Tuesday 21 June 2011

Optimum Officiating: Tackling Time Wasting

The following incident occurred during the Asian Champions League second-leg quarterfinal match between reigning champions Pohang Steelers of South Korea and Zob Ahan of Iran on 22 September 2010. The match finished 1—1, with Zob Ahan winning 3—2 on aggregate.

After scoring in the 80th minute to make it 1—1, Zob Ahan needed to keep the score as is to advance to the semifinal stage. Referees need to stay focused and understand that time wasting is a natural tactic or “trick” adopted by teams to “run down the clock” (match reports here and here).

However, what happened in the 86th minute was excessive play-acting, as shown by the following freeze frames:

Referee Benjamin Williams from Australia exhibited good officiating and good patience when he cautioned Mahdi Rajabzadeh (white #30) for unsporting behaviour.

With the excessive amount of rolling exhibited by Rajabzadeh, it was clearly obvious that he could have easily rolled out of the field of play (the touchline was less than a yard away) to receive treatment. Instead, he insisted on being stretchered off. Since the stretcher-bearers at the stadium used golf carts, this incident became a farce when the player was put on a stretcher, lifted up on to the golf cart and then driven a couple of yards forward over the touch line and off the pitch.

For his unsporting behaviour, Rajabzadeh received his second caution of the game and therefore a red card. Perhaps players like Rajabzadeh who like to perform theatrics at the expense of others should be made to feel embarrassed by their childish behaviour.

Even Zob Ahan coach Mansour Ebrahimzadeh admitted:
"If he was injured seriously there was nothing we can do about it but even for me, it was too much. I have to admit it. I think Rajabzadeh did the wrong thing.”
It's nice to hear coaches talking sense, but it would be even better if coaches showed that they genuinely mean what they say by taking action against their own players (i.e. with fines, reprimands).

Match Officials for Pohang Steelers (Kor) vs Zobahan (Iran)

Match Commissioner: Zachariah Joseph (Ind)

Referee Assessor : Samuel Chan Yam Ming (Hkg)

Referee : Benjamin Williams (Aus)

Assistant Referee 1 : Benjamin Wilson (Aus)

Assistant Referee 2: Denis Silk (Aus)

Fourth Official: Vo Minh Tri (Vie)

Related Post

Player's Theatrics

Monday 6 June 2011

Suspect Referee Performance: Nigeria v Argentina

The following incidents occurred during the friendly match between Nigeria and Argentina on Wednesday 1 June 2011. The match finished 4—1.

There were two penalty decisions and I'll leave it to viewers (and to investigators of corruption) to decide whether something was suspect about Referee Ibrahim Chaibou's performance.

Nigeria 4-1 Argentina Friendly 01.06.11 (YouTube)

How would you rate the Referee's performance?

First Penalty
This actually looks half-credible but consider how easy it was for the Referee to give it. Look at the Referee's angle of view and now decide whether he actually saw the incident clearly.

What's the Referee thinking? $$$

Referee's non-standard positioning for a penalty kick

Second Penalty
The last goal of the match was highly suspect. There was 5 minutes of added time but the Referee continued after this and eventually in the 90+8 minute he awarded a penalty. He indicated the penalty was for handball, but even without replays it was clear no handball had occurred. Players were bemused and the Referee repeatedly indicated handball (more to convince himself than anyone else).

What's the Referee thinking? $$handball$$

Referee's non-standard positioning for a penalty kick (again)


Much has been written about match fixing (among the best come from The Telegraph ... examples here, here and here), particularly from Asia. The reason is because in Asia there is a whole gamut of gambling options open (e.g. goals scored in first half, goals scored in second half, total goals scored) plus there are numerous betting outlets that help avoid alerting bookmakers in real time about significant swings in particular betting patterns.

After watching highlights of this match, I read a recent Telegraph story reporting that FIFA are indeed investigating this Nigeria and Argentina incident for match-fixing (news story here). Some quotes:

With Nigeria leading 4-0 there was a huge swing on some in-play gambling markets which appeared to anticipate a fifth goal.

With 90 minutes played referee Ibrahim Chaibou awarded five minutes of stoppage time but let play carry on until, in the eighth minute of additional play, he signalled a handball against Nigeria, awarding a penalty to Argentina.

Replays indicated the ball had hit one Nigerian player’s shin and diverted to another player, whom it hit in the stomach. The whistle appears to have been blown immediately after the ball hit the first player. Mauro Boselli, of Wigan, converted the penalty.

“With 86 minutes played the odds for over 4.50 [a fifth goal to be scored] were absolutely insane. The market was effectively saying it was odds against that there would be no more goals. It is hard to get an exact figure for how much would have been bet to force that kind of swing but we are certainly talking hundreds of thousands, possibly more than £1,000,000,” said Matthew Benham of SmartOdds, an online betting firm.

