Respect

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 21st 2015)

Reputations

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Carlos Velasco Carballo rapidly established himself as Spainʼs top referee since deciding to concentrate on officiating in 2010. He had built up a reputation as a firm but fair referee – one who managed to combine a disciplinarian streak with letting the game flow. This was quite an achievement. It was not unusual for there to be several yellow cards and the odd red card too.

Armed with the appropriate FIFA badge, Velasco Carballo refereed his first international in 2008. His first season refereeing past qualifiers for the Championʼs League coincided with a meteoric rise. In that season he was awarded the 2011 Europa League Final in Dublin. Radamel Falcao García Zárate – then playing for Porto – set a Europa League (UEFA Cup) record for goals scored in the competition.

It was a niggly match settled by a solitary goal scored by Falcao and liberally peppered by fouls and cards. 42 fouls resulted in eight yellow cards. This was a typical Velasco Carballo performance. The following season, he continued where he left off. Velasco Carballo refereed 19 Primera División matches and brandished 16 red cards.

He was Spainʼs representative at Euro2012 ahead of the more experienced Alberto Undiano Mallenco. He refereed the opening match in Poland against Greece. Sokratis Papasthapoulos was controversially sent off, having received two unfortunate yellow cards.

Stock

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Velasco Carballoʼs stock plummeted at the World Cup in the wretched quarter-final between Brasil and Colombia. Some say the occasion got to him, but that does not explain his performance. It wasnʼt just the record tally of fouls – 54 – some of which were appalling. Flagrant encroachment at a free-kick was not only unpunished, but rewarded. It was a performance that defied explanation.

He permitted over 40 offences before brandishing a yellow card in that match in Fortaleza and the first was for a comparatively trivial offence compared to what had gone before and later. FIFA insists that there was no directive to referees to show leniency when it came to showing cards and refused to criticise Velasco Carballoʼs performance in Fortaleza.

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Diego Maradona and Falcao were scathing in their criticism, but they werenʼt to know that Velasco Carballo had officiated against type. It remained to be seen how the Spaniard would perform post Fortaleza. If FIFA was correct and there was no directive then Velasco Carballo must have chosen to abandon his previous style and referee in an alien fashion, which he would no doubt stick to.

The Renaissance

His reputation had taken a mauling during the World Cup. But the signs were there after the World Cup that Velasco Carballo had refereed that match in an alien manner. Last December he refereed Eibar versus Valencia. There were 21 fouls, but 10 yellow cards, four in the last ten minutes. His first match of the new year took place on January 3rd between Sevilla and Celta de Vigo. There were 45 fouls. Velasco Carballo showed nine yellow cards and one red.

It was nowhere near as dirty a match as that infamous quarter-final. A league match between Real Sociedad and Villarreal last month had 24 fouls. He brandished ten yellow cards and a red card too. Just over a month ago he refereed a local encounter Levante versus Elche. Velasco Carballo showed a red card to David Navarro after just 6 minutes. He also showed six yellow cards. There were 26 fouls in the match. Clearly, this was not a referee who would not use his cards if the offence warranted it in Spain. What about in European competition?

He officiated the match between Schalke04 and Maribor in September. There were 24 fouls and five yellow cards were shown, all in the second half. He refereed FCK versus Bayer Leverkusen last August. Each side committed 12 fouls. He showed six yellow cards. Anderlechtʼs home defeat by Arsenal resulted in just three yellow cards with 27 fouls. Ajax beat the Cypriots APOEL comfortably at home in December. The 4-0 drubbing had 16 fouls, 8 each. Two Cypriot players were the only ones booked. It was hardly a dirty match deserving a flurry of cards.

His latest international after the World Cup was a Euro2016 qualifier between Iceland and the Netherlands. Iceland won 2-0. There were 23 fouls and only one booking – Nigel de Jong in the last ten minutes. But all of these statistics donʼt necessarily tell the whole story – not all fouls deserve cards. I have seen only two of his matches since the World Cup – Sevilla versus Celta de Vigo and last Thursdayʼs Europa League tie at White Hart Lane. His performances were true to form. Fortaleza was an aberration.

The Return

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Fans of los Cafeteros present at White Hart Lane would be forgiven a double take or two at his performance on Thursday night. It was the same referee who lost control of the quarter-final between Brasil and Colombia. There was never any danger of a repeat dose tonight as long as there were no ludicrous directives. It soon became clear that there were not.

Just three minutes into the match those familiar with the style and performances of Madrid-based referee Carlos Velasco Carballo – remember him – saw a familiar sight. The real Velasco Carballo jogging over to Spursʼ right wing with intent. Gonzalo Rodríguez brought down Andros Townsend. It was a bad foul that deserved a booking and got one.

