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Righting Asia’s referees ranks

by John Davidson on Jun 20, 2012

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The World Cup qualifying meeting between the Socceroos and Japan was an epic, engaging and entertaining encounter that was almost ruined by the man in the middle.

Khalil al-Ghamdi gave a confusing, rambling performance that left some fans puzzled and others furious. Several of Ghamdi’s decisions were dubious, at best, and at one point, he threatened to do a Graham Poll at the 2006 World Cup and forget that he had given a player two yellow cards and send them off.

Ghamdi is a senior ref who is regarded as one of the best officials in the Asian Football Confederation. The Saudi has been a FIFA international referee since 2003 and has officiated at the 2007 Asian Cup, 2008 Olympics and the 2010 World Cup, among other important matches. In 2010 he even won the Best Referee of the Year honour by the Al-Nadi newspaper. He is in the running to ref at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

But June 12, 2012, was not one of his best nights.

Ghamdi should not have given Mark Milligan a second yellow card for a very soft challenge. After he had, he almost didn’t send Milligan off after forgetting he had carded him twice.

Then there was the incredibly strange penalty awarded to Australia in the second half. The contact in the box was minimal, at best, and seemed like a square up for the bad decision. The Socceroos duly took the chance presented and scored the penalty to make it 1-1.

Then as the game was about to end, Japan won a free-kick. The Blue Samurai were about to take it when Ghamdi blew full-time. The Japanese have every right to be filthy, the rules don’t dictate it but fair play should have allowed them to take it and for full-time to be blown after its completion.

Now, I’m loath to criticise referees. They have a very tough job and of course remain vital for football to exist at every level – from park football to Old Trafford.

Maybe Ghamdi got caught up in the drama and high-octane atmosphere. Maybe the passionate 40,000-odd Suncorp crowd intimidated him, maybe he was out of his depth. Whatever, AFC and FIFA needs to ensure that for games as important as these the very best refs are chosen. We need the top match officials in the pressure-cooker games to ensure one bad decision doesn’t cost a nation a World Cup berth.

The top of the Asian football tree is Japan, Korea and Australia, and predictably the best referees would come from these three countries. Why was a Korean ref not made available for this game? Obviously an Aussie or Japanese official couldn’t be involved, but if the top Asian refs are unavailable shouldn’t an elite ref from another confederation be used? Fly in a European official who is used to directing play in the Champions League or in European internationals.

The AFC needs to ensure that refereeing standards across Asian continue to grow and improve. The current standard ranges very greatly from the J-League to other competitions, such as Singapore’s S-League or India’s I-League. We need to increase professionalism and make sure that our refereeing ranks in Asia have access to the best training and resources so that they are better prepared for occasions like these.