Matchday 1 at World Cup 2014 is over and therefore the time for an interim review on the referee performances has come. A couple of tendencies have become obvious and can be put together to a framework of elements that roughly characterize refereeing in Brazil. Some videos are embedded to illustrate the observations.
In actually every match, we were able to observe a disciplinary strategy that was widely equal among all match officials. Reinforced by information we received from sources, Massimo Busacca and his team have instructed their referees to issue the first yellow card as late as possible in the matches in order to delay the moment when the first "munition" needs to be shot. And this is a problem.
First, the sense of incrementally increasing the disciplinary measures implies that the first yellow card a) should come in-time - and not as late as possible - and b) follows a sensible augmentation in terms of the usage of verbal warnings (this topic will be dealt with after the World Cup more intensely). Therefore, Busacca seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding of this tactical approach. Additionally, you cannot force one special tactical approach upon every of 25 referees coming from all over the world. This is irrealistic and has negative effects. I was pretty much stunned to see Marco Rodriguez being one of the most lenient officials of the World Cup - he seems to have become a different referee (it is him who benefits most from it). Other referees have completely ignored mandatory cases of yellow cards, e.g. after clear tactical fouls stopping promising attacks.
Two things are maybe positive though, depending on subjective preferences and perception: At least now all referees are consistent and thus predictable for the players. And second: better late than never - yellow cards were mostly shown when absolutely needed.
We observed Diego Costa (ESP-NED), Tim Cahill (CHI-AUS), Paul Pogba (FRA-HON) and Pepe (GER-POR) being guilty of clearly tried or clearly exerted violent conducts fully caught by the referee's visual control. Nicola Rizzoli verbally warned both players involved and mostly yelled at the victim of this incident; Noumandiez Doue's AR2 must have noticed the incident but only advised his boss to issue a yellow card; Sandro Ricci and his AR1 definitely saw the clear retaliation of Paul Pogba but only cautioned him; finally - and that was truly refreshing - Milorad Mažić drew the only logical consequence and sent Pepe off. Either this is another bizarre instruction or some officials have simply neglected their duties to protect players. Or sending-offs for violent conducts just spoil commercialized and worldwide seen football in the opinion of certain people, I don't know.
In my opinion, Massimo Busacca was a way better referee than referee manager. He had almost half a year time to think about the referee appointments and created quite a fuss. There was no necessity to appoint a surely competent but, internationally regarded, very inexperienced referee like Mažić for a clash like Germany-Portugal. Howard Webb or others would have been much safer and better choices. By this appointment and problematic (but not bad!) performance, the Serbian's World Cup has been spoilt to a certain extent. Also here it would have been desirable to rely on incrementally increasing match designations, meaning that referees like Mažić could have started with a rather low-profile game, to be able to recommend himself for higher tasks having gained confidence by the first performance.
R.I.P., Confederation Neutrality Rule
I had to take up our user Emil's statement. On Matchday 1, three chances to appoint UEFA referees, while respecting the Confederation Neutrality Rule, have not been used (MEX-CMR, CHI-AUS, CIV-JPN). This is a surprising novelty, would have been evitable, but also has advantages. The principle to ideally appoint the best referee possible for a match he suits to has gained more weight. It will be interesting to see how Busacca will deal with that on the last, decisive Matchday 3.
Mostly good performances - despite lots of crucial mistakes
Yes, the one does not exclude the other. In most cases, the referees really performed very well in terms of managing the games, showing personality, maintaining control at all times and dealing with players. The problem is that during a group stage, every goal counts. The high number of crucial mistakes has therefore every right to significantly shadow the match officials' good performances in the media. Satirical online-headlines such as "FIFA in favour of inclusion for visually impaired match officials!" must be beared by the referees and assistant referees for this reason. Mistakes can and will always happen; but for sure Nishimura's penalty kick and Clavijo's offside goals were the worst start possible into this World Cup and bias the impression "common people" have received in a very negative way.
CONCACAF's three referees have positively surprised me most. Joel Aguilar, Mark Geiger and Marco Rodriguez have shown very convincing performances in admittedly not that demanding games - but as we all know, matches mostly don't become easy just by themselves. Geiger's designation for today's Spain-Chile clash is a mirror of the trust Busacca surely has in him after Colombia-Greece. Not it counts, for all of them, to confirm the good impressions in their second games to be real options in order to handle big matches... and maybe even the final.
Reports for Matches 1-16
Please find our detailed reports about the match officials' performances below. You can also check the respective website to see them being updated mostly each day. We ask for your understanding that some of these reports have and will come with some delay.
Brazil - Croatia, Team Yuichi Nishimura (JPN) - 7.8 / 8.2 / 8.2
Mexico - Cameroon, Team Wilmar Roldán (COL) - 8.2 / 7.3 / 8.5
Spain - Netherlands, Team Nicola Rizzoli (ITA) - 7.4 / 8.1 / 8.7
Chile - Australia, Team Noumandiez Doue (CIV) - 8.3 / 8.5 / 7.9
Colombia - Greece, Team Mark Geiger (USA) - 8.4 / 8.4 / 8.4
Côte d'Ivoire - Japan, Team Enrique Osses (CHI) - 8.4 / 8.2 / 8.4
Uruguay - Costa Rica, Team Felix Brych (GER) - 7.9 / 8.6 / 7.9
England - Italy, Team Björn Kuipers (NED) - 8.5 / 8.6 / 8.5
Switzerland - Ecuador, Team Ravshan Irmatov (UZB) - 8.2 / 8.4 / 7.9
France - Honduras, Team Sandro Ricci (BRA) - 7.9 / 8.4 / 8.5
Iran - Nigeria, Team Carlos Vera (ECU) - still to come
Argentina - Bosnia & Herzegovina, Team Joel Aguilar (SLV) - 8.4 / 8.3 / 8.6
Germany - Portugal, Team Milorad Mažić (SRB) - still to come
Ghana - USA, Team Jonas Eriksson (SWE) - 8.3 / 8.5 / 8.4
Belgium - Algeria, Team Marco Rodríguez (MEX) - 8.5 / 8.4 / 8.5
Russia - Korea Rep., Team Néstor Pitana (ARG) - 8.2 / 8.4 / 8.4