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Euro 2008 Ref Watch: Group Stages Review

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Compared to other international tournaments, the standard of arbitration at Euro 2008 has been near impeccable so far. Apart from marginal offside decisions, there were very few other controversial decisions. But, as it is human nature to pick on every little mistake, here are five of the most ambiguous calls, in ascending order:

5) Greece v Sweden (Massimo Busacca; Matthia Arnet, Stephane Cuhat)

Near the end of the first half, Zlatan Ibrahimovic fell like a sack of potatoes after a challenge by Giorgos Karagounis. Replays showed the Greek midfielder’s challenge worthy of a red card as he deliberately kicked Ibrahimovic in the groin. The referee missed this foul and merely stopped play as the Swedish striker lay injured.

This decision did not seem to alter the outcome of the game in any way, as Sweden went on to clinch victory, but it could have set a precedent regarding dirty tactics. Had the referee not seen the incident, UEFA should have taken retrospective action by suspending Karagounis.

4) Italy v Romania (Tom Henning Øvrebø; Geir Ã…ge Holen, Jan Petter Randen)

Luca Toni was sure he had given Italy the lead on the brink of half time, but the goal was ruled out for offside. Replays showed that a Romanian defender was a bit slow in moving up and actually played the Italian striker onside.

This wrong decision could have so nearly ended in a premature exit from Euro 2008 for the World Champions. A victory in that game would have put them in pole position to qualify from the group; instead they finished that match in a draw and depended on Holland’s performance against Romania to go through.

3) Austria v Poland (Howard Webb; Barren Cann, Mike Mullarkey)

Poland scored the opening goal in that game from an offside position, but that is not why Howard Webb had to withstand heavy criticism. Deep into stoppage time, the Austrians were awarded a penalty as Kienast’s shirt was given the slightest of tugs by a Polish defender.

Controversial as it was, the decision was actually a great one. There can be no shirt pulling, holding or shoving as players await a free kick to be taken and referees should start to take action against such fouls.

2) Netherlands v France (Herbert Fandel; Carsten Kadach, Volker Wezel)

Ooijer himself admitted that the ball struck his hand in the penalty area as he tried to prevent the French from equalizing, but the decision remains controversial. There seemed to be very little intent from the Dutch defender to handle the ball. It seemed that he just threw himself between the ball and the goal and hoped for the best.

The French might not be so understanding though, as the decision proved decisive in their Euro 2008 fate. The score was 1-0 to the Dutch when the penalty appeals were turned down and an equalizer might have changed the outcome of the game which ended in a convincing 4-1 victory for Holland. France was eventually knocked out after losing to Italy in the final game of the group.

1) Netherlands v Italy (Peter Fröjdfeldt; Stefan Wittberg, Henrik Andrén)

Whether it was the best decision of the tournament or just a fortunate mistake from the assistant referee remains to be debated. What is certain is that according to the book, the decision to let Ruud van Nisterlooy’s opening goal against Italy stand was a correct one.

The Italian fans will quickly point out that Panucci, who was the last defender, lay injured off the field and had no role to play in the goal. However, the defender might have also stayed down for a couple of other reasons: a) to get the referee to stop play as he was injured or b) because he realized he had no chance of getting up in time to play van Nisterlooy offside and thought he would not be taken into consideration by the assistant referee.

The rule covers these two angles brilliantly, but what it does not cover is the possibility that Panucci was actually injured. As it turns out the AS Roma defender was all right, so there can be no complaints about the goal.

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