Velasco Carballo had made it clear where his line was and the match quickly settled down. There was no danger that this would degenerate into foul fare. The referee was in control. The whole match had 24 fouls and just three yellow cards. The refereeʼs authority was never in doubt and it flowed. There was no need for more cards. This is the real Carlos Velasco Carballo.

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Pockmarked

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (January 9th 2015)

Licence Revoked

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Colombiaʼs Golden Boot winner James Rodríguez Rubio – a joy to watch during Brasilʼs World Cup – was denied the right to play when Brasil and Colombia met in the quarter-final. Rodríguez was targeted as was Juan Guillermo Cuadrado and also Neymar in retaliation later. A match that should have been a mouthwatering tie was pockmarked by a tournament record 54 fouls.

Arguably the challenge that ended Neymar’s tournament would not have happened if control had been taken by the officials and maintained. This was a match that illustrated the need for the rules of the game to be respected and enforced. Without it matches like this descend into chaos.

Rodríguez and los Cafeteros lit up the World Cup previously with their delightful attacking play and infectious joy they were experiencing while playing. They were up to that point the only team to have won all their matches in that tournament in regulation time. They and football fans were robbed as their licence to entertain was revoked and cynical fouling and other cheating rewarded instead.

Responsibility

But Colombia bears responsibility too. In the first 20 minutes they outfouled Brasil, but the nature of those fouls was interesting. They were nowhere near as cynical or brutal as what followed. Brasil deserved their lead in that period, but their fouling even then was cynical and it was no coincidence that the main target throughout was Colombiaʼs star Rodriguez with the entertaining Cuadrado not far behind.

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When asked about their World Cup experience Sevilla striker Carlos Bacca said “I am happy”. Despite their best performance ever in the World Cup Finals, this team was capable of more. They were genuine contenders. They did very well, but they were robbed of the chance to do even better. And football was the ultimate loser – cheated of a good example leading to success, just four years after the disgraceful exhibition in the World Cup Final of Africaʼs World Cup.

Blatant

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James Rodríguez was denied protection from referee Carlos Velasco Carballo, normally a strict no-nonsense official. Brasil flouted many rules, including distance on free kicks without consequence or sanction. Colombia naïvely largely observed them until they cottoned on to the fact that Rodríguez in particular had been targeted by a cynical Selecão, lacking Rodríguezʼ ability with few exceptions.

The ultimate insult was Rodríguez being booked for a tackle that bore no comparison to the hacks he had endured. David Luiz scored a fantastic goal from the resulting free-kick. Interestingly, Colombia had observed the rules on that free-kick. Their wall stood behind Velasco Carballoʼs white line and did not encroach.

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Compare that to Brasilʼs conduct at a free-kick taken by Rodríguez in the first half. The free-kick – admittedly controversially given against Fernandinho over a 50-50 challenge with Victor Ibarbo Guerrero with both players potentially at fault. That decision went Colombiaʼs way, but once given the rules seemed to be discarded.

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Note the position of officials as Rodríguez strikes the ball and those of the two defenders who had plainly rushed out of the wall long before it was taken. Even the line drawn by the referee was invisible as the wall had encroached anyway. Some payers never stood on the line, let alone behind it. The encroaching began as soon as the referee turned his back on Brasilʼs wall.

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Nevertheless, it was obvious that there had been massive encroachment when it was taken. Both Velasco Carballo and his assistant referee cannot have failed to see it. So what were the consequences for this blatant cheating? Nothing. Not a yellow card – not even the free-kick being re-taken. Not even talking to. Play continued as if nothing had happened.

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The Shameful Precedent

And it wasnʼt Brasilʼs first offence of that nature. Fernadinho had brought Rodríguez down near the half-way line previously. Rodríguez wanted to take the free-kick quickly, but was prevented from getting up by Fernadinho and more so Paulinho, who had to be pushed out from in front of Rodríguez.

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The much-maligned Fred – less than a yard away – tried and failed to intercept it when it was taken. Ibarbo received it, but seeing the referee running towards him thought that Velasco Carballo had called play back. The result of such unsporting play? Brasil got possession and counter-attacked from it. All of this unsporting conduct took place under Velasco Carballoʼs nose. He did nothing. No card, no talking to, no warning – nothing. Small wonder it was repeated.

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And then there was Thiago Silvaʼs shameful shove on Cuadrado with the ball yards away – unsporting conduct to put it mildly. The Brasilian captain should have been booked then with less than 40 minutes played. He was far from the only player to deserve a card by then. Worse was to follow – far worse.