The referee involved, Chaibou, of Niger, was in charge of the Sept 7 friendly between Bahrain and a ‘fake’ Togo team, another game under Fifa investigation. That match was organised by Wilson Raj Perumal, a convicted match-fixer who is facing trial in a Lapland court after being charged with bribing players to fix games in the Finnish league. Telegraph Sport attempted to contact Chaibou last night but calls were not returned.

Related Post

China's Golden Whistle Admits Accepting US$44,000 Bribe

Saturday 4 June 2011

2011 Champions League Final: Enjoyable But Predictable

I thought the Champions League Final between Barcelona and Manchester United on Saturday 28 May 2011 was enjoyable but predictable because both teams played football the way they had been playing throughout the season. That is, they both have their own style of play (open free-flowing attacking football, generally) and they both persisted with their own styles for the final. The match finished 3—1.

Contrast this to any team that is managed by a coach like Jose Mourinho or similar. Such coaches understand the limitations of their own teams and can see the superiority of their opponents, and therefore choose to change the way they play so that they can change the way their superior opponents play. I am not saying that Mourinho's approach is wrong. Coaches are under heavy pressure to win and because of this oftentimes they feel they must win no matter how and at any cost. As a coach, whenever Mourinho's teams have come up against superior opponents, he will usually resort to using all the tricks in the book (and then some) to try to swing the pendulum back in favour of his own limited teams. We have seen this with Porto against Manchester United, Chelsea against Manchester United, Chelsea against Barcelona, Inter Milan against Barcelona, and Real Madrid against Barcelona. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but the coach who uses cynical tactics to undermine superior opponents must also be answerable and responsible for promoting unsporting behaviour and gamesmanship.

Alex Ferguson chose not to do that in the Champions League Final, and that is why the match was both enjoyable and predictable. The superior footballing team won.

The Referee Viktor Kassai (Hungary) had a very good game and was helped by the fact that both teams wanted to play football. Here are some observations of some refereeing incidents:

Kassai's style offers leniency to the matches he officiates. He does have a tendency to keep his cards in his pocket, and generally this is effective because his manner and management is excellent. The player that benefited the most from his leniency is Manchester United midfielder Antonio Valencia who committed at least 4 fouls in the first half. No cards came out in the first half. In the second half there were 4 cautions, 2 for each team.

Two "Handball" Penalty Claims
In the 10th minute, the ball struck United defender Patrice Evra's hand in the penalty area. This was not deliberate handball.

In the 78th minute, with United 3—1 down, United midfielder Ryan Giggs kicked the ball against Barcelona forward David Villa's hand in the penalty area, and then immediately appealed for a penalty. Again, this was not deliberate handball. Here are the freeze frames:

Notice the altered positioning of the Referee due to the presence of EARs.

The EAR has a great angle of view ... but did he assist the Referee?

Instead of continuing with his attacking move, Giggs tries to persuade Referee Kassai to give a penalty

In both handball appeals, the additional (extra) assistant referee (EAR) did not assist the Referee, and did not appear to assist the Referee. In fact, the redundancy and ineffectiveness of EARs was again evident for all to see during the final.

Player Leaving the Pitch Without Referee's Permission

In the second half, United defender Fabio injured himself during a goal-mouth scramble. As the ball is cleared away from United's penalty area, Fabio remains on the goal-line. He appears injured and wants treatment. However, play has continued (since, in the opinion of the Referee, Fabio does not have a serious injury or a head injury). Eventually, Fabio crosses over the goal-line and off the pitch to receive treatment.

Had Barcelona realised this, they could have played higher up the field because the second-last defender was now the goalkeeper Edwin van der Saar.

This is just a reminder of the reference to the Euro 2008 group match between Netherlands and Italy on Tuesday 10 June 2008. At that time, Netherlands striker Ruud van Nistelrooy scored what appeared to be an offside goal, but there was an Italian defender who was behind the goal-line. Much was written and discussed about that incident (see here and here).


When coaches and teams play football without any cynicism, unsporting behaviour and gamesmanship (i.e. without any dirty tricks) the Referee's duties are relatively easier and there is more likelihood of the match being fair, safe and enjoyable.

However, when this does not happen, then that's when Referees earn their marks (and earn their keep). Furthermore, it does not make any sense for coaches, players, commentators and fans to blame Referees when the original source of what is wrong with the game is when teams use dirty tricks in the first place in an attempt to win at all costs. After all, no one in their right mind would blame the police or judges for attempting to curb and control the delinquent behaviour of individuals. Individuals should be responsible for their own behaviour. I wonder whether coaches and players will ever take responsibility whenever they use "dirty tricks" on the football pitch ... as opposed to the irresponsible option of always blaming Referees? This is just my two cents to help support, protect and promote Referees.

Thank you all for reading this blog.

Note: Isn't this a wonderful shot perspective?

Three world-class strikers (Hernandez #14, Messi #10, Rooney #10) standing in awe, staring at and recognizing perfection, which is Villa's curling shot that goalkeeper van der Saar cannot do anything about. Everyone knows that the ball is going in.