Friday, January 01, 2010


Advantage Disadvantage

One of my eternal pet peeves in football is referees' failure to "play the advantage", to allow the attacking side to continue with a move after an "unsuccessful" foul on one of their number. This is partly because I believe stoppages in football should be kept to an absolute minimum, and partly because I prefer seeing goals scored from open play rather than set plays.

However, a recent perusal of an old World Cup game gave me cause to think that there are particular situations where playing the advantage is not appropriate. But it needs a canny, alert referee to make the right judgement.

The game in question was the spiteful, if very exciting, Italy v. Holland game from the second stage of the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. This was a semi-final in all but name, and presented not only a fascinating clash of styles, but two contrasting halves, the first dominated by the Italians, the second by the Dutch. But it was an incident towards the end of the first half that provided an object lesson in the occasional perils of "the advantage".

The foul tally has been adding up, and the referee, a certain Angel Martinez, has already winked at plenty of rough play. When Aarie Haan of Holland receives the ball by the left touchline, three Italians immediately rush to him, and one can sense that something nasty is about to take place.

As it happens, the Italian holding midfielder Romeo Benetti dives in quite recklessly on Haan, who manages to evade the tackle (and serious injury) just in time. In rushes another Italian midfielder, Renato Zaccarelli, who prepares to emulate his colleague. Haan has had enough, and decides to get his retaliation in first: he slams his studs into Zaccarelli's leg, an offence for which he should really have been sent off. The referee books no-one...and subsequently loses control of the game.

Here is the point: Mr. Martinez clearly decided that since Haan had escaped unscathed from Benetti's foul, the Dutch momentum should have been allowed to continue. But it was quite clear, in this particular instance, that more dangerous tackles would be flying in very quickly. The sensible thing would have been to blow the whistle, caution Benetti, and gently advise both sides to cool it a little.

Of course, there are times when failure to allow the advantage is even enough to influence the course of the game: I chronicled one such instance here. Portugal v. North Korea...but, as it happens, there was another classic instance of advantage gone wrong in a game between Portugal and the other Korea at the 2002 World Cup.

Portugal's Joao Pinto was dismissed in that game for a horrible foul on a young Park Ji-Sung (see here). But what had happened was this: tempers were already flaring, and Pinto himself had just been the victim of a violent foul; thus incensed, he rushed on, desperate to retain possession, and slammed into Park with a two-footed shocker which, as Craig Foster rightly commented at the time, might have ended Park's career.

Again: this was a case where the Argentinian referee should definitely have stopped play earlier. This was in fact a more clear-cut case, since the Portuguese were by no means assured of possession following the initial foul.

It's a tough call, but perhaps a good rule of thumb is this: the more at stake, the less advantage.

What about the fact that the big teams get all the calls. Helps Brazil when they need a hand. Also France v Ireland...
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