Two Down and Waiting....
I recently completed my second game as a referee - Nigeria vs. England in Osaka, Japan. This meant that I was one of 12 referees to be assigned a second game in the first round. I was elated when I received this appointment because it was a decisive game for England (with a victory, England were off to the Round of 16) – and the appointment was also a victory for U.S. Soccer and all of its referees.
As I walked onto the Nagai Stadium field to the FIFA anthem, the crowd was awash in red and white, the colors of the English team. There was an ongoing sound, sometimes crushing, engulfing the stadium. It was the sound of 8,500 or more English supporters singing, celebrating and cheering their country on. Describing the atmosphere is difficult because this passion is seldom experienced in the United States.
As a referee, in a stadium filled with over 50,000 bodies, you are on an adrenaline rush. Your heart rate rises (and I know because I had my FIFA-provided heart rate monitor on) and goose bumps run all over your skin. Getting focused for the opening whistle is easy, but maintaining that focus for 90 minutes in 85-degree heat and high humidity is the challenge.
The game itself was played fairly by both sides and without controversy (this is important for referees in the World Cup). Since the challenges were fair and the temperament of the players was friendly, my job was to orchestrate the match, prevent injuries, and attempt to exhibit my player-management ability as a referee.
In a game such as this, the referee must do things to show their ability. Use this opportunity to show match fitness, man management, ability to read and anticipate the game and to show the proper use of advantage. Don't do anything to complicate the game, but do everything that will allow you to be recognized. Hence, in this game, I tried to show a bit of a different style of refereeing than I did the first game - a style that fit in with the teams and the particular game.
I used my personality and preventative refereeing techniques that may or may not have been visible on television. First, I spoke consistently with the players (especially during the run of play) even when there was a fair but hard challenge. I made sure they knew I was on top of play and not getting complacent.
Second, even though it was hot and humid, I ensured I was close to the play. This type of game is primed for a referee to exhibit his/her fitness level. When the ball was in the penalty area, I penetrated the area. If a goal was to be scored from a penalty kick, it was going to have to be earned.
Third, if I could use my personality instead of displaying a card, I would do so. This is not to say that a foul requiring a yellow card would be ignored if it were deserved. It does mean that if there was a situation where giving out a card was a 50/50 proposition, I would manage it with my personality. A referee has to be careful in this situation, as the game must dictate this type of approach!
Again, I had much on-the-field and off-the-field support for this encounter. Esse Baharmast came through with his impressive game analysis and scouting report. This gave me additional knowledge that normally would not be available to a referee, which allowed me to use the approach I used with England and Nigeria. In addition, my in-country supporter, Carlo Servino, traveled to the game and was able to provide real-time information to steer me in the right direction.
I had some friends who attended the game, and it meant a lot. Just knowing that I was being watched in-person gave me extra impetus to be on my toes.
The World Cup has now entered a new phase: the Knockout Phase. Teams can no longer survive with draws and losses. There is no “next game” for the losing team.
And, there may be no tomorrow for groups of referees and assistant referees. June 18 or 19 marks the day FIFA decides which referees stay through the finals and which referees must return home. This is the hard part of the World Cup. Excellent referees may be returning home prior to the Cup's completion.
As you continue your late night or early morning World Cup journey, start analyzing the following during the games:
1. The impact of the weather on the teams. Now that Korea/Japan have entered the rainy summer season, the temperature rises, the humidity rises, and the rain falls. Look to see how this impacts the teams competing. Does it matter what region of the world they are from?
2. How does the temperament of the players change now that we are in the knockout phase and the teams may know they may not have another match? Do they play more conservative or more assertive?
3. Now that teams have played four games in a short period of time, how does that affect a team's AND a player's ability to perform?
Keep watching and keep analyzing. The World Cup has only just begun.