What went well
Everything under full control
One of the most decisive tasks referee officers have to accomplish is ensuring that their match officials are keeping the spectacle under control. 24 nations, 51 matches, almost 5000 minutes of football - and indeed, almost every match was under the referees' full control.
One of very few confrontations
With very few exceptions like the first half of Czech Rep. vs Turkey and some parts of Italy vs Spain, there were no blatantly unfair or overheated matches - there was no real mass confrontation. In a tournament that, among others, featured two British derbies, that's remarkable.
A core reason for that was the referee team's prevention in terms of their disciplinary control and approach. They appropriately used their personality to keep the players calm and had mostly chocked off potential conflicts before they had a chance to develop. Of course, black-and-white-thinking does not help - there were some exceptions. Matches like Czech Rep. vs Turkey, Wales vs Slovakia or Ukraine vs Poland were clearly negative examples with hardly any visible preventive refereeing - and it partly created foreseeable results. But this does not count for the large majority of the matches. The overall satisfying result: hardly any serious injury, no clear case of serious foul play.
Most officials seemed to be extremely well prepared during their games. They seemed to know the players, how they would behave and react - a good sign for the match preparation with the aid of match analysts are referees like Cüneyt Çakır or Björn Kuipers who did not really show the style and approach we are used to see in their games in Portugal vs Iceland and Germany vs Poland. Generally, there have been many small details (it would take too long to name them all) that have proven that the referees knew which matches and player types they are officiating.
Not only the referees prepared, no, also the assistant referees. They took most decisions correctly - there was only a limited number of perception errors. The intense preparation being a part of a scientifically based online tool for assistant referees surely contributed to that.
And even the players were prepared: As UEFA's refereeing officers met all teams before the competition and by informing them about the Laws of the Game and the expected interpretation of offences like handball, the players showed less dissent and more acceptance than usual.
I have seen - with one exception - no official whose behavior and body language did not convey a very focussed image. Even in matches that lasted 120 minutes, they made a very confident, concentrated and serious impression. Just watch the Copa America 2016 final and you'll see that this is not self-evident.
...and physically even readier
In the past, I have often criticized that aspects like athleticism and physical readiness played a too big role in UEFA's refereeing department and organization. While mental and psychological aspects still deserve a bit more attention from my perspective, the fitness level displayed by the match officials has simply been awesome. Even in matches with extra time and penalty shoot-out, they looked as if they had just started to warm up - e.g. Kassai in Germany vs Italy. According to a twitter user (Gayle Hope), Mark Clattenburg e.g. sprinted almost 4 kilometres (>14 km/h) in the final... I don't know whether there is any player with higher values.
Despite some smaller problems with regard to correctly interpreting "challenging an opponent for the ball", the assistant referees have done a good job. Hardly any crucial mistake was made by them. The percentage of correct offside decisions has, according to Collina, increased at this tournament compared to previous editions.
Deliberate Handball Interpretation
Taking these factors aside and turning towards the Laws of the Game, one thing has been very positive in my view - and this is how handballs were classified at the tournament. There is still no clear rule and the guidelines existing within FIFA and UEFA are partly contradictory and maybe even against the spirit of football (many people say so at least).
If you raise your arms like that, making contact with the ball is mostly undeliberate
Thus, it is even more surprising (perhaps it's not that surprising considering the tons of video clips seen by the officials before the competition) that handball has been one of the most consistently judged offences or non-offences at this EURO.
There have been clear criteria for deliberate handballs (unnaturally raised arms, see Czech Rep. vs Croatia, Germany vs Italy, Germany vs France) and undeliberate handballs (naturally outstretched arms, short distance, no visual contact to the ball etc., see England vs Wales or France vs Iceland).
Pierluigi Collina, Marc Batta and Hugh Dallas have made a very good job. Not only with regard to preparing and training their referees, but also with regard to the refereeing selection during the tournament. The appointments made sense - the referees' level, quality and experience suited to the games they were in charge of. With small exceptions, the match officials got what they deserved. The best referees were appointed for the best matches - and it is surely a sign of success that four or five referees would have thoroughly deserved to officiate the final. The circumstance that many officials would have even deserved more like Viktor Kassai, Björn Kuipers or Milorad Mažić only shows the high performance density at this EURO. As said, there were small exceptions - most of them concerned the selection before the tournament though.
Old stars have risen again
Viktor Kassai and Damir Skomina have both experienced a low some years ago. Both disappeared from the radar and from UEFA's top officials back in 2014, Kassai even much earlier in 2012. Collina and co. have developed a new trust in their abilities and probably psyched them up. The result: Both refereed seven matches taken together and belong to the strongest referees of the entire tournament.
