Euro 2012 begins with refereeing controversy!

The year’s biggest soccer tournament — Euro 2012 – has just got under way. We, of course, anticipated that the tournament would provide a fertile ground for interesting articles about the game and, obviously, refereeing. But we did not suspect that we would be so quickly confronted with controversial refereeing decisions. Well, in the opening game of the tournament between the host nation Poland and 2004 Euro Champions Greece, Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo was the center of controversy.

The controversy began in the 35th minute of the game when Mr. Carballo decided to issue a yellow card to Sokratis Papastathopoulos, the Greek defender, for allegedly illegal aerial challenge. We previously blogged about aerial challenges, the use of elbows, USSF’s advice dealing with these types of challenges and agreed that illegal aerial challenges should be swiftly punished. However, as we witnessed the situation at hand, it appeared to us that the Greek defender challenged and won the ball in a legal manner. Indeed, the replays confirmed our initial reactions. The Greek defender did challenge for the ball legally. As he rose above the Polish striker, the Greek defender did not use his elbow and cleanly struck the ball with his head. The referee mistakenly called a foul and further compounded his error by showing the defender a yellow card.

The mistake was going to reverberate even louder before the first half was over. In the 44th minute of the game, the referee called a foul on Papastathopoulos yet again. But the footage showed that the polish striker who was supposedly fouled appeared to slip on the surface. It looked to us that his fall was self-inflicted and that the Greek defender had nothing to do with it. Still, Mr. Carballo thought otherwise and showed him his second yellow card, which resulted in his ejection from the game.

Fortunately for Greece, they were able to pick themselves up and scored an equalizer in the second half of the game. The 10 man Greece could have — and should have – been up 2:1 over Poland but Giorgos Karagounis could not convert the penalty kick in 69th minute of the match.

The penalty and the send off of Wojciech Szczęsny, the Polish goalkeeper, was a perfect example of a correct referee decision properly applying sanctions for a player’s foul that denied his opponent “an obvious goal scoring opportunity.” According to Law 12:

Referees should consider the following circumstances when deciding whether to send off a player for denying … an obvious goal scoring opportunity:

  • The distance between the offence and the goal
  • The likelihood of keeping or gaining control of the ball
  • The direction of the play
  • The location and number of defenders

All of the above enumerated factors required the referee to send off the Polish goalkeeper. First, the Greek striker was already inside and in the central part of the penalty area when he was fouled. He was merely 11 yards away from the goal. At the time he was fouled by the Polish goalkeeper, he was in full control of the ball and would have maintained that possession but for the foul. Third, the Greek striker was moving towards the goal when his foot was clipped. Finally, all Polish defenders – who were clearly caught off guard – were well behind the Greek striker and nowhere near the ball. Clearly, the Greek striker was denied an obvious goal scoring opportunity when the Polish goalkeeper clipped his foot inside the penalty box. The referee correctly pointed to the spot and sent off the Polish goalkeeper.

Rather deservedly, the game ended in a 1:1 draw. Poland was a much better team in the first half of the game and created at least 3 or 4 great scoring opportunities but converting only one of them into a goal. In the second half, somewhat surprisingly, Greece was a dominating side and, had they converted the penalty, they would have been the winners of the match. Thus, the draw seemed a just result for both teams.

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