Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

World Cup Referees

The referees for the World Cup games are truly ridiculous. They are not doing their job very well because they have consistently missed making important penalty calls, such that some of the games have gotten out-of-control at times. One especially unpleasant example was today’s Nederlands-Portugal game, where the refs missed making two particularly important penalty calls in the first half (and several more in the second half), so the game, which had the potential to be very exciting, instead deteriorated into a miniature war during the second half.

For example, the Portugal-Nederlands game had a total of 4 red cards and 12 yellow cards by my count — so many that even the refs couldn’t keep track of what was going on, and they ran out of room to seat the players who had been kicked out of the game. Yet, despite this, there were several egregious penalties that went unnoticed by the refs during the first half such that, if those penalties had been awarded, it would likely have stymied the wild free-for-all that developed in the second half of the game.

I am not sure of this is true, but the commentators said this particular game was a world record for the total number of cards awarded during a single game.

Basically, neither of today’s World Cup games was especially inspiring. I expect more from tomorrow’s games, and I am eagerly anticipating Tuesday’s match between Brasil and Ghana.


England-Ecuador 1-0

Portugal-Nederlands 1-0

Image source.



  1. #1 Evil Monkey
    June 25, 2006

    I second this. The refs have been completely inconsistent between games as well. In other games (and not just the US/Ghana game), they’ve sought to completely control the outcome of the game, going so far as to award penalty shots for fouls that weren’t even committed (e.g. taking a dive) or to totally break up the flow of the game by calling fouls on every little infraction, which encourages dive-taking.

  2. #2 gengar
    June 25, 2006

    The BBC commentators said the end total for Holland-Portugal was 16 yellow cards and 4 red – for 25 fouls committed in the game. Ridiculous. That said, the game was particularly ill-tempered and many of the cards were justified – the ref lost control early on by being over-zealous and encouraging some very melodramatic diving…

  3. #3 Caio de Gaia
    June 26, 2006

    I don’t expect much from Brazil-Ghana, it will be a one-way game. France against Spain should be a good match.

    The game was not particularly ill-tempered, the portuguese comitted only 10 fouls and got 9 yellow and two red cards. The portuguese gave Russia 7-1 in the qualifying games, so maybe that had something to do with it.

  4. #4 David Syzdek
    July 1, 2006

    Have you seen this article on the game theory of penalty kicks? It’s a good example of a zero sum game.

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