have been?”
As a former referee, Poll knows in such situations, if a caution is warranted, then referees will normally issue one or at most two (one for each team) yellow cards. The same principle is used when cautioning troublesome players in a wall—only one player, usually the nearest one, is cautioned. Whoever heard of top referees cautioning "all of them"? Therefore, it is disingenuous for Poll to claim Webb would not caution all of the players because as referees we already know this is not the standard practice. Of course referees would not caution all players (but the non-refereeing public may not know this). Poll’s argument is therefore faulty, and totally disingenuous.

The advice given to Howard Webb by experienced referees (or mentors), such as Pierluigi Collina, Horacio Elizondo, Bob Evans and Ed Bellion was to approach the match as normally as possible … and this includes refereeing the match as normally as possible. Webb obviously knows how to referee without fear or favour, with integrity and to the best of his ability. So why didn’t Webb follow the LOTG? Were last-minute instructions handed down to him (from FIFA or by the FIFA Referees Committee?) requesting that he best keep all players on the field of play, no matter what? If so, his normal approach to refereeing has been changed.

Webb’s comments appear to indicate that the concern to keep all players on the field of play took precedence over the LOTG.
"We don't feel that we had much choice except to manage the game in the way we did. From early on in the match we had to make decisions that were clear yellow cards. We tried to apply some common sense officiating given the magnitude of the occasion for both sides - advising players early on for some of their tackling, sending players away when they were surrounding the officials, and speaking to their senior colleagues to try to calm them down. It is one of the toughest games we will ever be involved in and we feel that we worked hard to keep the focus on the football as much as possible."

However, there is no need to change anything, or to give special treatment to players just because it is a World Cup Final. The referee should first and foremost follow the LOTG, and after that he is free to use his personality and “common sense officiating” to take care of “grey areas” that are not specifically covered by the LOTG. That should be the order of officiating.

As referees, we have to recognize any potential bias and remove (and be seen to remove) ourselves from any conflicts of interest. Once we can do this, it should be clear that:

a) The English media and English referees (e.g. Graham Poll, Keith Hackett, Dermot Gallagher, Jack Taylor) are biased in favour of Howard Webb; and

b) The Dutch media and Dutch players are biased against Howard Webb.

HKRef would like to see a more balanced and neutral assessment of Howard Webb’s performance in the 2010 World Cup Final.

If a balanced and neutral assessment cannot be obtained easily, then there is something seriously wrong and “Respect for Football (Soccer), Responsible Refereeing, and Rational Reflections” (HKRef’s Triple Hope for Refereeing) will be lost.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

How Does a Referee Prepare for a World Cup Final?

This post takes a look at Match Preparation for Referees.

Three days before the World Cup Final on Sunday 11 July 2010—when FIFA announced its appointment of England referee trio Howard Webb and his two assistants Darren Cann and Mike Mullarkey to officiate—there was plenty of good advice forthcoming. Referees are used to receiving advice and learning from experienced referees (or mentors); and the really smart ones take good advice to heart.

[English Trio: Mike Mullarkey, Howard Webb and Darren Cann. Pic from Getty Images.]

Let’s see what sagely advice some experienced referees publicly gave to Howard Webb:

[Pierluigi Collina. Pic from Reuters.]

Pierluigi Collina (Italy) advised:
"Be prepared – getting all the information possible about the teams – be self-confident and approach the match as a normal match, or at least in a normal way. Don't change anything because it is the World Cup final."

"The pressure in the World Cup final is very high but if you are there it is because you are very good, no other reason. But, on the other hand, you know that if something happens wrong, everything you did in the past probably doesn't matter. It vanishes. It's all about those 90 minutes. But I am sure that will not be the case. I wish him an outstanding day."

Collina refereed the 2002 World Cup Final between Germany and Brazil. The match finished 0-2, and there were only two yellow cards. Collina did what he had to do (stamped his authority) and cautioned Junior (Brazil) and Klose (Germany) in the 6th and 9th minutes, respectively. After that, the tone of the match was set.

Horacio Marcelo Elizondo (Argentina) advised:
“Enjoy it. He’ll be living his dream and he’ll be lucky enough to make it come true. I’d tell [Webb] to go about his work calmly and without fear, because at the end of the day it’s just another game. As soon as he starts making decisions he’ll start to feel better and begin enjoying the experience.”

“Every referee dreams about going to the World Cup and to make it is a big achievement in itself. If you then get the chance to go on and take charge of the Final, you feel as if you’re the world champion.”

Elizondo refereed the 2006 World Cup Final between France and Italy. The match finished 1-1 after extra time, with three yellow cards and one red card. Italy went on to win 5-3 on penalties. Elizondo quickly stamped his authority with cautions to Zambrotta (Italy) and Sagnol (France) in the 5th and 12th minutes, respectively. The match’s most memorable moment was Zidane’s headbutt into Materazzi’s chest, which Elizondo correctly awarded a red card for violent conduct in the 110th minute.

[Elizondo and Zindane. Pic from AFP.]

