This match went pretty much as expected. Barcelona dominated the possession, passed superbly, scored three lovely goals and made a very good Manchester United team look pretty ordinary. And in amongst it all was Viktor Kassai, who did his job with quiet efficiency and was, as expected, excellent.
A feeling for the occasion
Kassai was very impressive at last years World Cup, demonstrating in the semi-final that he knew how to handle a match with compassion and leniency, and I thought that he was the ideal candidate to referee this match. He understood the occasion again tonight, contributing to a game that was free flowing and fairly contested. The players seemed to respond well to his lenient approach and worked with Kassai to ensure there were only 21 fouls in the match.
While it was not a dirty match, Kassai did have a few decisions to make. Both sides had appeals for penalties turned down in similar circumstances. In the 10th minute the ball struck Evra's hand in the box, while in the 78th minute Giggs struck the ball against Villa's hand. Neither instance was deliberate handball and Kassai was right to turn down the appeals. In the build up to Manchester United's goal, Giggs may have been offside. The replay tends to suggest his torso was an inch or so ahead of the defencive line, but this was such a tight call that it would be ridiculous to criticise the assistant for missing it.
Kassai got through the first half without having to show a yellow card, and was satisfied to give the players a public reprimand. But around the hour mark he showed a yellow to Alves for a sliding challenge and a couple of minutes later Carrick made a late and clumsy challenge and was also rightly cautioned. These cards had the desired impact, and there were no more reckless challenges. Valencia was also correctly cautioned for persistent infringement, having committed 4 or 5 careless fouls. However, I think that the yellow for Valdes was harsh. It seemed to me that the Barcelona keeper was anticipating a substitution and was not deliberately wasting time.
Kassai's performance in this match was very impressive, and as the youngest ever Champions League final referee he certainly proved that if you're good enough then you're old enough. As ever his fitness was superb. But due to the line that UEFA makes the referees run with the AARs, he was a long way from play sometimes. I definitely think it is time UEFA abandoned that silly experiment, which has been almost embarrassingly useless. And while Kassai really was superb in this match, he would have had another 10 chances for the final. Last year Claus Bo Larsen was overlooked, and this year Frank de Bleeckere, who has been one of the best and certainly the most consistent referee for the last 6 years. It's a shame he will never have a final.