Tuesday 12 October 2010

Referees and Handbags

Lots of handbags in the friendly match between Australia and Paraguay on Friday 9 October 2010. The match finished 1—0.

World Cup referee Yuichi Nishimura dished out only two yellow cards both to Paraguay (one for simulation to #3 Claudio Rodriguez in the 23rd minute and a caution to #2 Dario Veron for a reckless tackle on #10 Harry Kewell in the 85th minute), in what appeared to be a feisty-not-friendly and tough-not-technical match.

Here are the match statistics, with Paraguay committing twice as many fouls as the Socceroos.

It seems full-time professional referee Nishimura took up from where he left off at the World Cup in South Africa and managed the match by attempting to talk with players rather than hand out cards. This policy at the 2010 World Cup saw Nishimura rewarded with four matches and he was also the 4th Official in three matches including the World Cup final.

In this encounter between Australia and Paraguay, Nishimura's talk-but-no-cards policy meant that many players escaped sanctions with their provocative posturing, tough challenges and dangerous manhandling.

The following highlights (from videos here and here) show some examples of referee positioning and physical incidents of the spirited feisty encounter between the two teams:

1) (0:23)
Interesting position adopted by Nishimura. He has two options during this Australia attack. Option 1 is the standard run towards the D (which is how he is initially shaping his run), which gives him the external angle and also allows him to anticipate a cross into the penalty area. Option 2 is the run towards the AR (which is his eventual positioning), which enables him to observe play behind the players but gives him an internal angle and also puts him out of position if there is a cross into the penalty area.

2) (0:38)
For Australia’s goal, the Referee’s positioning makes it difficult for him to see the foul beforehand by the Paraguay defender. As the ball is crossed from the right, the Paraguay defender had no chance to reach the ball and instead bundles over the Australia attacker.
Fortunately, the ball falls to #3 David Carney who scores with a wonderful left-footed strike. However, whether the goal was scored or not, the question to ask is whether Nishimura (or his AR or 4th Official) spotted the foul.

3) (1:38)
For a friendly, there appeared to still be plenty of gamesmanship between the players. Australia #8 Luke Wilkshire clears the ball but Paraguay #18 Nelson Valdez leads with his studs and leaves them in. Valdez could have seriously injured his opponent. This is the reason why Wilkshire reacted, and then it went all “handbags”. Referee Nishimura eventually came on the scene and attempted to talk with both players. No cards and not even a warning to Valdez for his gamesmanship.

4) (2:22)
More feistiness occurs between the players because of the continued gamesmanship. Does Nishimura’s policy of just “talking with the players without using meaningful roadblocks” work? Here, the cause of this confrontation is due to Paraguay #20 Osvaldo Martinez striking his opponent Australia #17 Scott McDonald on the head with his right arm. As McDonald confronts his assailant, Paraguay #13 Enrique Vera rushes in and grabs McDonald’s throat using his left hand. Again, what does the Referee do? No cards and no warning to Martinez or Vera for their gamesmanship.

5) (2:57)
In the course of the match Australia players have shown that they have endured the gamesmanship and tolerated the physical knocks from Paraguay. However when it comes to Paraguay players being on the receiving end of some robust challenges, their tolerance is different. Paraguay #10 Edgar Benitez didn’t like the robust challenges he received and reacted by raising his right hand threateningly to grabbing the throat of the nearest Australia player to him (#8 Wilkshire), even though just earlier Benitez clearly pushed Australia player #13 Jade North in the back.

Perhaps this newspaper quote from Australia #10 Harry Kewell fairly sums up this feisty encounter:
Kewell found himself at the centre of attention from the Paraguayan players, who kept physically challenging him - although at least he didn't have his throat grabbed as teammates Scott McDonald and Wilkshire did. ''I think it was one of those games where the ref let a few tackles fly,'' Kewell said. ''But we're not one to back down from challenge. We give as good as we get.''

Kewell's comment that "the ref let a few tackles fly" is pretty much correct. The tone of the match is more to do with how the referee manages these incidents. There are pros and cons to "having a word" with players, but as soon as players sense that a referee is reluctant to issue cards that are warranted by the Laws, then all handbags and hell may break loose!

Furthermore, when guilty players quickly run away from incidents and from the referee despite the referee clearly whistling and signalling several times for the player to “come to him” (which happened frequently during the match), then the referee must adjust his management approach to the game. Unfortunately, Nishimura did not take this into account and players, mainly Paraguay players, and even the Paraguay coach, disrespected the referee's authority.

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