Friday, 12 February 2021

Club World Cup 2020: Review

A review of how FIFA Club World Cup 2020 was officiated. 

Overall, FIFA should be satisfied with the widely good level of officiating in the seven competition matches - with one huge blot, which decided the winner. First, let's look back at how each of the referees performed, before looking at some wider trends visible in the tournament.  


On the opening day, Mario Escobar, notedly lenient in two CONCACAF finals, enhanced his reputation as a top class manager with a strong performance in the Al Duhail - Al Ahly match. Surely the game with the best atmosphere of them all (hosts and a lot of travelling Egyptians), the Guatemalan ref was well up to the task.  

His very alert, proactive approach, especially in the early stages of the match, was impressive. The one point for improvement to note was, perhaps, a loss of concentration in the calmer latter part of the game. But for sure, a very good tournament for Escobar - if not for Tigres' progress, he surely would have gotten the final.

Flexible - Escobar

The reputation of the UEFA referee Danny Makkelie does not really need much enhancing, and he reffed the Palmeiras - Tigres semifinal well. At first, trying to use his very generous line here (which he adopted so brilliantly, eg. in the Aris - AEK Greek Cup semifinal) wasn't really accepted by these Latin teams, and the Dutchman had to change his tactic.

As a consequence, his foul detection wasn't optimal in the first half. It is to Makkelie's credit, that he utilised excellent soft skills to prevent this tense tie from boiling over regardless. In the second half, he had to face quite a large number of tricky KMIs, but for my money, got them all correct. 

Dutch refereeing was unlucky not to have a World Cup final referee last time in Russia, and in 2022, it seems a distinct possibility that the cards could align for them. 

Excellence - Makkelie

Semifinal number two was handled by Emirati Mohammad Abdullah Hassan. He performed well, and was the only referee to handle a game without issuing a sanction. That being said, I was left with some doubts about this man, who comes from a politically powerful nation the Asia zone.  

Doing some arithmetic, his route to a second World Cup doesn't look totally academic. AFC has pretty safe bets from Australia (Beath), the East (Satō or even Mǎ) and Al-Jassim who has to be there, as a Qatari. Even amongst pre-listed officials, Mohammad is a step below fellow officials from his region - Faghani and Shukralla - on a qualitative level. It will be interesting to see if he finds a way into the final selection. 

World Cup, again? - Mohammad

This tournament was, of course, a historic one for refereeing! Edina Alves Batista and her two assistants made history as the first female match officials to control a Club World Cup match, a fantastic achievement, which must illicit great pride for them. Well done - but only for the history made with the appointment.  

I did wonder seeing swathes of praise (quite understandably) coming in on social media, how many of these people actually watched the Club World Cup Fifth Place Playoff itself - which is probably the point. FIFA President Gianni Infantino was watching, and stated that Alves Batista, "and her assistants did a fantastic job, they are here on merit". 

Mr Infantino and I seem to have different definitions of "fantastic". The Brazilian ref delivered the game on the most basic level, yes, but in this extremely easy match, let's say that her performance was well short of convincing. It's better not to think about what could happen if Alves Batista was in the middle of a challenging match. 

More on the problem with selecting which female officials to appoint to men's competitions below. 

History maker - Alves Batista

It wouldn't have been a proper FIFA tournament if not for CAF officials be appointed to the Third Place Playoff, and Maguette N'Diaye was saved specially for this match - even if a team from his confederation was in it.

Senegalese N'Diaye was excellent - his was the best performance of the whole competition. Ever since seeing this referee brilliantly handle a decisive AFCON qualifier, Congo DR - Liberia, I was quite excited for what he could reach internationally, and it all came together here.

To be honest, it would have been much more satisfying, if his treatment was reversed, for the man who ultimately handled the final. With two World Cup attendees in compatriots Djibril Camara and El Hadji Malick Samba by his side, Maguette N'Diaye could be a really big name for Qatar 2022.

Talent - N'Diaye

In terms of refereeing, without doubt this was the tournament of Esteban Ostojich. The only official to handle two games, the opener and the final, was the replacement for his compatriot Leodan González, who tested positive on the eve of the Copa Sudamericana final. 

