07 September 2005

Rule #1: The Call Stands

This is just odd. Uzbekistan and Bahrain are engaged in a home-and-home playoff for World Cup qualifying; the winner will face the fourth-place CONCACAF team. Uzbekistan won the first leg, 1-0. But bizarrely, the match will be replayed. Even more bizarrely, it was because Uzbekistan complained.

The problem was a clear technical error by the ref. He awarded Uzbekistan the penalty at 39 minutes. When it was taken, a second Uzbek player encroached into the penalty area. The correct call is to retake the kick. But instead, Japanese referee Toshimitsu Yoshida gave Bahrain an indirect free kick at the spot of the infringement.

That's bad. It's clearly an incorrect ruling. As a result, FIFA have decided that the match must be replayed. This is strange because it means that Uzbekistan had played well enough to win 1-0, and probably should have won 2-0 with the penalty. Now they have to go at it again, and may easily get a worse result. I'm sure that's not what the Uzbekistan Football Federation had in mind when they protested.

It's not a good thing when you second-guess a ref after the game. I'm sure FIFA felt they had no choice, given that the ref clearly misapplied the rules. But I can't help but believe that there was a better situation. The best approach would be to restart the game with the penalty, and play from there. Second best would be to just let the result stand. Uzbekistan were asking for a 3-0 forfeit win; that's clearly too harsh on Bahrain (who didn't do anything wrong). But FIFA have effectively wiped away Mirdjalal Kasimov's 12' goal, and that's clearly not deserved. When in doubt, you have to let the call stand.

I do wonder, however, what will happen to Yoshida. It's not often that you can take a match between the 50th and 53rd ranked programs, and turn it into a major international story. Now he's brought attention to the quality of Japanese refereeing in general. I'm guessing he'll soon find himself assigned to under-5 matches and prison leagues.

Your guess about Yoshida being assigned to under-5 and prison leagues is, unfortunately, wrong. In Japan, refs are regarded as sacred. They are never disciplined, and there is not even any mechanism for reviewing their mistakes in the domestic league. Japanese TV stations refuse to show replays of controversial calls and the commentators almost never criticise or even comment on bad calls. That is why Japanese officiating is in such a terrible state.

The saddest part, though, is that Japan has the best refs in Asia. Watching the officiating at an AFC match is a gruesome theater of the absurd.
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