Furthermore, Bob Evans and Edward Bellion (in HKRef’s humble opinion, two of the most insightful refereeing minds, and co-authors of the best refereeing book to date) advised Howard Webb to prepare thoroughly and to anticipate likely scenarios. They confidently predicted that:
a) Holland would “rely on disruptive play and fouls to stymie their opponents”, so Webb should pay special attention to Mark van Bommel, Gregory van der Wiel and Nigel de Jong;
b) Simulation may occur, and that Arjen Robben is a likely practitioner; and
c) Both teams favour the quick free kick, so Webb should be alert to any delaying tactics by both teams.

“We are sure Howard Webb will also be doing his homework, and the first 10-15 minutes will be critical to see if these predictions materialize, and to see if he recognizes them and deals with them. If he does, we will have a good game. If not, there could be problems. Our money is on the former, and we wish him well in the match.”

So did Howard Webb take to heart the good advice handed down to him?

Here’s how Webb answered in response to a question about preparing for the biggest game of his career.
“It is a huge game and the pinnacle of our careers but we need to prepare as normally as possible. The game will still last 90 minutes or maybe two hours, we'll still have 22 players and one ball. We will eat at the same time as normal, have some good rest like before a Champions League game, but what we will do is visit the stadium. We have been to Soccer City but only as spectators so we would like to walk the field of play the day before and visualise some situations that might happen. These guys will have a look on their touchline, on the surface and visualise themselves running the line. I'll walk the diagonal that I'll mainly patrol. We did this before the Champions League final and it just makes you comfortable in your surroundings.”

Unfortunately, this response did not exactly reveal his in-depth match preparations. HKRef would be more interested in how Webb used his two full days to prepare (and perhaps he had even longer to prepare, assuming he analyzed the quarterfinal and semifinal matches in the time leading up to the announcement on 8 July?).

The following incidents occurred during the first half of the 2010 World Cup Final match between the Netherlands and Spain on Sunday 11 July 2010 in South Africa.

Missed Opportunity to Stamp His Authority?
In the 2nd minute, Webb had the opportunity to caution Robin van Persie (Holland) for a reckless tackle on Sergio Busquets (Spain). He didn't. That could have stamped his authority and set the tone of the match. Instead, Webb decided to publicly warn van Persie.

Further fouls appeared and eventually cautions were meted out in the 14th (Robin van Persie, Holland) and 16th minutes (Carles Puyol, Spain). However, disruptive play continued in addition to dangerous tackles flying in.

[In the 14th minute, Robin van Persie slides into Joan Capdevila. He is finally cautioned and Webb's initial warning 12 minutes before to van Persie was obviously not heeded. Pic from AFP/Getty Images.]

[One example of disruptive play: Giovanni van Bronckhorst (Holland) on Pedro (Spain). Pic from Reuters. Amazingly, Dirk Kuyt (far right) was one of only three Dutch players in the starting eleven who did NOT receive a caution.]

In the 22nd minute, van Bommel tackled Andres Iniesta from behind. This could and should have been a red card, but Webb only cautioned van Bommel. Again, this sent out a message to the players that the referee was permitting these tough and nasty challenges.

[Mark van Bommel tackling behind and through Andres Iniesta, for which he only received a yellow card. Pics from AFP/Getty Images and AP.]

In the 29th minute, Nigel de Jong (Holland) stabbed his studs into the chest of Xabi Alonso (Spain), but Webb only cautioned de Jong. By now, the players understood that “full all-out warfare” was on the cards, since the referee took a lenient stance. Players were simply taking each other out, disrupting play, which ultimately prevented any show of quality football. If Howard Webb believed his decisions (i.e. not to send off any players) were for the “good of the game” by allowing free-flowing football, then the outcome of the players’ actions (i.e. disrupting play) is a clear indictment against this.

[Nigel de Jong takes no prisoners as he stamps his studs into Xabi Alonso.]

Nigel De Jong Vs Xabi Alonso Kung Fu Fighting *better quality*

In the 33rd minute, Spain keeper Iker Casillas collides with teammate Puyol when catching the ball. Casillas throws the ball into touch at the halfway line so that Puyol could receive treatment. At the restart, Holland take the throw-in and kick the ball back to Casillas. However, the ball bounces unexpectedly fast and surprises Casillas who just manages to touch the ball with his fingertips as it goes out for a corner kick. The resulting corner is quickly taken by van Persie, with the aim of returning the ball back to Spain. But, the ball was placed outside the corner arc.

In the 43rd minute, Wesley Sneijder makes a reckless challenge on Sergio Busquets in his groin area. But Webb did not caution Sneijder.

In the 45th minute, van Bommel runs into the back of Webb and then pushes Webb in the back with his hands. Subsequently van Bommel is seen shouting at Webb for getting in his way.
[NOTE: this incident should have given Webb a wake-up call just before half-time. It was a clear indication of how poorly Webb was man-managing van Bommel (already on a caution) and the rest of the players on the field of play. The players were perhaps not respecting Webb because they sensed he was lenient and hesitant in stamping his authority.]

In the 45th +1st minute, AR Mike Mullarkey signals offiside against Holland. This appeared to be premature, and did not follow the "wait and see" principle.
[Edit: having reviewed this incident, Mike Mullarkey got this offside spot on. Dirk Kuyt was offside.]

At half-time, BBC Sport's Mark Lawrenson commented:
"The players are really not making this easy for Howard Webb are they?"

HKRef’s thoughts at half-time were the opposite to Lawro’s: that is, Webb has not made this easy for the players.

More to follow ...