MARK HALSEY: BETDAQ World Cup Ambassador and former FIFA and Premier League referee Mark Halsey discusses the latest refereeing decisions in the World Cup, and has his say on England’s controlled manner during their first three matches.

England’s discipline holds them in good stead ahead of Senegal clash

I think the discipline in the England camp has been exemplary, especially to receive no cautions in the World Cup so far. Gareth Southgate will be very pleased – it would please any manager – and it goes to show their discipline and the way his coaches are talking with the players when working with them. England are not diving into challenges or running the risk of picking up a yellow card in the games so far. There’s no need to go diving in, that’s what you’re told as a player – and that’s what the England players are doing!

If you stay on your feet you’re not going to risk receiving a caution because you’re not going to give the referee a decision to make. You’re always going to get those mistimed challenges where a referee may be lenient or may be strong, but I think England have conducted themselves very well.

In contrast, while England have yet to pick up a booking, Sunday’s last-16 opponents Senegal have racked up six! All of these cautions were when the tempo of the game went up and the temperature of the contest increased – Senegal were defending for their lives in some areas of their games. They won’t have Idrissa Gueye in midfield on Sunday through suspension and he’ll be a massive miss. So the contrast between the two sides’ disciplinary records are clear and it highlights the importance of staying on top of this sort of thing. It’s going to be a tough game for England because Senegal are a seriously good team – they knock the ball around very well and are strong in defence and attack, so England must keep their discipline.

At the present time England are in good stead, they really are. Watching all the group stage games, there’s not a lot between all the teams, so it’ll probably be who performs best and keeps their discipline on the day. England can’t allow themselves to drop below par like they did against USA. Of course, Gareth’s got a super squad there – so if a player does pick up a couple of yellow cards he can replace that player the next game because they have the quality and squad to do so.

Neymar is being protected – it’s still a contact sport!

When it comes to the argument of ‘are players being under-protected by referees’, I saw the tackle on Neymar in Brazil’s opener and thought the referee dealt with it correctly. Throughout the tournament, when there has been a reckless challenge that warrants a caution, we’ve seen yellow cards. Players like Neymar have to remember it’s a contact sport and that it’s a very fast game now, so you’re going to get that contact if you’re that split second too late.

You’re going to get players who get injured, like we saw with Harry Kane against Iran. It was one of those that wasn’t reckless but careless – referees can manage those situations by giving a free-kick and nothing else. You don’t want to see referees charging in with yellow cards at the first opportunity, you want to see them give the game and the players a chance, let the game breathe! It’s generally when the tempo goes up that the referees have to go up with it.

A lot of the time it’s the players who dictate how the referees officiate matches – when the temperature of the game goes up, then the referee has to go up with it, and sometimes you have to show a yellow card just to bring the game back down and to remind them who’s in control.

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VAR consistency still an issue in some decisions

If we look at the game the other day between Portugal and Uruguay, where Jose Gimenez fell down on the floor with his arm behind his back, and the ball strikes his arm, it’s not a deliberate act – he’s not made himself bigger and he’s not used his arm to block the ball. For me that’s not a penalty!

I thought it was a terrible decision for VAR to get involved with that. I wish the Iranian official was stronger in that situation and stuck with his original decision, but he didn’t. It was a poor intervention from VAR. In the Netherlands vs Qatar game, there was the same incident, but they didn’t recommend the review. There’s no consistency – they’re either both penalties, or neither are penalties, and I’m in the camp that none of them are penalties. VAR should never have got involved in that incident. Was there a clear and obvious error? No!

It shows there’s still lots of training and education to be done regarding clear and obvious errors with VAR.

Red cards correctly awarded – English refs having strong tournaments

There’s no complaints from me about the red cards shown so far. I think the respect and the discipline from all teams has been almost exemplary. They would have had that debrief before the tournament starts from the FIFA referee committee to the federations, so they all know what’s going to happen. I don’t think you can complain about a single refereeing performance, it’s all been to a very good standard. You think of one or two decisions that have happened and may think ‘that’s not right’, but it’s only been a handful, whereas in the Premier League we see a handful every weekend!

I think Anthony Taylor had a very good game in the South Korea vs Ghana clash, despite South Korea’s anger at Paulo Bento’s red card. He stamped his authority on the game when he needed to and showed a bit of empathy when it was necessary too. There were times where he could have shown a yellow card but he didn’t – that’s what you want from a referee. It was a very strong performance, he was mentally tough throughout the game, and I think both him and Michael Oliver have produced very strong performances.

There’s been a few inconsistencies and moments when VAR got involved when it shouldn’t have done, but on the whole I don’t think we can have any complaints about the standard of officiating.

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