Ostojich couldn't really give an impression that was much better than solid - besides some faults in the goings-on of his games, he was called for two on-field reviews: missed penalty, offside goal. Especially the situation in the final's first half, one could have expected him and assistant Nicolás Taran to get right in real time. 

The Uruguayan ref showed some small deficiencies in managing the game in Tigres - Ulsan Hyundai, and in the final, displayed solid soft skills, but perhaps not really the most convincing leadership style. Pre-selected Leodan González's strong position on the road to the next World Cup, can't have been unsettled too much this month.

Sliding doors - Ostojich

There is still to talk about the small matter of the only goal in the final...


Bascuñán's error

For whatever reason (not totally obvious, deserved winner, even competition's status amongst fans), the mistake to allow Bayern München's goal in the second half has not really had much medial resonance. Internally, the total opposite is true. FIFA have to deal with the distressing fact that - this tournament was decided by a goal that objectively should not have stood!

Julio Bascuñán from Chile, a World Cup attendee and very experienced ref, was planned to be AVAR to Colombian Nicolás Gallo in the final. Gallo, however, tested positive for COVID-19 (quite how it was only him, I'm not really sure), and Bascuñán took his place. Khamis Al-Marri deputised in the Chilean's original role.  

He correctly intervened to call an OFR in the first half, and in the second determined that Bayern's second half strike was onside. It was. However, in the doing so of which, Al-Marri and he forgot to check the goal for other considerations. 

The oversight of a clear handball by Robert Lewandowski in the immediate build up to the goal must have made Pierluigi Collina and Massimo Busacca absolutely furious - Club World Cup 2020 was decided by a goal that 100% should not have stood. Imagine if this was the World Cup final itself...

Probably, this is last time that we will see Julio Bascuñán at a FIFA competition (contrary to Nicolás Gallo, who looks excellent in the VAR role). If not for his nation of origin hosting the next World Cup, Khamis Al-Marri would probably be in quite a lot of trouble too. 

Mistaken - Bascuñán

Encouraging Signs

After the unbelievably lenient performances at World Cup 2014 under Massimo Busacca's charge, it seems that gradually common-sense and logic are returning to FIFA refereeing. After a largely successful debut for Video Assistance at Russia 2018, and improved style of handling the games (with some exceptions, though), FIFA look to be making positive strides in this regard. 

Pierluigi Collina's determination of what modern refereeing should look like in his time at UEFA (2010-18) was, in my view, the right one, and far away from what Blatter and Busacca were preparing at FIFA for Brazil 2014. It would seem the Italian's chairmanship of the FIFA Referees Committee is paying off for refereeing. 

Each official at Club World Cup 2020 operated a quite lenient use of cards in their games (and there were no real potential SFP incidents), but each ref's disciplinary choices were smart, and simply good officiating in my book.

Actually, a 2006-esque trend of trying to card out undesired behaviours in the matches was on show for those who watched closely - cautions for delaying the restart of a "slow play" nature. Such cautions in the first half were previously unbelievable at a FIFA level. 

Hopefully, referees will be given more freedom in their use sanctions at Qatar 2022 than at the previous two World Cup, and ultra-permissive performances will be discouraged by Collina and other powers-that-be. 

Let's hope FIFA don't disarm their referees in 2022

Confederational Neutrality

Watching back games from World Cup 2010 recently (no bad time for self-promotion :)), perhaps I am in uniquely good position to tell the confederational neutrality story in FIFA refereeing. 

After the perceived disaster of World Cup 2002, particularly after the performance of the Egyptian-Ugandan-Trinidanian trio in the South Korea - Spain match, FIFA sought to distance themselves from the political selection of (assistant) referees from small nations for political value. 

Besides the formation of appointing in threes, FIFA wanted to take zero risk in the appointments of AFC and CAF referees in 2006 for that reason - only four trios for those two confederations, versus ten referees and twelve assistants in Korea/Japan. 

Of them, only really Essem Abdel-Fatah from Egypt displayed had the necessary quality to handle a big match, but he was totally out, after two big mistakes in the Australia - Japan tie. 

The consequence was that only European, South American trios (plus Archundia's) were trusted with the knockout matches. AFC and CAF were not satisfied with only the third place playoff in Germany. To appease them in 2010, confederational neutrality came into existence. 

