Johannesburg - Another super soccer extravaganza is nearly at an end and two European teams will contest the final on Sunday. It’s a not too common an occasion that both teams are from the UEFA region, as one of the South American superpowers are generally there or there abouts on the final day.
This year, it’s France - somewhat of a powerhouse themselves having won the competition in 1998 when South African assistant referee Achmat Salie ran the line, becoming the first African to do so - and for the first time in its history, Croatia plays for the title.
With a population of just more than 4 million, it’s a major achievement for the Croats. Some wag put up on Facebook recently that, with the disappointment of Bafana Bafana in the qualifiers and with a similar population, Limpopo should be allowed to represent South Africa. He said that, with their various superstitions and muti, they could easily win.
Joking aside and getting back to the more serious side, it’s been an average tournament for the match officials in my opinion.
A total of 36 referees and 63 assistant referees were selected following a stringent process that had gone on for some time before the event. Referees were being eyed from September 2014. There were 53 FIFA referee trios (teams) from around the world under scrutiny.
The choice of the final group of match officials selected to officiate was based on each referee’s skill and personality, as well as his level of understanding of football and ability to read the game and various tactics employed by teams.
These selected groups were brought to Moscow 10 days before the kick-off for a final seminar, which included the video assistant referee (VAR) system.
The major talking point in this World Cup as far as referees were concerned was the VAR system and its use and application. The referee still has the final say. He will decide whether to seek the assistance of the VAR and, based on that, will then give a decision.
There were instances when the new technology proved decisive and that could be applauded. Many people were unhappy with the time it took to reach a decision. Others said the use of the VAR slowed down the match and that momentum had been lost as far as the fluency of the game was concerned.
Well, as I said in a previous column, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. At the end of the day, it’s important that the correct decision, not the right or wrong decision, is arrived at and that justice is not only done, but also seen to be done.
There were occasions when a referee decided not to use the technology available to him and, certainly on one occasion that comes to mind, he would surely have produced a red card. I’m talking about the famous, or infamous, incident involving Neymar Jr, which I referenced in last week’s column. Generally, I thought some of the referees seemed to be getting to grips with the many divers in the game - players going down as if poleaxed by an earth remover only to quickly get to their feet when they saw their goal threatened. That can only be good.
Perhaps the players will come to realise that match officials are no longer going to tolerate their cheating and diving, and instead get on with the very well-paid job they have of entertaining the many millions of fans around the world. Will the VAR be a success? I think it will, but I also think it needs to be expanded to take in other areas not currently viewed - instances, for example, such as off-the-ball fouls, of which there aren’t too many, thank goodness.
Finally, I want to congratulate and wish well Argentinian referee Néstor Pitana, along with his assistants Hernán Maidana and Juan Pablo Belatti, for the final on Sunday.