June 7, 2014

Countdown to Brazil: 5 Candidates for the Opener

In 5 days, FIFA World Cup 2014 will be kicked off in Brazil's biggest metropole: São Paulo. The pivotal question is who will have the honour to blow the starting whistle. It is time to make some predictions on Match 1 and you are naturally welcome to contribute to this discussion as well. By the way: FIFA will publish the referee appointments ALWAYS 48 hours before the kick-off. There will NOT be a package of referee appointments for a complete matchday. So, we have to be patient until Tuesday evening to get exactly one, the first designation...

A Brazilian star ensemble and a strong Croatian side will meet in Arena São Paulo, also called Arena Corinthians named after the club that will use the stadium after the World Cup. About 61.000 supporters will take a seat in this tremendous theatre, even though there are still problems with fire prevention installations on the Northern stands. For this reason it is unsure how many people will savour the opener match at all. But certainly, it won't be just a few and the pressure will be immense no matter what the exact number of spectators will look like.
Only check out the following video (at 1:35 and 4:00) to get a feeling for what the players and the referee team will face next Thursday.

That's why FIFA has to select an experienced referee. There is little room for experiments. For Massimo Busacca and his crew, this opener also means a public signal in terms of what refereeing approach is going to be expectable throughout the tournament. And there are not many referees who come into question, fulfilling the criteria set above.

Yuichi Nishimura (l.) from Japan is my candidate no.1. Along with his teammates Toru Sagara (c.) and Toshiyuki Nagi (r.), he has the needed quality and experience to handle this match. Probably he would be the safest option, as he has proven that he is able to control important matches under high pressure involving great football nations. Matches like Netherlands - Brazil at World Cup 2010 or Spain - Uruguay at Confederations Cup 2013 have however raised a couple of doubts with regard to his ability to keep intense matches under his full control - in both cases, there were some lacks. Nonetheless, Nishimura is a very good referee, has the potential to manage this match with his calm personality and very likely is the politically most comfortable choice (the only doubt is whether FIFA agrees with appointing another Asian official for an opener match after Irmatov in 2010).
Two other candidates belong to the CONCACAF zone. Since Marco Rodríguez of Mexico is not available due to the Mexican national team's presence in Group A - and otherwise he would have probably been FIFA's first choice -, there are Salvadorian Joel Aguilar and US American Mark Geiger left. Both are good referees and specially Aguilar is used to referee matches under high pressure and very full stadiums (considering his two Gold Cup finals). To be honest I however have the feeling that both officials are rather outsiders and not FIFA's first choices.

A more risky option is Algerian Djamel Haimoudi. He is the clear no.1 in CAF and actually the first African since Al-Ghandour in whom FIFA seems to have really a lot of trust, maybe even with a view on this World Cup's later stages. His performance in Confederation Cup 2013's Third Place play-off was really solid and meeting the requirements, FIFA was surely satisfied. With his strict, partly even pedantic seeming approach, Haimoudi would be able to control the players without a doubt. My biggest concern is a potential lack of political acceptance inside the respective national associations if FIFA really chose him. While we all agree on the independence of referee appointments, it is an open secret that at FIFA level, things are working a bit differently. 

Finally, there could be a surprise. Maybe Nawaf Shukralla, whom I predict as a real positive surprise at this tournament, who can reach really much. Or even a European like Howard Webb, Björn Kuipers or Pedro Proença. But such names are rather speculation and nothing more taking into account that FIFA targets at maintaining the confederation neutrality rule as long as possible, i.e. appointing referees from different confederations than the national teams concerned (except the case that both teams come from the same confederation). 

In a nutshell, this is my ranking for the referees handling the opener match between Brazil and Croatia:

1. Yuichi Nishimura (JPN), Toru Sagara (JPN), Toshiyuki Nagi (JPN)
2. Djamel Haimoudi (ALG), Redouane Achik (MAR), Abdelhak Etchiali (ALG)
3. Joel Aguilar (SLV), William Torres Mejía (SLV), Juan Francisco Zumba (SLV)
4. Mark Geiger (USA), Sean Mark Hurd (USA), Joe Fletcher (CAN)
5. Another Referee: Nawaf Shukralla or a European - rather irrealistic.