Good referees were let down by assistants in 2002

Excellent officials, such as Yūichi Nishimura from Japan, ensured that lots of tricky games in terms of appointing were well-delivered, but such a strict adherence to this synthetic rule (it wasn't broken even once) was very problematic for FIFA at World Cup 2010. 

One of the (few) things Massimo Busacca does deserve credit for, is interpreting confederational neutrality as a general guiding principle to give a fair chance for non UEFA-CONMEBOL referees, and not a hard-and-fast rule, which caused a lot of problems in 2010. 

I can't state this clearly enough: FIFA never has done, and never will, think that officials are biased towards teams from their continent(!); confederational neutrality was just a device to appease smaller associations and nothing more. It's important people realise that, it's a small but crucial nuance to understanding it.  

FIFA rules benefitted AFC, CAF and CONCACAF referees in 2010

So what of this tournament and confederational neutrality?

The officials selected gave FIFA some problems which, actually, have nothing to do with the notion of confederational neutrality. Mario Escobar refereed the CONCACAF Champions League final, won by Tigres to qualify themselves for the Club World Cup. Esteban Ostojich handled a controversial Palmeiras Libertadores semifinal match, on their road to getting here. 

It was simply illogical to pair these referees with those teams. Unlike, however, Maguette N'Diaye, who did not encounter Al Ahly in the relevant CAF Champions League knockout stage. Hence, he could handle the Al Ahly - Palmeiras third place playoff match. 

Given the officials selected and the short nature of this tournament with few matches, I don't really see what else FIFA could have done here, especially with the surprise run of Tigres to the final. I trust that FIFA will keep to their sensible interpretation of confederational neutrality at the next World Cup. 

Confederational neutrality did not exist in 2002 (nor 2006)

Selection of Female Trios

There is no need to restate my view on the selection of officials simply because of their sex and not quality on the pitch, it is just a reality we need to accept in refereeing nowadays.

However, the topic of which female referees are selected, is a highly interesting one. FIFA (and all the other confederations, who interestingly seemed to think that this tokenism was a good idea just at the same time FIFA did) have a big problem. I'll explain why. 

The fitness test to become a FIFA referee is different for female and male match officials, with the demands of the former test lower than the latter. That's logical and a good thing. Furthermore, the practical physical demands of handling matches between the two niveaus, is very different, and much more pronounced than the required fitness test times. 

To give a couple of practical examples - now retired female match officials Bibiana Steinhaus and Carol Anne Chenard were both strong managers on the pitch, and, in my view, had the required quality to lead international men's matches (indeed, Steinhaus, was promoted to one of the world's top leagues, the Bundesliga). 

Now back to this tournament specifically - I saw many referees at the last Women's World Cup with much more sophisticated styles and aptitudes than Edina Alves Batista. But, without doubt, her ability to follow play was on show in the Ulsan Hyundai - Al Duhail match. I guess you can see what I am getting at. 

Referee managers are being pushed by people above them to appoint female officials on the highest level, and they have a delicate balancing act between rewarding technical skill, and, physical condition. On the imaginary women for WC 2022 pre-selection list, which as far I can discern contains three officials, only one really convinced me on a presence level: Umpiérrez. 

It will be very interesting to see how this progresses, as we can almost definitely expect, at least, one female officials trio at the Qatari World Cup. 

Gianni Infantino stated that he wanted a female ref at World Cup 2018


It was a very good tournament for Mario Escobar and Maguette N'Diaye, and a good one for Danny Makkelie, Mohammad Abdullah Hassan (and probably, contrary to what her performance merited, Edina Alves Batista). Esteban Ostojich had the chance to impress with this sliding doors opportunity, but I don't think he succeeded in doing so. 

FIFA should be impressed and satisfied with the overall level of officiating, but furious that a video match official decided the tournament, with a careless and avoidable mistake. 

Thanks for all those who watched matches and commented on the blog :) 


  1. Caf and afc had ten referees not nine and twelve assistants in wc 2002

    1. Yes you are right, I was thinking on WC 1998 lines (5 + 4) forgetting Kamikawa and Kim from the host nations. Will revise, thanks.

  2. All of a sudden, VAR has been an absolute mess in Germany recently with many clear mistakes, what's going on?

    1. Sorry, but when VAR worked well in Germany? DFB philosophy concerning this tool (but also refereeing in general) is laughable :D

  3. Why no one else around the world, except this blog, contested the goal? Does that suggest that others do not know the rules or the fact that other referee analysts and the football world accepts the goal?

