Last week FIFA selected 25 trios, one main referee and two assistant referees, for the World Cup. An additional eight referees and eight assistants were chosen as reserves. According to FIFA, the referees were chosen based “on their personality and their quality in football understanding”.
The process started in Sept. 2011 with a group of 52 prospective referee trios from all over the world, who were physically and mentally trained for the World Cup in seminars in different countries.
Six referees, Ravshan Irmator (Uzbekistan), Yuichi Nishimura (Japan), Macro Antonio Rodriguez (Mexico), Joel Aguilar (El Salvador), Peter O’Leary (New Zealand) and the referee of the 2010 World Cup Final, Howard Webb (England), are returning to the World Cup finals to officiate.
American Mark Geiger makes a first-time appearance at a senior World Cup event. A former high school math teacher from Beachwood, New Jersey, Geiger, 39, is the first American since Brian Hall (2002) to be chosen as a World Cup referee. Geiger has built up his referee résumé in the past few years. In addition to refereeing at the Olympic Games in London and at the Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates in December, Geiger became the first American referee to officiate a FIFA tournament final, which was between Brazil and Portugal at the U-20 World Cup in Colombia in 2011. Geiger has also officiated at the CONCACAF Gold Cup and has been an MLS referee since 2004. Sean Hurd (USA) and Joe Fletcher (Canada) will join as his two assistant referees.
Referees have a huge responsibility at this tournament since all the decisions made by them are crucial to the outcome of the game. There is no room for error this time around. At the World Cup four years ago, referees were blamed for unjust and ludicrous calls. Who will forget the USA-Slovenia group stage match when Malian referee Koman Coulibaly robbed the USA of the third and winning goal in the dying minutes of the second half. Or when Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda and his assistant both didn’t count Frank Lampard’s goal against Germany in the round of 16. How about Roberto Rosetti of Italy and his assistant giving Argentina an undeniable offside goal in their Round of 16 win against Mexico?
Some of the referees selected for this year’s World Cup have also made calls they might have regretted. In the group stage match between Brazil and Italy at the Confederations Cup last year, referee Irmatov blew his whistle and called a penalty kick for Italy right when Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini scored a goal. Irmatov reversed his initial decision and let the goal stand when it should not have. He admitted his mistake the next day. Turkish referee Cüneyt Çakır, the first Turkish referee at a World Cup in 40 years, was criticized for his excessive decision of showing Manchester United defender Nani a red card in the Round of 16 match against Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League last season. Manchester United was at a disadvantage with one less player and ultimately lost the game. Çakır’s decision was cited as the reason why Real Madrid won. Felix Brych of Germany was condemned for the same reason at the Olympics last year in the Brazil-Honduras quarterfinal match. Two consecutive yellows shown to Wilmer Crianto of Honduras in a matter of two minutes and questionable fouls called throughout the game gave Brazil the victory. Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo’s controversial performance in the opening match of Euro 2012 between Poland and Greece, which included sending off Greece’s Sokratis Papastathopolous after two unnecessarily harsh yellow cards, sending off the Greek goalkeeper and failing to award a penalty for Greece after a Poland hand-ball in the penalty area also left a bad impression. These referees will be watched closely in Brazil.
For the first time in World Cup history, FIFA is implementing goal-line technology. After a successful trial at the Confederations Cup last year, a vibration and visual signal on a watch will let referees know when a goal has been scored within one second. This will help referees and their assistants avoid making any errors.
The list of appointed referees that came out last week for the World Cup is not final. They still need to attend three seminars and will be followed and monitored until the World Cup begins in June. Should a referee and his assistants fail a fitness test before the tournament, they will be dropped. Once these final assessments have been made, the referees will be ready for the 2014 World Cup.