Commonsense returns as refs keep cards where they belong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 June, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 June, 1998, 12:00am

The name Kim Nielsen is unlikely to figure among the footballing heroes of France 98, but he deserves recognition as a man who helped put the 16th World Cup back on track.

Nielsen is the Danish referee in charge of the excellent Group F match between Germany and Yugoslavia at Lens, where he did what the best match officials do: he let the players play.

Nielsen was heard when he had to be, but he did not indulge in infuriating whistling for no-account contact and he kept the dreaded red and yellow cards where they belong - in his pocket.

Ironically, the only card in the game, a yellow, went to history-making Lothar Matthaus, and he deserved it.

A couple of other tackles might have been more harshly punished - and they would have been at other venues in the preceding three days.

Nielsen used his head, but there was also a reaction from the top FIFA level to media criticism concerning the plethora of red and yellow cards that were turning this tournament into a farce.

Referees, some intent on following the original Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini guidelines to the letter, and others inclined to take a more open and logical view, were caught in a crossfire of media and official opinion.

'Do it as you would in your own countries', is now the latest edict handed down to officials.

Certainly, Nielsen brought sound commonsense to the excellent Lens game and French official Marc Batta was no less sound in his handling of the vital game between England and Romania in Toulouse.

Batta did show the yellow card to four Romanian players, but every one was deserved - and he also gave a couple of other players a ticking off. As a result, we had a full-blooded second half with both teams totally committed and plenty of body contact.

None of the contact was designed to intimidate or harm and Matta, unlike several of his colleagues in recent matches, was warmly congratulated by players from both teams.

This otherwise absorbing tournament had been in very grave danger of disruption from over-zealous referees prompted by Blatter and Platini. That now appears to have abated, but there will still be a sigh of relief when certain referees head for home after the first phase.