    1. Not a big echo from media for this tournament.

    2. ESPN mentioned that the goal shouldn't have stood.

    3. pretty much every german media which broadcasted it did mention that the goal was irregular

  4. Great read, brilliant résumé, thanks!

  5. On the point of female referees, they should be treated exactly the same as male referees; in other words, appointments should not take the gender of the referee into consideration. There should not be male referees and female referees, only referees!

    Unfortunately, it's becoming fairly clear, based on the evidence seen in the pattern of their appointments, that this is not the way appointments are being made. In what other circumstance does a referee, however talented, referee in the Champions League with merely one year of domestic top-flight experience and 2 Europe League games under their belt? In what other circumstance is a referee prepared to attend the Club World Cup after only 6 months of refereeing in their top domestic league? The path to the top is not the same for men and women; regardless of the motivations for it, this difference is an intrinsic detriment to gender equality.

    I did not watch the 5th placed match, so I cannot form my own opinion about Alves's performance in that game. However, your analysis of Infantino's comments does not surprise me. It seems to me that many people, both those involved in refereeing and those not, like to heap empty praise onto female referees (far more than they praise male referees) and pat themselves on the back for it, sometimes without even watching the referees' performances. Furthermore, valid criticism of individual female referees is often met with accusations of sexism from these people.

    I want to reiterate: my preference is for a referee's gender not to impact that way they are treated or viewed by viewers, players, coaches, appointment-makers, or anyone else. Unfortunately, there is growing evidence that the treatment is not gender-blind at the moment.

    1. I completely agree with your comment.

      Perhaps one way to show a clearer promotion pathway is for UEFA and FIFA alike to have published structures for the promotion of female referees into mens grades. For example after mastering the highest women's UCL matches the referees could then be added to the Mens category 2 or 1 list and the promote as normal from there, and likewise a similar hierarchy in FIFA competitions. This way we can see more clearly how FIFA and UEFA rate their referees and then all referees can be treated the same and be promoted and praised on strong performances ect...

    2. @smala017
      I disagree with you. Your criteria would mean that the career in female football (WC, CL) is worth nothing, and would put female refs in worse position because they have to reach high level in female football first. However, I do agree that they shouldnt be treated as elite without merit and delegated for big tournaments too quickly, so probably it would be a good idea to include them in 1st category (only the best of them) and from that point treat them more like their male colleagues.

    3. @Forlan I see what you're saying, and I actually don't think our opinions are at odds here. Let me explain:

      First of all, I don't think women's matches should mean nothing on the resumes of referees; I don't know exactly how to quantify them, but they should be considered in some capacity. I agree that it would help if organizations made this assessment more clear, for example, UEFA should clarify which category they believe Frappart falls into.

      My concern is that, as things stand, it appears that there are two *different* pathways to the top men's games: one pathway exclusively for male referees, and another exclusively for female referees. All referees should have the opportunity to pursue the same pathways, the same opportunities, as each other regardless of their gender. I am proposing that referees for all matches, including women's matches, are selected from the same pool. If women's matches are a valuable pathway to advance one's refereeing career, it seems unfair to exclude men from this pathway.

      Of course, it must be acknowledged that there are stylistic differences between the men's game and the women's game, so referees might have a preference for one or the other. They should be allowed to specialize in one or the other. But a referee (of either gender) should be allowed to pursue a career in men's football, women's football, or both, if they so chose; the gender of the referee should not simply block them from attempting any of these career paths. Female referees shouldn't be "required" to reach a high level in women's football before advancing to men's games; rather, any referee (of either gender) should be free to choose whichever pathway they prefer, as long as both pathways are open to referees of either gender.

      My concern is simple: it is not possible to have "separate, but equal" pathways segregated by gender. If different opportunities are provided to referees based upon their gender, this is fundamentally unequal. Perhaps this is a more long term structural issue that needs to be fixed over time; FIFA's unification of the male and female referee lists is definitely a good start.

