In a World Cup that has been beset by discussions and disputes about officiating, FIFA was not handed any favors by English official Howard Webb today.
And The Beautiful Game was not handed any favors by either side of the matchup.
A dozen or so yellow cards (along with 47 fouls, including some dives that would have contended in the Olympics), with three blatant foul-ups, will not help settle any of the disputes about officiating. And the mediocre display will likely not win any new fans to the game.
There’s no question that Netherlands was chippy. Spain was more aggressive, and the aggressive team often gets the benefit of calls because they get to the ball first. Netherlands seemed to be a half-step behind for a lot of the game.
Overall, the officiating wasn’t horrible. It was just that there were an awful lot of cautions, and three really strange calls.
A Netherlands player inexplicably received only a yellow card after a landing a studs-first blow into the chest of a Spaniard. It is hard to imagine what type of explanation other than “I didn’t see it” can justify only a yellow card there. But of course Webb saw it; he waved the yellow for it. It was dangerous. It was brutal. It was ugly. It was a red card offense.
Later, just minutes before the end of the game, Netherlands forward Robben was clearly impeded from behind on a breakaway to the goal. He tried to stay on his feet to save a scoring chance, which was blocked, due to a great play by Spain’s keeper combined with the defensive foul. The defender, Puyol, would have received a second yellow (possibly a straight red), consigning Spain to play a man down for the remainder of the match. But Webb waved the play on.
When you compare this play to the play that led to the second yellow for Netherlands Heitinga, it makes it even more curious. Heitinga’s foul from behind was clearly far less egregious than Puyol’s and Puyol’s was a desperation play to prevent a scoring chance on a dead breakaway.
Then in extra time, just before Spain’s goal, a goal kick was awarded to Spain, even though the ball clearly had been touched by Spain on its way off the pitch. Rather than a corner kick for a possible scoring chance, Spain received a goal kick that released the pressure and led to their goal.
Four years from now, it will be interesting to see what technological advances are incorporated into the World Cup. Chances are that it will not (and should not) change anything that happened today. Only keeping the card in the pocket, or showing an early red to calm things down, will do that.
The Netherlands lost because they failed to score, and they allowed a goal. They lost because they got chippy and did not play their game patiently. You can’t blame that on the men in blue shirts.
If you want to win, you gotta play better.