The Big Picture
Most referees and refereeing as a whole have been the winners of the tournament. Maybe Team No. 25 were even the best team of the entire tournament. No match was really decided by a refereeing error. The deserved, poor image referees had in the media following the 2014 World Cup surely also reached the grassroot level back then. That's why it is for sure that all referees can be grateful for the job done in France: They have boosted our image in the public and provide us with the necessary energetical fundament with regard to the probably challenging mission to apply the new Laws of the Game in the next months (by the way, no problems with regard to that at this tournament, this gives us some hope!). Those days, you don't have to hide and can proudly reveal yourself being a referee without facing too negative consequences ;) Refereeing as a whole strongly needed that.
What could have been done better
As usual, there have been some political appointments that are basically harming football and refereeing. This depends on your individual interpretation though. Although Clément Turpin did well in his second game, his first match clearly showed why he should not have been there. Same goes for Norway's Svein Oddvar Moen, who confirmed the important weaknesses that already cropped up in the last 2-3 years in his Champions League and Europa League matches (if inexperienced bloggers always find these points to improve, UEFA could have done that, too). It is also not understandable why Spain's Carlos Velasco Carballo got appointed for a third game following two rather weak performances compared to his colleagues. Maybe politics played a role, most likely UEFA did not want to let him retire being sent home after group stage. And maybe it was even planned before the tournament that the six rather inexperienced referee teams are sent home with the very experienced Spanish team staying for sure. Well, whatever it might have been: The performance principle has marginally suffered from that. The big image nonetheless was: Performance has been rewarded.
This point only concerns some referees, but nonetheless the big image of the advantages applied in the 51 matches were rather a negative one. UEFA's refereeing officers should sharpen the referees' understanding and interpretation of the difference between game advantage (i.e. there is a clear team benefit) and ball advantage (the non-offending team stays in ball possession, but has no real advantage). In some situations, quite interesting and surely incorrect advantages were played by the referees - what went well is a new hand gesture for signalling advantage though: It seems as if UEFA highlighted the difference between stretching out one hand (advantage!) and two flat, outstretched arms to signalize (advantage and free space!). Videos will clarify that in the coming weeks.
Consistent Holding-Pushing-Approach in the penalty area
There were very brave and correct penalty decisions in terms of that. Others were maybe a bit soft. And some no-calls were simply wrong, others in line with game-feeling and common sense. What I have missed is a clear and predictable line for holding and pushing in the penalty area. The bandwidth from "a push is a push" (see Germany vs Slovakia) to "even stonewall pushes or holdings are not enough for a penalty" (see Poland vs Portugal) was simply too large.
Maybe Viktor Kassai cautioned an Italian player for simulation - if not, then there was not even one card for simulation at this EURO if I am not mistaken. There should have been more for sure.
There have been some cases where clear violent conducts were not sanctioned as such. In many cases, the referees definitely saw the offences though (most striking: Italy vs Spain). This is no new problem and, even more important, none that is limited to this EURO tournament. The same happened during the opener game of this year's Under-19 EURO.
It would be very much appreciated if match officials fulfill their duties to protect the game and players and take violent conduct out of the game with all necessary means. Sometimes, I have the impression that top-flight referees shy away from sending players off for violent conduct - maybe because they feel that it is not wanted by UEFA, the players or the fans which are often summarized as the so-called "football community".
I guess the players and fans would definitely appreciate a consistent and stern punishment of violent conduct - and for UEFA, the same should count.
Illegal Use of Arm
Elbows look much more clear in replays than they do on the field of play. Therefore, it is no surprise that not all decisions were taken correctly in this sector. But as elbows - like stud-tackles - seem to become a part of some players' typical jumping movements, they have to be taken out of the game.
Team No. 25 only partly succeeded in that - many clear elbows resulting in bleeding wounds were completely missed or not sanctioned appropriately.
In my view, this will be the biggest task for UEFA's refereeing department, but also all national associations. My personal feeling is that the frequency and intensity of as well as the intention behind tackles executed with studs shown (often paired with stretched feet) have dramatically increased (e.g. see below).
Unfortunately, there has been a real mass of reckless stud-tackles that did not result in a yellow card at this tournament. The principle of protecting the players demands that all referees and referee departments pay their undivided attention to this dangerous type of infringement.
Considering all these aspects, some conclusions should be drawn. From a pragmatic perspective, the level of refereeing at EURO 2016 has been good on average. Not more, not less. Far away from being poor - even though some performances were indeed not good enough - but also not as excellent as the black-and-white-thinking media suggests. Most journalists and the public as a whole tend to classify referees into brilliant and poor. The truth most likely lies in the middle: From a Laws-of-the-Game-perspective, there were rooms for improvement. Considering the big picture, refereeing was really good. And probably this was also mirrored by Clattenburg's not faultless, but overall OK final performance.
All in all, UEFA and their officials have to be praised for forming the maybe best team of the tournament.
Thank you, dear readers, for following our analyses and discussions closely during the tournament. It has been a pleasure.