  6. I need to said that Ndiaye and general CAF referees like Gasama need to have more chance at fifa competitions to be under considerations for Final games. On example, Dhiediou was great at WC in Russia, and I need to admit that CAF referring rise and rise. I hope that in next WC we will have another Belqoli because CAF referees can show so much, because they are I strongly believe hard-work group of referees, In terms of confederations that they come and conditions that they working in. Cheers.

    1. Gassama has deserved so much more than the one group stage game he got each time so far! In 2018 he was unfortunately limited due to the terrible actions of his original AR (banned for bribery). I hope for big things in 2022 from him!

    2. Gassama is actually out of the pre-list for 2022. Given that FIFA have obviously left him out as a conscious decision (ie. as opposed to someone 'playing themselves in'), I would be surprised to see him at the Qatar WC.

      Gassama was really good in 2014 and deserved more for delivering a high risk match (NEDCHI), also in accordance with the disciplinary guidelines, but FIFA chose to push more experienced Haimoudi instead. In 2018 he was treated fairly IMO.

      I really don't like Gassama's passive attitude nowadays; to be honest, I think he has unfortunately become 'yesterday's man'. Gomes, Tessema and especially Jiyed, Ghorbal and N'Diaye are high class officials and I am excited for what they can bring to the next World Cup!

    3. Gassama is one of CAF's specialized VAR candidates for WC22

  7. Thank you for your explanation of confederation neutrality, I never considered it that way before, I thought it was all to avoid some presumption of bias.

  8. This is a disgrace. How can FIFA allowed this??

    1. Was it same shame for Edina coming after Neuza ? Pity video did not show following female ref.

    2. Nothing important. This one is a shame for equality. FIFA should be ashamed by this unacceptable behavior.

  9. Champions League predictions for Tuesday:

    FC Barcelona (ESP) - Paris Saint-Germain FC (FRA)
    Daniele Orsato (ITA)

    RB Leipzig (GER) - Liverpool FC (ENG)
    Cüneyt Çakır (TUR)

    I also want to ask Slovenian readers for updated info about Skomina.

    1. Yes please to Slovenian readers here!!! Any info about Skomina???

  10. Happy 61st Birthday to Mr Pierluigi Collina.

  11. Today's game from World Cup 2010:

    Uruguay - Netherlands, Ravšan Ėrmatov

    (other SF on Sunday, 3rd/4th on Monday, all same time)

    1. For me, the best referee in 2010 was Irmatov. BIG surprise

  12. Would like to ask, who is in your view gentleman's candidate to be relegated as referee of La liga 1, and is Viccandi candidate to be again on top level?

    1. 1) My perception is that it will be either Melero López or González Fuertes this year

      2) Absolutely not. He has handled 0 play-offs games since his relegation and I think that he's even closer to being relegated to 3rd category. My personal favourite referees for promotion this season are Miguel Ángel Ortiz Arias (1984), Alejandro Muñiz Ruiz (1991) and Aitor Gorostegui Fernández-Ortega (1983)

    2. What is your opinion about two new referees in La liga this year? Are they Fifa potential?

    3. Well I guess it's impossible for Jorge Figueroa Vázquez, born in 1980. CTA-RFEF since Velasco Carballo's arrival became completely age-blind when it comes to referee promotions.

      Don't know if FIFA potential but I like a lot the other guy Isidro Díaz de Mera Escuderos, whose age (born in late 1989) makes him more likely to become FIFA one day that the rest of recently promoted referees. I think the next FIFA badge will be for Alberola Rojas nonetheless.

      Btw I watched both of them this afternoon, Díaz de Mera had a relatively important 17th vs 18th relegation game (correct early PK for careless trip) and Figueroa Vázquez had a good/expected performance in his 'debut' with Barcelona.

  13. What would be correct IMO:

    One list of FIFA categories, without distinction between men and women.

    The creation of FIFA Category 4, for female referees who don't referee top level men's football in their country, and perhaps a very few male referees.

    FIFA Category 4 handles primarily women's games and women's and men's youth games. The best women on this list who don't referee top level men's games in their country for whatever reason also referee Women's Champions league and top international games.

    FIFA Category 3, 2 and 1 (some knock-out stage games and finals) also referee Women's Champions league games and top women's international games. Once female referees are established referees in the top men's division in their country, they are automatically promoted to Category 3, and promoted from there based on merit.

    Women's EURO and World Cup are refereed by the 50% best women, and 50% men from 1st group and elite.


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