World Cup Morning Report – Refereeing in spotlight again as competition set to go up a gear

As Saudi Arabian referee Khalil Al Ghamdi reached aggressively into his top pocket for his yellow card in order to book Chile’s Humberto Suazo after approximately 60 seconds of the South Americans’ tie with Switzerland yesterday, memories of the head-shakingly dismal and petty refereeing that occurred during the GermanySerbia game were unfortunately conjured up vividly in the minds of devoted World Cup fans everywhere. You did not need to be a professional soothsayer to be able to predict an unnecessarily large collection of yellow cards and perhaps one or two reds would be a feature of the game. True to the tone the referee set with his cautioning of Suazo, nine yellow cards and one red had been waved by the final whistle.

It must be more than a little concerning for players and coaches that this was the second game in fairly quick succession in which such over-officious and pedantic card-waving somewhat spoilt the game. Some of the yellow cards Al Ghamdi brandished were totally unnecessary and it was completely unfathomable as to why he had felt the need to book some players. Valeron Behrami’s red card was admittedly justified, but the Saudi’s regular use of his book and pencil strongly influenced the game as the players became visibly more frustrated at his seemingly constant whistling. It is also in line with numerous other refereeing blunders that have crept into matches such as New Zealand’s goal against Italy on Sunday, which was at least a yard offside, and the thoroughly unwarranted sending off of Kaka against Ivory Coast on the same day.

We cannot criticise referees for honest mistakes, but we can start to itch with annoyance and voice concerns when they are guilty of incompetence or sheer, needless fussiness as with Al Ghamdi. As was highlighted in Saturday’s World Cup Morning Report, the greatest football show on earth and the players who compete in it are owed competent, sensible referees. Al Ghamdi certainly demonstrated no common sense whatsoever in his officiating yesterday, and FIFA could do with issuing the referees a fresh set of directives as we enter the final round of group games as to avoid further games being tainted by ridiculous card-happy officials.

Today is the first day of the final set of group fixtures and we will know the identity of four of the last 16 nations by the end of the day. The most enthralling fixture of the day, although it is unlikely either team will qualify for the knockout stages, will surely be South Africa against France. Purely due to the fact the French camp has suffered almost unprecedented turmoil and upheaval in the last few days, and that they now play the hosts in what could be their last contest of their very own World Cup, has this game become the most intriguing and captivating of today’s offerings. Will the French be able to salvage some pride, or will Bafana Bafana go out with the victory that would bring unmatched ecstasy and pride to the South African people? Should the hosts win, it is still unlikely to mean progression as the group is firmly in the hands of Uruguay and Mexico thanks to superior goal differences, and a draw between the two sides would guarantee both advance to the next stage. However, whatever the result, the flash of colour, the ear-splitting drone of the vuvuzelas and the splendidly jovial nature of the South African supporters will no doubt continue right until the very end of the tournament.

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