I have already posted complaints about the quality of refereeing at the World Cup. Tonight’s game was no exception. The Argentinians deservedly won, but they realised early that the Swiss referee gave them a free kick whenever they dived – so they dived a lot.
I still had a xenophobic inclination to assume that the bad referees were the foreign Johnnies. Only in Italy, I thought, can the directors of the major clubs tell the Football Association which refs they wanted for which games.
But sadly, the first referee to be sent home for incompetence in this World Cup was Graham Poll, the English ref. who failed to send off the Croatian defender Simunic in the game against Australia. (For the benefit of the uninitiated, a player can be sent off – shown a red card - for maliciously dangerous play, or given a yellow card for committing an offence of a somewhat more polite but potentially equally dangerous nature. A second yellow card means you get sent off for a Second Bookable Offence [SBO]. Poll unfortunately issued Simunic with an SBO, but did not send him off until he had committed a theoretically impossible third, or TBO.)
One might have thought that one of the functions of the two linesmen might be to prevent such a lapse, and that poor Mr Poll might reasonably have passed some of the responsibility to them – or even to the Fourth Official (American) with whom he was in permanent telephonic contact - who also failed to count the Czech’s earlier misdemeanours. But no, he took his punishment like a man. Poll galloped, and is now on his way home, banned for life from refereeing World Cup matches.
But ‘life’ sentences mean as little in football as they do in the criminal justice system, and my guess is that the blazered buffoons in the FA will forget Poll’s sins as readily as he forgot Simunic’s, and that, before long, he’ll be back issuing multi- coloured cards as if he were a croupier at Caesar’s Palace.
All we can hope for is that in tomorrow’s knock-out game against Ecuador, England’s footballers will be better than its referees.