(This is my take for The Associated Press so far in the World Cup on the refereeing here in Brazil)
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — World Cup refereeing boss Massimo Busacca had a simple wish before this World Cup.
"Our goal is for the referee to remain in the background during a
for the players to be at the center," Busacca said in the
run-up to the tournament.
Well, so far that's not quite working out.
After just two days of the World Cup, the match officials have
planted themselves firmly at the center of most conversations about the
tournament in Brazil.
The tournament started badly for the referees in the first match on
Thursday, when the hosts Brazil were awarded a crucial penalty against
Croatia that gave them a 2-1 lead.
Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura, an experienced official who
usually runs games in the J-League, saw defender Dejan Lovren place a
hand on the arm of Brazil's Fred and the striker reacted by hurling
himself to the ground. Nishimura blew for a penalty and Neymar scored
it, transforming the game.
There was no shirt pulling, no grabbing. Most top-level European
referees are used to the antics of strikers but Nishimura, perhaps
accustomed to the more sedate and, perhaps, more honest Japanese league,
fell for the trick.
The Croatians were furious with the decision and said it helped
decide the match. Coach Niko Kovac described it as "a robbery" and said
the "the whole world saw the big mistake" by the referee. He said that
"if that was a penalty, we should be playing basketball. Those kinds of
fouls are penalized there."
Even more galling for Croatia was the fact that Neymar really
shouldn't have been on the field at all after whacking a Croatian player
on the chin early in the game.
The day before the tournament started, The Associated Press asked
Busacca how his referees could spot the difference between genuine fouls
"For the referees it can be difficult to distinguish a foul from a
simulation as it is mostly a question of centimeters," said FIFA's head
of refereeing. "Nevertheless, match officials are trained to be in the
best position on the pitch where they can take the right decision. We
developed several exercises and we are training them every day to make
sure the referees are as well prepared as possible."
In the second game of the World Cup, Colombian linesman Humberto
Clavijo drove the Mexican team to distraction by twice ruling out goals.
The first was an offside call that was highly marginal, the second was
The big match on Friday was the repeat of the 2010 final between
Spain and The Netherlands. Football dominated this game, which was
refereed by one of Europe's top officials, Nicola Rizzoli of Italy.
Four years ago, this game was a brutal battle in Johannesburg that
English ref Howard Webb simply could not control. He handed out 14
yellow cards and one red as both teams tried to slug their way to
Busacca said there was little referees could do to prevent players
from spoiling a game. "The referee is there to control the match, but he
is not playing. It is our job to make the right interpretation and to
ensure that the Laws of the Game are respected."
Friday's game in Salvador was easier to handle for Rizzoli and he managed the game well.
The toughest decision he had to make was awarding a penalty to Spain,
a close decision when Dutch defender Stefan de Vrij slid in and made
contact with Diego Costa. The Spain striker hit the ground with the
lightest of contacts. But the penalty was correctly given, with the
defender paying the price for a risky challenge.
The referee remained firmly in the background in this game as the
Dutch recorded a stunning 5-1 victory over the world champions.
The Ivory Coast's Noumandiez Doue presided over the least contentious
game of the tournament so far later Friday, when Chile beat Australia
Doue refereed with confidence, reacting firmly when necessary but frequently sharing a joke and a smile with players.