Monday, June 26, 2006

a short sharp shock

another midlife-crisis cockle-warming pic

Still on the coupe du monde - I go on missing the live action - fell asleep at half-time in the England-Equador yawnfest, missing the only goal. Woke up half an hour into the Netherlands-Portugal foulfest, missing the only goal, but at least catching all the red cards.

On the subject of coloured cards, plaudits to the match ref in the Potugal-Netherlands game, which just happened to score the highest tally of cards in world cup finals history. I'm not being ironic - certainly all four of the red cards were deserved, (I haven't been able to check out all the yellows) and if fans feel that reducing teams to nine or ten men ruins the game as a spectacle (it often has the opposite effect in fact), they should blame the players, not the officials.

I remember watching Portugal's last world cup finals game in 2002. One of the most disgraceful exhibitions of dirty football and referee intimidation I've ever seen. I was heartily glad to see the back of them. This time the fouling was more persistent than nasty, but the cards were there to be given, and it seems to me that if you don't uphold the law, in football as in life, mere anarchy will be loosed upon the field.

It was a tough game to referee with so much at stake and so much tension between the sides going back at least to Euro 2004, but it was noticeable that both teams tended to take out their frustrations on each other rather than on the ref - a backhanded compliment perhaps.

It's a strange fact that fashions in foul play come and go. The penalty box wrestling and the faking of injury that so marred the last finals has waned slightly, but handling the ball in defence appears to have become all the rage. This should be nipped in the bud quickly - if you give em a short sharp shock, they won't do it again.

It's surprising that this behaviour has taken off as it's usually so easy to spot (though only one of at least two deliberate handballs by Croatian defenders was penalised when they played us), and the punishment is as severe as it should be. I still think, though that wrestling and shirt-tugging is dealt with way too leniently. Keep penalising them till they've three men left each, and you'll wipe the practice out. I'm with Martin Tyler on this.

While on this subject, raspberries to certain commentators who complain about the number of sendings off or yellow cards, with the implacation that the ref has lost control, even though they haven't been able to put a finger on a single wrong decision. When the official makes a decision about an infringement, it would be completely wrong of him to take into account how many cards have been issued in the past or whether his decision will have a major impact on the balance of the teams or the outcome of the game. That's for the player to worry about when he commits the foul. Of course, this does come into the ref's consideration, largely unconsciously - he's only human - but he should try not to let it, as far as he's able.

Worst example of commentating of late - Andy Gray's abysmal performance during the UEFA Champions' League final. He seemed to think the ref had ruined the game by sending Jens Lehmann off for deliberately tripping the Barcelona forward who'd beaten him - a clear and unequivocal sending off offence. And Gray moaned and droaned on throughout the game about this, doubly ruining it for viewers.


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