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Colombia down the USA

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 14th 2014)

Enhorabuena los Cafeteros

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A record-breaking crowd for an international at Craven Cottage saw Fulhamʼs ground turn into a suburb of Bogotá for the night as Colombiaʼs World Cup stars beat Jürgen Klinsmannʼs new look USA 2-1. Sunderlandʼs Jozy Altidore converted a penalty to give the USA a shock lead, which they retained until the hour mark. Second half goals by Sevillaʼs Carlos Bacca and River Plateʼs Teófilo Gutiérrez gave los Cafeteros the win.

I think in the first half of the match we started off well” US midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said. “We imposed ourselves physically and we started off aggressively which is the things we talked about to make Colombia problems. I think we were able to do that, but then again in the second half we fell off, stopped being as aggressive and dropped our lines too deep and allowed them too much space to play and when you give a team like Colombia too much time and space they have great players who can find the ball between your lines and it showed in those two goals they scored”.

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Shock

Bedoyaʼs tenth minute free-kick created havoc in Colombiaʼs defence. AC Milanʼs Pablo Armero handled it and the Polish referee pointed to the spot despite protests from the Colombian players that Rubio Rubin had fouled Armero. The officials remained steadfast although the replays suggested that the Colombian had been impeded.

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Altidore out-thought Camilo Vargas deputising for the injured Arsenal goal-keeper David Ospina to give the US team the lead. Colombia, captained by Real Madridʼs James Rodríguez had the better of the play in both halves. Brad Guzan was the busier keeper. A 20th minute Rodríguez free-kick fizzed past Guzanʼs left-hand post. Slightly earlier Bacca headed over from Rodríguezʼ cross and the the Sevillaʼs striker also hit the post from Gutiérrezʼ cross.

Competitive

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Colombia should also have had a penalty as the first half drew to a close, but Polish referee Szymon Marciniak waved away protests led by Sevillaʼs Carlos Bacca, whose shot had been blocked by Jermaine Jonesʼ hand. Moments later Rodríguez was left in a heap after being scythed down by John Brooks. Marciniak gave nothing – a familiar story for the gifted play-maker.

But it wasnʼt all one-way. Abel Aguilar, who plies his trade for Toulouse in Franceʼs Ligue Un escaped sanction for a terrible foul on DeAndre Yedlin. He didnʼt learn, receiving a well-deserved booking for another bad foul on Alejandro Bedoya. Altidore was also booked for fouling Fiorentinaʼs Juan Guillermo Cuadrado in an eventful first half that Colombia shaded, but trailed at half time.

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I think James is the play-maker of this Colombian team. Heʼs absolutely fantastic player, but I think Cuadrado is an amazing player. I donʼt know if he had his best game today in terms of showing his pace when going behind the lines, but you could see how quick he is and how the way he moves off the ball and everything. Heʼs a great player as well, but James is the key to this team”.

Class Tells

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Two minutes into the second half Rubin had the chance to double the USAʼs lead from Bedoyaʼs cross, but his diving header went wide of Vargasʼ left-hand post. With an hour played Colombia got their equaliser, although it had an element of controversy to it. “It was offside”, Jones said emphatically and he had a point of sorts. “I am happy with the goal”, Bacca said. He was also satisfied with Colombiaʼs performance in the World Cup.

With an hour gone Gutiérrez was in an offside position when James Rodríguezʼ deft flick was latched onto by Bacca who rounded Guzan and scored from a tight angle. Gutiérrez never touched the ball or went for it – Bacca, who was onside, did. According to the rules it was not offside even if perhaps it should be. The US youngsters have a stark lesson to learn – play to the whistle.

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The greater quality told as an incisive move by the Colombians culminating in a sumptuous cross by substitute Edwin Cardona was finished by Gutiérrezʼ header to the delight of the raucous crowd – didnʼt know there were so many Colombians in London.

Bedoya was in reflective mood. “We have to fix something mentally, because I feel like the last three or four games weʼve given up late goals, but this what we play these games for – to learn from these games and keep progressing”, he said.

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Testing Times

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 14th 2014)

Friendly

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Fresh from their World Cup heroics Colombia and the USA meet in a friendly at Fulhamʼs Craven Cottage tonight. Jürgen Klinsmann has a new look squad as veteran keeper Tim Howard is taking a break from international football. Aston Villaʼs Brad Guzan will provide the last line of defence. “You want to test yourself against the best,” he said of the prospect of facing Real Madrid star James Rodríguez and Fiorentinaʼs Juan Guillermo Cuadrado.

