The World Cup is now a week old and it’s already been a blast. There have been great games, great goals, last minute winners and high drama all around. Refreshingly, there has been very little controversy surrounding the referees thus far.
Let’s all hope it stays that way. But there are a few bullet points to discuss regarding the refereeing at the tournament. Here they are.
VAR has been a smashing success
Up to this point, VAR has been called on only a few times and awarded three penalties (all correctly): in France vs. Australia, in Sweden vs. South Korea, and in Russia vs. Egypt.
All three times the referee did not initially award the penalty and all three times when it went to VAR the penalty was correctly given. It was also called upon during the Iran/Spain game on Wednesday as it correctly ruled out a potential Iranian equalizer in the second half.
At the end of the day, VAR has done what it’s here for: to help the referees if they miss things. It’s off to a flying start. But it is kind of goofy to see the referees at the VAR controls being forced to wear their regular kit as if they were on the field doing the game.
First red card of the tournament
We got our first red card of the tournament in the Colombia/Japan game and it turned out to be the second fastest red card in World Cup history. The fastest being Jose Batista of Uruguay being sent off 58 seconds into a group stage game against Scotland in 1986.
Carlos Sanchez was sent off and shown the red card for DOGSO-H (that’s Denial of an Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity by Handling). It was the correct call by the Slovenian referee as the Japanese shot was goal bound and Sanchez used his arm to keep it out.
Telemundo’s referee expert is better than FOX’s
For whatever reason, everything FOX Sports does with international soccer always seems a step below what its predecessors did and what its competition is doing. The refereeing experts in this case are no different. For the better part of the last three years FOX has used Joe Machnik (pretentiously, obnoxiously, and continuously referred to as “Dr” Joe Machnik) as their lead rules expert at their coverage of international tournaments.
Simply put, he’s awful. So bad in fact that a recent piece in The Ringer listed him as one of the Losers of the tournament thus far. When he’s brought in to give his take on a contentious issue, he doesn’t really say much of anything. It sounds almost like he’s reading a prepared statement. When it doesn’t, he’s usually throwing the referee under the bus and when that happens he’s usually wrong.
Furthermore, his refereeing credentials are not fantastic. He’s a former USMNT assistant coach that wound up as the Director of Refereeing in MLS and a CONCACAF match commissioner. But he never blew the whistle in high level games with regularity. Contrast that to Telemundo. They are using Horacio Elizondo of Argentina, an actual former referee with bona fide credentials. Elizondo was no stranger to big games refereeing the 2006 Copa Libertadores Final and the 2006 World Cup Final. His insight, analysis and support of the referees rings much more real than anything Fox and “Dr” Joe can put out.
Confusion in Senegal/Poland
Perhaps the most contentious refereeing issue of the World Cup so far. There was mass confusion in the second half of this game that led to a goal for Senegal. At one point in time Senegal was trying to make a substitution but changed their mind halfway through it. However there was an injured Senegalese player who had gone off the field and was standing by the 4th official trying to come back on. He was waved on by the 4th official just as Senegal started a counter attack. The Polish defender played the most awful pass back to the goalkeeper (maybe ever) and Senegal scored the goal that gave them a 2-0 lead.
But this was a botched scenario by the referee and his crew. With that much confusion going on they could and maybe should have done one of two things: either wait to restart play until the whole crew is on the same page regarding the substitutions and the injured player or once play has restarted wait until the counterattack is over.
Mark Geiger is back at the World Cup
While he didn’t quite put on the masterclass that he did in Brazil four years ago, American referee Mark Geiger was very good nonetheless when he was given the whistle for Wednesday’s game between Portugal and Morocco. Though he had been at the helm of the VAR system for two previous games, this was his first one on the field and he did very well. Geiger is of course no stranger to major international tournaments having previously been selected to work the 2012 Olympics, the 2014 World Cup and the 2017 Confederations Cup.
In his first game at this World Cup, his fitness was superb, his positioning was excellent and his calls were correct. The only real hiccup appeared to be when his headset went out and he had to run to the 4th official to get a replacement. His no-nonsense attitude when dealing with players and coaches throwing their arms in the air before, during, and after every single call is also a breath of fresh air.
Here’s to hoping that he and fellow American referee Jair Maruffo get some more games at this tournament.