World federation FIFA has surprisingly appointed a refereeing trio from Senegal for the second round knockout tie between Belgium and Japan in Rostov-on-Don on Monday.
Refereeing chairman Pierluigi Collina was firm, in a media briefing on Friday, in standing up for the quality and independence of referees to run any match involving teams from any country or any confederation.
However Senegal’s Malang Diedhou and assistants Djibril Camara and El Hadji Samba have been placed in a delicate situation after the manner in which Japan edged out the African nation’s team in Group H.
Colombia won the group and Japan and Senegal finished level on points, goal difference, goals scored and mutual result (a 2-2 draw). Hence it was on fair play rules that the Japanese edged into second place despite losing their last game 1-0 to Poland. Decisively they had incurred two fewer yellow cards than Senegal.
The danger of the decision by FIFA – and Collina – to appoint a Senegalese refereeing trio for Japan’s next game concerns the worldwide fall-out in case of controversy over their decisions.
This is not to impugn the competence of Diedhou and his colleagues but to ponder the reason for FIFA putting them under extra, unnecessary pressure.
…Defends fair play rule
FIFA has defended the fair play criteria used to rank teams with equal records in the World Cup group stage.
Senegal became the first team in World Cup history to be eliminated because of their disciplinary record in Russia.
They finished level on points with Group H runners-up Japan, but were shown six yellow cards to Japan’s four.
“We want to avoid drawing lots as we believe teams progress based on what happens on the pitch,” said Fifa director of competitions Colin Smith.
“This is the first time we’ve used it at a World Cup, so we will review it. But, as things stand, we do not see any need to change it.”
The fair play measure was introduced in 2015 to prevent the drawing of lots.
If teams finish level on points after the three group games, positions are determined by goal difference, then goals scored, head-to-head record and fair play record.
If they still cannot be separated, the position in the group is decided by the drawing of lots.
Senegal coach Aliou Cisse said: “The rules have been established by Fifa and we have to respect it, even though we would have liked to have been eliminated another way.”
Japan face Group G winners Belgium in the last 16 on Monday.