Yesterday, ticket sales reached 23500, which equalled the record for an international at Craven Cottage. Obviously itʼs a very traditional and very special place”, Klinsmann said of the ground. “That we get the opportunity to play a friendly here means a lot to us”.

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Comfort Zones

Klinsmann had to make changes since July. “Weʼre looking forward to an exciting match to a game that gives us a very good benchmark against a team that is in the top five in the world with outstanding players”, he said. “We have a good group of guys here. They are eager to show what they have”.

Klinsmann said that the long-term vision was 2018 and that they were looking forward to playing José Pekermanʼs team. “For us, itʼs huge to play those type of games outside of our comfort zone away from the United States in order to grow and to learn, especially for the younger players you know to face all these top players that Colombiaʼs has”.

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He was impressed with los Cafeteros. “I wouldnʼt say it was a surprise, because prior to the World Cup when you talked about all the nations that qualified there a lot of people mentioned Chile, a lot people mentioned Colombia, how good their individuals, the quality that they have – one of their secret teams maybe going far in the tournament – so it was exciting to see that Colombian team, the way they played, the energy they had, you how they performed, so they deserved really the biggest compliment for that and especially José Pekerman for his work there”.

He expects to be a wiser man about his team after Friday night. “For us … itʼs very important that we have these games where we have to figure out to solve things on the field in a one match situation, because our next biggest learning curve is once we get out hopefully of the group again, how we actually advance in the knock-out system”, Klinsmann said.

Klinsmann believes that such matches are essential if the USA is to become a top team. “This is our learning curve, to learn in one game at a time to go further and further and further to develop that mentality – that mindset – to do that, so thatʼs why we badly need those games against the best teams that we can find to give us that opportunity to play them”, he said. “No matter where in the world, weʼre going to go there and weʼre going to play those games”.

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Rebuilding

He believes that his team will benefit from pitting their skills against such a good team and that his youngsters have to be tested against the best. “You can see their progress and thatʼs what we want to experience”, Klinsmann said of the young players. “We want them to grow confident … We want to do well against a very, very good Colombian side

and has great respect for his opposite number José Pekerman, dating back to the World Cup in 2006. “Iʼm a big admirer of José Pekerman”, Klinsmann said. “A wonderful person that I played against for Germany in the World Cup of 2006 and I visited him once in México. What he built there is exceptional. Itʼs fantastic to see, so this is what we need. We need those benchmarks now and weʼre eager to give them a real fight.

Goals

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Brad Guzan will play tonight. “Itʼs important to play these competitive games, because they help set benchmarks of where we are as a team, as individuals and how much we continue to grow”, he said. “Ultimately the goal is four years – the World Cup – we have a lot of stepping stones before that, but the goal is 2018. Thatʼs going to be a special time. To be successful in big tournaments you have to play against the best teams in the world. You use these games to hopefully prepare for the bigger stage and ultimately the World Cup”.

Guzan knows that he will face an impressoive set of strikers and team with James Rodríguez pulling the strings. He is unfazed. “Youʼre always expecting to play against the best players in the world, because itʼs an opportunity to test yourself, so nothing changes for me in that aspect” ,he said.

He echoes Klinsmannʼs beliefs. “As a team, itʼs always a challenge and especially we know itʼs going to be a good Colombia team from top to bottom, so for us itʼs going to be an important night and these are the games you want to be a part of”, Guzan said. “You want to test yourself against the best players, against the best teams. These are the exciting matches that you want to be a part of”.

A Nice Message

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 27th 2014)

Ospina Seals Move

Both Arsenal and OGC Nice confirmed that Colombian World Cup star David Ospina Ramírez has joined the Gunners for an undisclosed fee, believed to be in the region of £3.2m. Ospina spent six years on the French Riviera. He was a notable absentee when Claude Puelʼs young Nice team lost 3-2 against Brentford at Griffin Park yesterday.

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He was a good player, a good keeper”, former team-mate and OGC Nice defender Kevin Gomis told us. “He played very good for this club and I think itʼs a big message for Nice and we have a good keeper in Mouez Hassan and Yoan [Cardinale] is there”.

Stars are Born

Ospina was part of Colombiaʼs team that made history by reaching the quarter-final of the World Cup. But for excessively lenient officiating los Cafeteros may have gone further. Nevertheless, the football world has belatedly woken up to Colombian talent. James Rodríguez Rubio left Monaco for Real Madrid and Radmael Falcao García Zárate may follow him. Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Bello is coveted by top clubs too.

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Gomis was impressed. “For me it was a revelation”, Gomis said. “Good player [Juan Fernando] Quintero [Paniagua], James Rodríguez. He played there for Monaco. I played against him. He is a very good player and for me, itʼs not a surprise”.