MARK HALSEY: BETDAQ Euro 2020 Ambassador and ex-Premier League referee Mark Halsey discusses all the latest goings on at Euro 2020, including his thoughts on England and the standard of refereeing in the tournament so far.

England must continue being well disciplined

I think Gareth Southgate is hot on discipline, which is why England have only picked up one yellow card so far in Euro 2020. You can see the players not being silly or making those rash challenges that they don’t need to make, when they’re just going in and holding, closing down the space. They haven’t had to make those challenges, so it’s good to see the players have been very well disciplined and it’s got to continue.

Discipline-wise, England have got it all sewn up. They’ve been very well drilled with their discipline and their challenges, but what comes with the knockout stages is a lot more intensity and tempo of the game, so there’s likely to be more psychical challenges, more reckless challenges. They’ve just got to keep going the way they’re going, they’ve not conceded any goals, and it could be great for the nation. Let’s hope they can keep their discipline, keep 11 men on the field and carry on the way they are, because they can go all the way and win it.

It was a good ploy too from Gareth to leave Phil Foden out against Czech Republic, if he’d have picked up a yellow he would have been out for the last 16, which would clearly have been a big loss.

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Euro 2020 referees on song

As for the referees, I think just the way they command respect, they’re on the pitch engaging with players… They’re all very experienced and it’s great to see. It’s fantastic to go through a tournament and we’re not talking about VAR! We’ve had a couple of iffy moments with decisions and VAR but you’re going to get that in a massive tournament.

In the Czech Republic versus Croatia game, the penalty against Dejan Lovren… For me it wasn’t a penalty, and I was very surprised that VAR got involved in that incident. Ethan Ampadu’s red card, for me that wasn’t a challenge that endangered the player’s safety with excessive force and brutality. For me, it was a yellow card. We’ve seen many similar incidents where the referee has just given a yellow – what was the difference with Romelu Lukaku’s challenge against Finland where he got a booking?

Portugal v France was a pulsating and fantastic game with plenty of incidents and referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz had a lot to keep him busy. For me, he got two out of the three penalties correct. Nelson Semedo’s foul on Kylian Mbappe was harsh, though. There was a coming together and contact so it was a subjective decision, but I wouldn’t have given it. But Lahoz can only give what he sees, he refereed the game well and kept the game flowing, so you can’t criticise him over 90 minutes for one decision. Players came up to him and shook his hand at full-time which shows you he had a good performance.

The standard of refereeing has been excellent. We’ve got very experienced referees and they’ve been given great leadership and direction. I think it’s been excellent; they’ve let the game flow and they’ve let it breathe. They’ve not rushed in with cheap or early bookings that put players on tenterhooks. They’re allowing the advantage, and then going back to caution the players if they’ve made a reckless challenge.

So overall I think it’s been fantastic. They’ve stamped their authority on the game when they’ve needed to – not necessarily with a yellow card, but through verbal communication. They’ve been prepared to have a laugh with the players too which is great. You’re allowed to have a laugh and joke with them, but when you get that opportunity to stamp your authority on the game you have to and the referees in the Euros have done that.

The refereeing has been superb. And hopefully it’s a lesson for referees watching all around the world, especially Europe and England. How they manage the game, the occasion and the players has been first class and let’s hope the young referees are watching and take note.

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What the Premier League can learn from the Euros

The Premier League can a learn a lot from the way the Euro 2020 referees manage the game and the players. We’ve seen in the Premier League that they’re often too quick to issue yellow cards for careless or reckless challenges. When I was a referee, I always gave the players a chance unless it was a nailed-on reckless challenge in the first five or 10 minutes.

It’s about setting your tolerance levels. These guys have set their tolerance levels and it’s exactly the same wherever you referee – on a Sunday morning or in the Premier League. We can look at the way they smile and engage with the players. They talk their decisions through and the players respect that. That’s what we need to see in the Premier League – referees engaging with the players, not being overly aggressive, talking with the players and giving them a chance. We don’t want to see cheap yellow cards like we do regularly in the Premier League.

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Refereeing Cristiano Ronaldo

I remember one game I was refereeing, Liverpool-Man United at Anfield. I always remember going out, doing your handshakes, calling the captains, and I remember looking in my pocket – ‘where’s my whistle, where’s my whistle?’ I couldn’t call the teams over so I had to dart back to the changing room and get my whistle! But as I got my whistle, walking past Cristiano Ronaldo, he was by the halfway line – I said to him, ‘don’t you be going down easy today because you’ll get absolutely nothing out of me’. And it worked, he didn’t go down easy. It’s about knowing your players, talking to your players, engaging them and getting the best out of them as it’ll be easier for you.

But as a referee they’re just players, you don’t think of them as anyone else. You’re there to referee a football match and 22 players. Although sometimes when you’re on the pitch, you might say ‘what a pass that was’. I remember officiating Newcastle versus Everton and Alan Shearer scored that wonder 25-yard strike. I was right behind that ball and as soon as it left his feet, I went ‘that’s a goal, that’s a goal’ and it went straight into the top corner. Sometimes you have to tell players, ‘what a pass’ or ‘what a great ball’. It’s about talking to players and managing them.

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