The Rational Ref

Observations on Fifa's Confederations Cup

The Brazilian tournament offered fans a sneak preview for next year's big event with several unusual observations

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 July, 2013, 3:32am

The soccer season in most countries finished in May, but there's been no shortage of good matches for fans this summer with a number of quality international tournaments being played around the world.

True soccer fans will have followed Uefa's U21 European Championships hosted by Israel, with Spain the victors. The Fifa U20 World Cup in Turkey, which wraps up on July 13, is easily the largest competition this summer with 24 participating teams.

If that's not enough to satisfy fans, Uefa will also host the Women's European Championships in Sweden, which runs from July 10-28.

However, it is Fifa's Confederations Cup being hosted in Brazil - regarded as the warm-up to next year's World Cup - that has been the star attraction this summer. Here are five observations from the Confederations Cup:


  • Reverse penalty psychology from goalkeepers

When Italy and Spain met in the semi-finals the match couldn't be decided during normal and over time, so it went into a penalty shootout. The two team captains, Gianluigi Buffon and Iker Casillas, are both experienced goalkeepers and are both World Cup winners. Casillas won the coin toss and surprisingly elected to let Italy go first in the penalty shootout.

This was an odd choice because statistics show that teams going first are likely to win 60 per cent of the time. This conventional wisdom is believed to be true since there is additional pressure on the team going second because it always needs to score to save the game. Ultimately, Spain triumphed, so does Casillas know something we don't?

To drive home this point, a few days later there was another penalty shootout in the third place playoff match between Uruguay and Italy. Uruguay captain Diego Lugano won the toss and, applying conventional wisdom, chose to shoot first against Italy. However Italy, in going second, won the shootout, which just goes to show that statistics mean nothing in this tournament.


  • Asia's top referee in major failure

Ravshan Irmatov of Uzbekistan, who the Asian Football Confederation crowned as Asia's Referee of the Year for four consecutive years from 2008-2011, made a howler of seismic proportions during the Confederations Cup group match between Brazil and Italy.

During an Italy corner, a Brazilian defender hauled down Italy attacker Mario Balotelli. Irmatov immediately whistled and signalled for a penalty kick. However, the ball instantly bounced to Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini who promptly scored. Inexplicably, Irmatov allowed the goal. The Brazilian players naturally complained but Irmatov insisted that he was correct to award the goal. This decision was clearly wrong and nothing can justify it.

It's unthinkable that one of the world's top referees could make such a technical error. It would be like a medical doctor forgetting to take a patient's temperature. Fifa head of referees Massimo Bussaca quickly sent Irmatov home and to his credit Irmatov has admitted his mistake. Although he remains one of the world's best referees Irmatov's credibility has surely taken a dive. Warren Buffett's famous quote comes to mind: "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it."


  • Bloody kit disallowed but bloodied tissues acceptable

The rules state players are not allowed to wear bloodstained clothing on the pitch. The referee must also be satisfied that any bleeding has stopped before allowing an injured player back on.

It was therefore surprising that Englishman Howard Webb allowed Brazil's David Luiz to return to the pitch with a large bloodied tissue stuffed up his nose when playing against Mexico. Considering Luiz was made to change his shirt and shorts because they were blood-stained, why did Webb deem it acceptable for Luiz to come on with a bloodied tissue dangling conspicuously from his nostril? A blood-soaked tissue cannot be a good sign that bleeding has stopped.


  • An awful performance by Argentina referee Abal

The match between Italy and Japan was probably the most eventful and entertaining match of the Confederations Cup. Unfortunately, Argentine referee Diego Abal had a poor performance and made two dreadful penalty decisions, which were not penalties at all. Furthermore, Abal compounded his first incorrect penalty decision by not having the gumption to send off Italy goalkeeper Buffon for apparently denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to Japan. Instead, a rather sheepish Abal showed Buffon a yellow card instead.

Sometimes these incidents can escalate and affect the referee's thought processes

Sometimes these incidents can escalate and affect the referee's thought processes, which subsequently can lead to biased decisions made subconsciously as a compensatory mechanism. This could explain why Abal later awarded a penalty to Italy after he incorrectly decided there was a deliberate handball by a Japan player. Replays show the player's arm was in a natural position as the ball ricocheted on to it.

Two wrongs do not make a right and, just like the Uefa Champions League final, this again shows that weak refereeing contributed to a truly wonderful and entertaining match.


  • Solid performances by Italian Gianluca Vialli and Dutchman Bjorn Kuipers

The BBC should replace pundits Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer with Gianluca Vialli after the Italian succinctly explained why he thought Brazil would win the final against Spain. Vialli reasoned that Brazil had an extra day's rest, enjoyed better physical conditions in the stadium where they previously played, and they went into extra time in their semifinal against Italy. Vialli predicted a two-nil win for Brazil (they won three-nil), whereas Shearer simply said: "I think Spain will win."

Europa League final referee BjornKuipers gave another exemplary refereeing performance in the Confederations Cup final between Brazil and Spain. Kuipers has been the best Fifa referee this season.

He was consistently good, showed common sense when needed, and did not hesitate in making hard and correct decisions, including sending off Spain's Gerard Pique for a professional foul on Brazil's Neymar.

Finally, statistics show that Confederations Cup winners never go on to win the next World Cup. Will Brazil - three-time consecutive Cup winners - be able to break this duck on home soil next year?

Agree or disagree? Contact Rational Ref at [email protected]