Following last Tuesday's World Cup 2014 qualifying match between France and Ukraine in Stade de France, Paris, there was much to say about the Slovenian referee team's performance. Even though the match featured non-stop challenges from the very first minute, which partly made referee Damir Skomina struggle, his assistant referee's blackouts were the real topic that was discussed about.
Apart from the Ukrainian team, AR1 Matej Žunič probably was the most unlucky person on the field of play and after the match when he had to realize that he made two crucial mistakes in that match. At first he wrongly disallowed the possible 2:0 goal by France for offside. As the first screenshot indicates, this decision was clearly wrong. Only four minutes later, he then allowed France's 2:0 goal despite a one-metre offside position of Karim Benzema (video).
|NO OFFSIDE. This goal should have counted.|
Memories are conjured up reminding us on the play-off four years ago where Ireland suffered from the famous mistake made by Swedish Martin Hansson - also in Paris. Of course, the situation before and in the match was totally different so that this correlation might be raised but offers no real basis of causality. One should rather start thinking about how these mistakes cropped up and what last Tuesday's night could mean for the Slovenian team in the context of the selection for the World Cup.
Both offside / onside situations differ significantly from each other. The first one was a tight call, but actually quite easy to make. The only difficulty for Žunič might have been to capture the right moment when the ball was touched before the pass (maybe his line of sight was blocked). Nonetheless, this mistake can happen although it is painful.
The second one is more crucial. First, because of the distance of the offside position. It was de facto at least one metre. Žunič would have certainly flagged for offside if he had been aware of the deflection of another French forward player which made Benzema (the goal-scorer) be positioned in "active" offside. So the real reason for this mistake is defective teamwork between Skomina and his assistant referee and nothing else. This was already visible on matchday 1 of this Champions League campaign at Old Trafford. And there must be again reasons for that. Missing experience within this referee team? Did Skomina lack in awareness for a potential offside situation that might bother his assistant referee? Why did not Žunič signal doubts by standing still instead of quickly running to the midfield line as video no.2 suggests? Difficult questions and partly there is no answer keeping in mind the extreme circumstances accompanying the officials in this specific situation. Very likely Damir Skomina is the one to be "blamed" in this situation. But in fact, a referee team that want to go to a World Cup have to be able to detect clear offsides that even a TV spectator is able to detect in live pace from a blurred angle. This does not discredit the principle that referees are humans who can make mistakes though. Neither it discredits the fact that Skomina and his team have been outstanding in several matches in the past.
The aftermath of this qualifier can be vitally important. UEFA will have about eleven or twelve places for the World Cup in Brazil including one referee who will be fourth official only. Predictions on the list that is expected to be released by FIFA either in January or in May 2014 will be posted after Club World Cup here. But what can be said already now is that Skomina, Žunič and Ul are a trio that cannot really build upon the full support from FIFA politics. There are other candidates who have stronger people behind them and whom FIFA maybe trusts more because they already know these certain referees from previous tournaments, even though the Slovenians might have performed better over the last months. So naturally such mistakes can have the consequence of missing a World Cup only due to that. In a pool of approximately 14 or 15 referee trios who have big chances to join Brazil's World Cup, the competition should be high enough. Massimo Busacca has always emphasized the need to appoint experienced and confident referee trios - he rarely talked about the main referees in an isolated fashion. That's why "Team Slovenia" could be in real trouble. What Peter Mikkelsen, FIFA Referee Committee member and observer in Paris, had to think after this match is that this team do not interact and do not "function" on the pitch as they should.
The next step of analysis would be to think about possible consequences on UEFA level. Collina and company, who seem to like Žunič as much as to appoint him also for Matej Jug's team in UEFA Champions League, have now the choice to either trust Žunič and to remain unimpressed by his mistakes in a FIFA match - and psychologically, that would be the best "therapy" in order to allow this young assistant referee to come back to his self-confidence - or to think about changing Skomina's team even looking forward to the possible World Cup participation. If we remember what happened to Alasdair Ross after Dortmund - Málaga or to João Santos after Ajax Amsterdam - Real Madrid, the second option seems to be possible. Time will tell.