New heights for Asia’s Men in Black
Tashkent, Uzbekistan (UzDaily.com) --
Asia’s successful campaign at the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals was not restricted to teams – our men in black also caught the eye, the-afc.com reported.
Their impressive and consistent performances in the middle saw them go even farther than East Asian neighbours Korea Republic and Japan, who qualified to the Round of 16 for the first time outside their home soil.
Two-time AFC Referee of the Year Ravshan Irmatov, of Uzbekistan, led the way with a near-perfect show in South Africa, creating records in the process. He officiated more matches than any other referee in the finals, with five, and was the youngest to do so, at 32.
Also doing well were Japan’s Yuichi Nishimura, who had four games and Saudi Arabian Khalil Al Ghamdi, who had two matches.
Irmatov was the pride of Asia, having initially raised a few eyebrows by being chosen to take charge of the opening match on June 11 between South Africa and Mexico but then earning praise for what many say was a flawless performance.
He also did well in two more group matches – Greece-Argentina and England-Algeria and then went on to referee the mouth-watering quarter-final between Argentina and Germany.
The final feather in his cap was the semi-final between Netherlands and Uruguay, with his selection for that match prompting AFC Referees Department Director Yoshimi Ogawa to quip that Irmatov’s continues to rise “unexpectedly”.
“This (Irmatov’s selection) is a very unusual thing to happen, totally unexpected,” said Ogawa.
“Of course he is an outstanding candidate to handle this match. However, considering there was only a three-day gap in between and the travelling time and distance factors, it does need a superhuman effort for any referee to fulfill this hard task.
“I salute Ravshan and Co for a job well done – the super trio from Central Asia," said Ogawa, sporting a proud and wide grin.
Irmatov’s performance in the Dutch-Uruguay game, which the Oranje won 3-2, was not without post-match discussion.
Wesley Sneijder’s second goal in the Netherlands' victory drew protests from Uruguay players, who felt Robin Van Persie was offside, but FIFA insisted the assistant referee was right in its post-match analysis of the trio’s performance.
Al Ghamdi refereed group matches France-Mexico and Chile-Switzerland and was excellent in both games even though he sent off Swiss player Valon Behrami – an action that was completely in line with the laws of the game.
Nishimura took charge of three group stage matches – Uruguay-France, Paraguay-New Zealand and Spain-Honduras – before being handed the quarter-final clash between Netherlands and five-time champions Brazil.
He capped a perfect ending for AFC Elite Referees by being named as the Fourth Official in the final along with countryman and assistant Toru Sagara, who is also his best friend.
As a Malaysian myself, I feel for Subkhiddin Mohd Salleh, the only referee from the four Asians who did not get a chance to be the man in the middle.
However, school teacher Subkhiddin, from Penang, can be proud in the knowledge that he was the busiest of the four by appearing in the most number of games as fourth official.
He had appearances, all in the group stages: South Africa- Mexico, Ghana-Serbia, Brazil-DPR Korea, Slovenia-USA, Brazil-Ivory Coast, Spain-Honduras, USA-Algeria and Chile-Spain.
It would have been a dream come true for the soon-to-retire Subkhiddin had he become the first Malaysian to referee in the World Cup.
However, even Subkhiddin laughed at those who felt there was some sort of conspiracy to exclude him as he looked forward to grooming the next generation of Malaysian referees.
Subkhiddin, who will be retired in the end of 2011, said,
“I will do all I can to see a Malaysian become a full referee in a World Cup, God willing, three World Cups from now,” Subkhiddin, who will retire at the end of 2011, told www.the-afc.com.
“The grassroots is where I will work to send a Malaysian to the middle of the pitch.”
It is a pointless exercise to create illogical theories on referee appointments. There is no pleasing everyone, simple as that.
Few would argue with the fact that Englishman Howard Webb is one of the best referees in the world and deserves to referee the World Cup final on Sunday.
Webb himself was full of praise for Asian referees, saying those who questioned the decision to give Irmatov the opening match were ignorant about the talent in Asia.
“There are opportunities available to referees from all countries to make it to the top,” said Webb.
“It doesn't matter where you come from. If you have natural ability as a referee you can make it to the very top if you work to develop your talent under the guidance of the technical structures laid down by FIFA.
“Look at Ravshan (Irmatov). One or two people in more traditional countries may have raised their eyebrows when he was appointed to take charge of the first game.
“His country may be a lesser-known football nation but everyone involved in our game knows he is a quality referee because we have worked with him for the last three years.
“He showed in the opening match and with subsequent performances that he’s a top-ranking official, with a real talent and feel for this job."
How true he is. But the main man cannot work without his supporting cast. Credit must also be given to Rafael Ilyasov (Uzbekistan), Bakhadyr Kochkarov (Kyrgyzstan), Toru Sagara (Japan), Jeong Hae Sang (Korea Republic), Saleh Al Marzouqi (UAE), Hassan Kamranifar (Iran), Mu Yuxin (China) and Jeffrey Goh Gek Pheng (Singapore) for their support to Irmatov, Nishimura, Al Ghamdi and Subkhiddin that made it a wonderful World Cup for Asian referees.
I cannot predict the future but I won’t be surprised if there was an Asian, whether from Japan, Malaysia or even Bhutan, who would one day become THE referee for the World Cup final.
The sky is the limit for Asian judges on field. And the dedication is there for them to reach the pinnacle.