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Monday 11 June 2012

Refereeing in CONCACAF

    With Canada in the midst of a World Cup Qualifying campaign it’s only a matter of time before the age-old complaints about the standards of refereeing begin to rear their heads.

    The match in Cuba was without major incident – Lars Hirschfeld had a momentary lapse of concentration, handling the ball outside his area and was justifiably dismissed. Yes, the usual one-sided match calling, as evidenced by Cuba drawing nearly twice as many foul whistles as the Canadians, was present, but that is more an indication of the disparity in size and the differences in style of play than a clear indication of bias.

    That CONCACAF, a confederation comprised some forty member nations, most of which are not Canada and the US, has a tendency to favour the Latin style of game calling – physicality punished and gamesmanship lauded - should be no real surprise.

    But is the victim complex that afflicts many fans warranted?

Here are a series of paraphrased post-match quotes from an aggrieved team:
Manager - “He made a big decision on a dubious call that altered the outcome at the death of the match after having missed a call earlier at the other end. That’s all I will say on the matter, missed calls happen, it is a part of the game.”

Goalkeeper – “I don’t believe the call should have been given, it was a strong challenge, but not punishable. There’s always something, it’s not fair, the referee was biased. Doesn’t matter, we’ll rise against that and win regardless of the referee."
"As for the goal we scored that was chalked off, where was the foul? I didn’t see a foul. Check every game we’ve played, especially with this referee, there’s always something, but we have to move on and prepare for the next one.”
    Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it.

    Are they from Canada complaining about another match against Honduras or the US, say in a Gold Cup Semifinal? Are they from the Americans complaining about how they can’t get a fair shake when they take on Mexico in Azteca?

    No, they are from Club Santos Laguna following the first leg of the Clausura Liguilla Finals (Playoff Cup Final) against Monterrey; specifically club manager, Benjamin Galindo, and goalkeeper, Oswaldo Sanchez. They are paraphrased because Google Translate is still not fluent in Spanish and turns out such unintelligible spew that it needed to be reconstructed.

    Santos were upset with the performance of the referee, Mauricio Rafael Morales Ovalle, who awarded a 94th minute penalty kick for what was deemed a foul when Felipe Baloy swiped at Humburto Suazo in stoppage time. The penalty erased an earlier Oribe Peralta strike that would have seen Santos return home to Torreon with a one-goal lead.

    The referee then decided to not card Baloy - who was carrying a booking and would have seen red, thereby missing the second leg with the accompanying suspension - for the tackle, leaving not just Santos, but also Monterrey disappointed with his decision making.

    Previously in the match, Santos had a penalty shout fall on deaf ears and a Baloy goal waived off for a phantom push.

    Santos rose above the persecution they perceived and won the second leg by the odd-goal in three to clinch the title as Clausura Champions.

    For those unfamiliar with the striped man in question - apparently an odd, controversial selection for such a big match – he also recently took charge of the friendly between Canada and the US in Toronto. Yes, the referee that seemed to think Andre Hainault not wearing the right colour undershorts in a friendly was a big deal and nearly sent him to the sidelines to get changed, just one of many peculiar decisions on the night, that drew the ire of a variety of Canadian players.

    So what’s the point of this exercise?

    Perhaps the persecution complex that has plagued the Canadian psyche over the past decade is blown out of proportion. If Mexican players, in a Mexican league feel the same about a Mexican referee, the distrust Canadians feel is warranted, but in succumbing to it, there is an admission of defeat before the match is done - a built-in excuse, ready to be drawn upon when eventually the side feels hard done by. 

    These mistakes probably happen all the time. Is enough known to say that only Canada is on the receiving end of these calls? Or is perception clouded by the fact that not enough other matches from around the region are readily available for viewing?

    The unfortunate wrong calls that have affected Canada are likely not isolated incidents, but part of a larger problem of a poor standard of quality amongst the referee pool in a confederation that needs to do more to help its member nations raise the general level of every facet of the game in the region.

    Many of the pitches are atrocious, the facilities below par, and so why should the refereeing be any better?

    Refereeing a match perfectly is an impossible task; mistakes, even egregious ones, should be expected.

    If one were to ask fans of El Salvador or Costa Rica, even Honduras and Mexico, it is certain they would have tales of a specific referee or two making a horrible decision or three, and see it as clear evidence of a bias towards them and their country.

    Maybe as Galindo suggests it’s simply part of the game, a facet of the way it plays out; especially in a region where the diversity from North to South makes the physical Canadian style a bit of an oddity - that which is different is always likely to be picked upon.

    The best course of action is to score more and concede less, so that such little setbacks are not enough to derail the entire process. Qualifying for the World Cup was always going to be a difficult task, one that is made all the more challenging by the peculiarities of CONCACAF and impossible with the wrong mindset at the start of the quest.

    To admit defeat, by waiting for the dooming mistake is to remove the responsibility to perform from oneself. Canada, if they hope to progress, will need to rise above their opponents and any adverse decisions that come their way.

    Difficult in such a low-scoring game, but it remains essential - the victim must become the aggressor, so as to never such a similar fate again. Go out and get it done; don’t leave anything to chance.

    Take the prophesy espoused by the experienced Santos keeper Sanchez to heart, “It doesn’t matter, we’ll rise against that and win regardless of the referee.”

    The result in Cuba is a good start. The next step is against the old enemy Honduras on Tuesday night at BMO Field.

    CONCACAF Qualifying makes strange bedfellows does it not?

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