World Soccer Talk writer Lawrence Dockery, himself a referee, shares his insight regarding the officiating from the World Cup group stage of Qatar 2022.

Many don’t realize but one of the most important parts of any soccer game is the referee. 

Without officials, there is no game. 

Being selected to referee at the World Cup is a huge honor. And so far at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the refereeing has been splendid.

There, of course, have been contentious moments, as there are at every tournament.  But thus far the referees have handled themselves with aplomb. 

Here are some of the key refereeing moments during the World Cup thus far. 

Red Cards

Incredibly there were only been three red cards through the group stage at the World Cup. 

It took until the sixth day of the tournament for somebody to be sent off.  The unlucky first was Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey against Iran.  He was initially only cautioned and shown a yellow card for a foul on an Iranian attacker.

But after a VAR check, he was sent off and shown a red card for ‘Serious Foul Play’.  It was the correct decision by the referee as Hennessey drove his knee into the jaw of the Iranian player. 

The second red card of the tournament was an unusual one.  South Korea manager Paulo Bento was dismissed and shown a red card for after the final whistle of the Taegeuk Warriors 3-2 loss to Ghana. 

Bento appeared to be upset that referee Anthony Taylor ended the game before the South Koreans could take a corner kick and ran onto the field to berate him for it. 

But the full amount of added time had been played and Taylor wasn’t having it with the abuse form Bento. He made the correct decision by showing Bento the red card.

The final red card of the group stage was during the final game of the group stage. Vincent Aboukabar was already on a yellow card when he scored the winning goal for Cameroon in stoppage time against Brazil.

And as soccer players are prone to doing when they score goals, he took his shirt off to celebrate. Unfortunately doing so is an automatic yellow card. The referee was left with no choice but to show him a second yellow card and send him off.

Female referees

History was made at this World Cup as female referees were selected to referee at the World Cup for the first time ever. 

That history was furthered when an all-female referee crew was assigned to the pivotal final Group E game between Costa Rica and Germany. 

Stephanie Frappart of France had the whistle, while Neuza Back of Brazil and Karen Diaz Medina of Mexico were on the lines and all three performed very well.

American referees

At the last two World Cups, American referee Mark Geiger was outstanding in taking charge of three games at each of those tournaments. 

For the 2022 World Cup, it was Ismail Elfath who earned the nod from the American refereeing ranks.  Elfath had the whistle for the Group H opener between Portugal and Ghana while his Assistant Referees were Kyle Atkins and Corey Parker, also both Americans. 

A slight measure of controversy arose when Elfath awarded Portugal a penalty in 65th minute but it was the correct decision and the rest of the game went off without a hitch. 

Elfath and his crew were then tasked with taking charge of the final game in Group G between Brazil and Cameroon.

The game went almost without incident as Brazil had already locked up their spot in the Round of 16 after their second game.

But then the aforementioned Vincent Aboukabar scored and took his shirt off. Elfath clearly felt bad about having to send him off for a second yellow card but his hands were tied.

Also present at the World Cup from the US is another female referee.  Kathryn Nesbitt was sent as an Assistant Referee and was the Offside VAR official for the game between Costa Rica and Germany. 

Thoughts on FOX’s referee analysts

As much of their coverage of this World Cup has proven to be subpar, it should come as no surprise that Fox’s coverage of the refereeing at the World Cup has also left much to be desired. 

First is their insistence on continuing to use Joe Machnik as their rules expert.  Not only is Machnik held in very low regard in the referee community due to his lack of knowledge of the Laws of the Game, he just doesn’t add anything to the broadcast. 

He usually just repeats the question the commentators ask him rather than shedding any light on the referee’s decision or thought process.

Mark Clattenburg, however, has been a wonderful addition as the secondary rules expert.  Clattenburg’s qualifications are impressive.

He was selected to referee at Euro 2012 and the 2012 Olympics in London.  He also had a very impressive 2016 as he was selected to referee the FA Cup Final, the Champions League Final, and the Euro 2016 Final all in the space of two months. 

So far during this tournament he has done a wonderful job of explaining what the referee is looking for when making certain calls.  And he has also done a very good job of explaining what FIFA expects of the referees in these games. 

One notable omission from FOX’s group of referee experts is Christina Unkel.  At the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, Unkel received rave reviews as FOX’s rules analyst but has been left off their roster for Qatar.

Unkel was also the first to point out something that had gone unnoticed by many viewers.  FOX Sports doesn’t show the referee crew or coin toss before games.

Instead, FOX opts to cram in an extra minute or two of commercials, thus robbing the referees of the small measure of recognition they receive before games kick off. 

Many viewers have also noticed that FOX Sports’ commentary duo of John Strong and Stuart Holden have been particularly vociferous in their criticism of referees, especially during US games.

Their call during the US-Wales game takes the cake. Every time a US player got fouled, they ripped into the referee for not showing a yellow card.

Every time a US player was cautioned and shown a yellow card, they flipped the script and began wondering how it was even a foul, let alone a yellow card.

Photo credit: IMAGO / Sven Simon

Guide to World Cup 2022

Here are some resources to help you get the most out of the biggest event in soccer!
TV Schedule: All the info on where and when to watch every game
The Groups: We breakdown each group and all the teams
The Kits: Check out what every team will be wearing on the field this fall
Predictor: Play out every scenario with our World Cup Predictor
World Cup Bracket: Map out the entire tournament, from the groups to the final