It was an early Saturday morning after a late Friday night for this Blogger (so sue me if I go astray!) After toasting the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings well into the wee hours of the morning… who am I kidding? I was asleep before 11:30, with my alarm set for 8:00am in great anticipation of the debut of our hybrid North American officiating team in Brazil:
GROUP C, Match 5
14 June 2014, 18:00 CET
Estadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte
COLOMBIA - GREECE
Referee: Mark GEIGER (USA)
Assistant Referee 1: Sean Mark HURD (USA)
Assistant Referee 2: Joe FLETCHER (CAN)
Fourth Official: Alireza FAGHANI (IRN)
After two match days and four results in the books, we’ve already seen two games stained by officiating controversies (is “controversy” a strong enough word?). So the referees and assistant referees managed to spoil only half of the games… reminding me of Jack Nicholson’s line in the 1996 film “Mars Attacks” after the aliens take out Congress:
“I want the people to know that they still have 2 out of 3 branches of the government working for them, and that ain't bad.”
Spoiler Alert: The soccer gods are smiling over Belo Horizonte. On Flag Day here in the United States, we didn’t have over-zealous assistants raising the flag to nullify good goals today. And we demonstrated that our referee is as good as any we’ve seen in the tournament so far.
ESPN commentator Adrian Healey made the astute declaration midway through the second half: “The Coffee Growers have something brewing in Group C.” Colombian soccer has returned to the world stage for the first time in 16 years. And today, it was very impressive indeed, as 62,000 Colombians in attendance were treated to a thrilling home-away-from-home match.
Also today, for the first time in 12 years, an American whistled a match in the FIFA World Cup… and Mark Geiger’s performance was equally impressive.
I don’t much like grading on the curve, so let’s get that out of the way first: today’s officiating performance was clearly one of the two best of the five games played in the tournament to date… again, that’s not saying much, but there you have it.
After two days of extreme disappointment and frustration, the performance of the officiating team – and in particular of Mr. Geiger – was exactly what this tournament needed. The team of Geiger, Hurd and Fletcher looked solid – accurate decisions, crisp signals, poise, and confidence – for the full 90+ minutes. A very effective performance. They presented extremely well, they deserve excellent marks, and they most certainly deserve another assignment… and soon!
When working “the big game,” it always helps settle your nerves and boost your self-confidence (not that Mr. Geiger and team needed either today) when you get the first call correct (throw-in to Greece 25 seconds into the game). And Mr. Geiger demonstrated excellent poise by identifying a great “advantage” decision in only the 4th minute.
I am convinced that someone told him to read my last Blog (remember “Count to One?”).
Overcoming language barriers, effective international referees communicate concern, disappointment, compassion… even anger when it is truly warranted – and Mr. Geiger did so very well in this game. His interaction with players was outstanding: his body language was solid, his gestures reinforced facial expressions, and he used both the “quiet word” and a few choice not-so-quiet ones when the game needed it.
Use of the whistle and whistle tone? Effective as well – long whistles before each of his three well-chosen cautions (we all knew what was coming!), and little whistles for little fouls. Foul recognition and selection? Spot on – the feedback from “the game” (that would be the players and coaches… and to a lesser extent the ESPN commentators) was positive throughout the game.
The three cautions issued were deserved and clearly warranted. In my opinion, the one to Greece’s Sokratis Papastathopoulos the 52nd minute was the worst foul of the game… but the caution was sufficient , correct and fair in this game.
Flow? Somewhat predictably, the second half opened with fluid and dynamic play, and our officiating team was well-prepared for it. The early challenge by Greece’s Georgios Samaras against Juan Zuniga gave an indication that the second half would be wide-open and end-to-end. It was, but to no one’s surprise, Mr. Geiger continued to demonstrate a very impressive fitness level throughout, staying consistently on camera and in ideal position (and some of you are probably thinking, “if only he had Salazar’s arms to go with that set of lungs.”)
Joe Fletcher and Sean Hurd gave excellent support throughout the game, with no decisions overruled and no flags raised prematurely. Mr. Fletcher correctly identified an upper body unfair challenge by Mr. Samaras that resulted in a free kick to Colombia near the touchline… and the free kick led to the Colombia corner that produced their second goal in the games 58th minute.
Both assistants made correct offside decisions… and although we consider it basic and second nature, we give a thumbs up to Mr. Hurd for keeping the flag down on the first goal when a Colombian was clearly in offside position to the right of the Greek goalkeeper – but his presence had absolutely no bearing on the goal being scored.
Moment of Truth? There probably wasn’t one, and that’s OK.
The FIFA website (FIFA.com) has tagged the tournament as “All in one RhythmTM.”
On this sunny afternoon in Belo Horizonte, we clearly had an officiating team operating in one great rhythm… and I can’t wait to see what next awaits them. As we await the announcement, for those who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Mark Gieger, FIFA has posted introductory videos of each of the tournament referees on its website.
Los Angles: Where Nationalism and Localism converge
I already gave the boss a heads up for Monday. I’ll come into the office, and I will work a full day… just don’t expect me to actually accomplish anything. Oh, and don’t interrupt me for any reason after 12pm. After we toast the NHL champion Los Angeles Kings in their downtown parade, my attention will immediately shift to Team USA and their clash with Ghana.
Hopefully, on Tuesday, we’ll be discussing a great victory, terrific goals, and inspired play… and not referee decisions!