For almost a decade now, the Spanish team has been likened to the Spanish inquisition. In footballing terms: Once the Spanish team gets moving you'll lose possession and you'll never get it back.
Last night, we witnessed the end of domination by possession. The Netherlands pressed very hard against an ageing defence and counter-attacked effectively - Nicola Rizzoli controlled this possible high tension match well, but his performance was not flawless either.
Go with the flow
Nicola Rizzoli is not an authoritarian referee as such. The "modern" ref is almost too good to be true: He is supposed to be fair, communicative and approachable, but should also have a firm grip on the match when necessary and of course needs to take the right decisions. In the last few years UEFA and FIFA have tended to favour officials posessing a general "Go with the flow" approach. They seem to go into the match with a flexible policy and with a "Let's wait how this match will turn out"-strategy. This looks well-balanced and great when the teams cooperate, but leaves the threshold often in a blur. When it goes wrong, things get nasty very quickly and usually the ref never gets it back.
Where is Rizzoli in that?
Rizzoli has a medium line which is rather lenient at first but in the circus of the 'flowing' UEFA referees he's one of the stricter kind. He knows the ropes and he let go the first clumsy and reckless Dutch challenges, but after 30 minutes he gave two yellows which calmed things down. He could have easily booked earlier and I honestly don't understand why officials seem to be afraid to show cards when necessary. What I liked, was his reaction to the clash before halftime - he gave a stern warning in a calm manner and in my mind it was okay to leave it there. His 'man management' was successful on the whole - four cards was good considering the potential of this game.
The penalty: In real time this looked like a clear penalty to me. Reporters on the TV seemed to suggest that after slow-mo analysis from five angles it is no foul. If you see this on the pitch, you are likely to whistle in 90 percent of the cases. I don't think you can say this is a mistake. In German, we say "den kann man geben" (it's a likely penalty) and I would stick to that judgement. Although I understand when people argue that it looks differently in the replay. The 3-1: This is more difficult. First I thought, Casillas wants to make up for his poor performance, but with hindsight I have to say it is actually a foul on him. Rizzoli needs to see that with his experience - so only a rather good performance by him.
Refereeing at this WC
Having seen three matches, refereeing is a problem at this WC. I hope, we see better performances in the coming matches as at the moment I couldn't say that I have witnessed a "good" match by an official that left me without any doubts. Rizzoli is best so far, Nishimura is out and Roldan has a lot to show.