No penalty

Sanfrecce Hiroshima recently lodged a complaint with the AFC over a couple of suspect decisions in their Champions League game with FC Seoul. They are still waiting for answers… (日本語版はこちらです: http://www.footballchannel.jp/2014/04/15/post36185/)

Football Channel,  April 15th, 2014

I find people – whether it be fans, coaches and players, or journalists – blaming referees incredibly boring.

Officials do make mistakes, and while other aspects of their performance – whether faults of their own (poor administration of the rules, lack of clear communication, an over-eagerness to assert their personality on games) or lack of proper support (video replays) – do often raise valid questions about improving the standard of officiating, apportioning defeats to the man or woman in the middle – or their assistants – is tiresome and unfair.

It was with some trepidation, then, that I watched the footage of Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s AFC Champions League game against FC Seoul on April 1st. The two late penalties awarded against Sanfrecce had sparked outrage on Twitter, but seeing as an incorrect apostrophe can do that I hadn’t paid too much attention.

After playing the incidents back a couple of times though I began to wonder if referee Fahad Jaber Al-Marri had been playing some kind of April Fool’s on the reigning J1 champions – or perhaps something worse.

The first penalty, given for the slightest of shirt tugs by Hiroki Mizumoto on Kim Hyun-sung at a corner in the 87th minute, was questionable enough, while the second – deep into injury time, after Takuto Hayashi had saved Osmar’s effort five minutes earlier – as a result of Kazuhiko Chiba’s innocuous coming together with the same Seoul player was little short of outrageous. Both incidents occur every single time a cross is sent into the box, why decide to punish these two instances in particular?

Rafael dispatched the second kick, which turned out to be the last of the game, securing a 2-2 draw for the home side. That wasn’t the only result though, and the final whistle sparked Hajime Moriyasu into a furious rage, with Sanfrecce’s ordinarily composed, polite, and affable coach having to be physically restrained from confronting the official. There are several coaches in the J.League who are no strangers to venting their spleen at referees but Moriyasu is not one of them.

That prompted me to forward the video on to a former top level referee I know. I didn’t provide any background information, just asked if he could tell me what he thought of the two incidents in the clip. His response was as follows:

  • No penalty (on either occasion)
  • Normal contact within a penalty area, no action required
  • Red card should be rescinded
  • Yellow card should be rescinded
  • Referee should be suspended
  • An investigation should be set up to look at possible match fixing/illegal betting

The fact that someone with experience officiating at the highest level had arrived at such conclusions piqued my interest and I was pleased to see that Sanfrecce were following up with the AFC, posting this press release to their website the day after the game.

“We have submitted a written protest to the AFC about decisions which look like they were intentionally made to affect the outcome of the game. Bearing in mind this is a competition to decide the champion of Asia this standard of decision-making cannot be accepted.”

With that in mind I thought it would be best to find out a bit about Mr. Al-Marri and what experience he had at this level.

The Qatari qualified as an international referee in 2012 and the Seoul-Sanfrecce match was just the second ACL game he had officiated in the 2014 season. His first was another draw, a 1-1 in Group H between Ulsan Hyundai and Guizhou Renhe on March 19th. In that game too a penalty was awarded to the home side, when Guizhou defender Sun Jihai was adjudged to have illegally impeded Ulsan striker Rafinha in the box. The former Gamba Osaka and Thespa Kusatsu forward wasn’t overly harmed by the minimal contact with the ex-Manchester City man though, and recovered to give the South Koreans a 1-0 lead. Guizhou equalized late on courtesy of a Yang Hao header.

Of course, deliberately affecting the outcome of a game is a serious matter – as is accusing somebody of having done so – but unfortunately at the time of writing I was yet to receive any response from the AFC with regards to how Sanfrecce’s complaint was being processed.

“This situation is a perfect setting for match fixing: award a penalty for something in a crowded penalty area which leaves the decision debatable but not conclusively inaccurate,” my referee contact – who asked to remain anonymous – said. “What [the referee] could not have known was that the penalty would be saved. Therefore the second penalty opportunity arises and bang, he takes it, scores and there’s a 2-2 scoreline – an unlikely outcome which I would suggest may well have got good odds.”

I sincerely hope that this is all entirely innocent and nothing to be concerned about. Just one of those things that happens in football. Until that is proved though Sanfrecce, the J.League, and the JFA must do all they can to press the AFC for answers. No penalty was the correct decision in the game, but if foul play is proven off of it then one is a necessity.


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