What are your thoughts, feelings, predictions?


  1. Nishimura is also my candidate.

  2. My bet is also on Nishimura. I'll go:

    1: Nishimura
    2: Geiger
    3: Aguilar
    4: Haimoudi

  3. Anonymous7/6/14 23:34

    No.1. Aguilar Chicas
    No.2. Nishimura
    No.3. Kuipers.

  4. Izaguirre should have been dismissed there. Cynically kicking the ball at Sturridge, while on the floor after fouling him. Disgusting behaviour.

    Positioning seems to be a problem as well. Always getting in the way...

    Ref is Salazar by the way.

  5. Anonymous8/6/14 01:59

    Just a few thoughts as regards to the possible referee for the opening game. I think FIFA will try to apply confederation neutrality rule for as long as possible, hence for this opening game, UEFA referees are not likely. But FIFA might surprise us all with a new emerging talent, as they certainly did in 2010 with the appointment of Irmatov for the opening game. That is why someone like Shukralla is still possible.

  6. Anonymous8/6/14 09:54

    My list of candidates for opening is :
    1. Mark Geiger
    2.Djamel Haimoudi
    3.Yuicihi Nishimura- for me candite to be a referee for 2014 world cup final
    4.Nicola Rizzoli

  7. Well, the first thing to say is that in this first match FIFA will probably keep the confederations rule, therefore very likely no referees from CONMEBOL and UEFA.
    Then, if we go back in 2010 we find a full Asian appointment for Match 1: Irmatov and Mohd Salleh as fourth. For this reason I think that this time could be different. CAF, CONCACAF and OFC remain. I don't think that O'Leary will be appointed for the first match, so reading again the names, my final prediction is Joel Aguilar from El Salvador, with Haimoudi as second choice.
    I want also to add that Marco Rodriguez might have been the perfect choice for the opener match, considering that he is WC veteran among all the referees selected for Brazil, but he can't handle this match due to Mexico presence in the same group.
    So, I repeat my prediction:
    1) Aguilar (SLV)
    2) Haimoudi (ALG)

  8. Zwayer (GER) has France - Jamaica this evening. I don't know the full appointment.

    1. Zwayer, Bornhorst, Achmüller, Dankert (all GER)

  9. My favourite referee for the opening match is Mark Geiger. I think, if this match would not be the first one, it does not belong to the most challenging or most important ones in the group stage. However, I agree, that FIFA probably does not want too much risk in this match, so I also predict Nishimura. I can also imagine that Busacca breaks the confedration neutrality only for this match, to get an even "better" referee from Europe, e.g. Webb, in charge.
    Aguilar could be another option, if FIFA estimates him higher than Geiger. Haimoudi would be a surprise for me (or it would have been, if I had not read some of your predictions ;) ).
    So, my ranking is:
    1. Nishimura
    2. Geiger
    3. UEFA referee (Webb)
    4. Aguilar

  10. Hi to everybody happy to come back in the blog,

    As anticipate some months ago, there are some cases in the previous WC editions (1994, 1998, 2002) during which conferderatio n neutrality rule was not applied even during group stage. So it seems not so strick.
    Anyway in the hypotesis of confederation neutrality, my first choice would be Nishimura. Reliable, with experience on high level matches in the previou edition and strongly improved. If political reason doesn't allow an AFC official for the second time, Joel Aguilar could be the second name.

    So 1. Nishimura
    2. Aguilar



  11. Anonymous10/6/14 02:32

    I expect Nishimura to handle the final. Really think this year we'll have an Asian referee taking control of WC final (following an Argentinian in 2006 and an Englishman in 2010). Irmatov would also make up a consistent option but he's much younger, hence he still has time for it in the future.

    As to the opener, for me, there are actually several possibilities: Aguilar, Geiger, Doué (he's quite experienced), Haimoudi or the men from OFC (either O'Leary or Williams). Unlike some of you, I do not immediately rule out certain options, all the more so as FIFA likes to surprise everyone and give lesser-known names an opportunity to show what they're made of on a big stage.

    Let's see what Busacca and his team are preparing for the Kick-off (and, to be sure, for the rest of the tournament).

  12. Anonymous10/6/14 16:07

    Ben Williams from AFC, although Australia belongs to Oceania *


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