by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (January 10th 2015)


Carlos Velasco Carballoʼs reputation may never recover. Having refereed against type at Fortalezaʼs Estádio Castelão in the controversial hackfest of Brasil v Colombia, Velasco Carballo was savaged by Diego Maradona and given FIFAʼs equivalent of a vote of confidence. FIFA refused to give Juan Camilo Zuñiga Mosquera a retrospective red card or rescind Thiago Silvaʼs yellow card.

Zuñiga should have been sent off, but so should several others. It was baffling that a referee with a reputation as a disciplinarian had refereed this match as if he had forgotten his cards in the dressing room. It is also a great pity as Velasco Carballo, contrary to Maradonaʼs opinion is actually a very good referee – one who had steadily earned the top matches with stellar performances. That reputation is all but undone by one match.

He officiated his first top flight match a decade ago – Barçelona v Sevilla. Velasco Carballo decided to concentrate exclusively on refereeing in 2010. He had quietly 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.


He was a studious referee too – one who knew the foibles of those he was refereeing. Nobody pulled the wool over his eyes, so what happened to him on July 4th 2014? Did the occasion get to him? The refereeing of that match took some explaining then – it still does. There is no evidence that he was fazed by big occasions.

Velasco Carballo refereed his first international match in 2008 after earning the appropriate FIFA badge. The 2010-11 season was his first refereeing past the qualifiers for the Championʼs League. He ended that season with a high profile match – the Europa League Final in Dublin. Radamel Falcao – then playing for Porto – set a Europa League (UEFA Cup) record for goals scored in the competition.

Falcao, who would strongly criticise Velasco Carballo over the match in Fortaleza, scored the only goal of that match. It was a match punctuated by fouls and cards. 42 fouls resulted in eight yellow cards. This was typical Velasco Carballo. The native of Madrid is not allowed to referee any match involving Madrid teams, but his performance in that season marked him as one to watch.

Against His DNA

His performance in Fortaleza was incredible. There were 54 fouls in that match – well penalised ones. He brandished four yellow cards and no red cards. It required more than 40 offences bbefore he showed his first card and that was not for a violent challenge. There were also offences that were not penalised despite being under his nose (see Pockmarked at https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/pockmarked/).

The failure to enforce the rules also contributed to a serious injury suffered by Neymar. Zuñiga ploughed into Neymarʼs back. Whether he intended serious injury or not is immaterial. It was a ludicrous challenge – one that would never have been tolerated, or most likely even tried, if Velasco Carballo had been allowed to referee as he normally would have.

Zuñiga quickly apologised. The players have no problem with each other, but anxious to reach the ball or not these are the challenges that must not be allowed or encouraged even tacitly, as lack of consequences does. When Brasil played Colombia in a friendly in the USA, they embraced each other, but that match was scarred by the quarter-final in Fortaleza – a dirty business. Juan Guilermo Cuadrado Bello was sent off.


The Europa League Final was far from the only match that Velasco Carballo refereed in his strict manner. He has a habit of showing cards, including sending players off. During the 2011-12 season in Spain he issued 16 red cards in 19 matches that he refereed. He was Spainʼs representative at Euro2012, refereeing the opening match between co-hosts Poland and Greece.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos received a second yellow card for fouling Polandʼs Rafal Murawski just before half time. Even that card was harsh, but the previous one beggared belief. Just before being sent off he received his first yellow card for allegedly fouling Robert Lewandowski, but the replays showed that Papastathopoulos had actually won the ball cleanly and fairly.

It was no foul and therefore it could not have been a yellow card. If he did not receive a yellow card then, he would not have been sent off for fouling Murawski and Greece would still have had eleven players on the pitch.

To paraphrase the great author Oscar Wilde: “To give one yellow card wrongly or harshly may be considered a misfortune. To give two is carelessness”! He also sent off Polandʼs goal-keeper Wojciech Szczesny in the same match.

So what happened in Fortaleza? Why had he abandoned the habits of a lifetime and done so on an even bigger stage? We are yet to get a satisfactory answer. Tolerating over forty offences before brandishing a single yellow card resulted in a display that was alien to the Spaniardʼs DNA.

And what of Velasco Carballo himself? FIFA say that there was no directive to referees to spare the rod and spoil the spectacle. But why would a stern referee officiate so against type? They also failed to take any sanction against the Spaniard for his bizarre performance that surely would have followed if it was all his fault. Would he return to form free from the ʻdirectiveʼ or was Fortaleza a taste of things to come?


The Birth of A Problem (Part Five) – Concrete Tests

Editorʼs Note:

We first published this series of articles six years ago. On the eve of the opening match of the 2014 World Cup, we think it timely to publish them again. Croatia has a problem with racism that has found an outlet in football. Understanding Croatiaʼs history is crucial to combating the problem. Croatia will be entertained by Luiz Felipe Scolariʼs resurgent Brasilian side in São Paulo on June 12th. We hope Croatiaʼs fans will support their team with gusto while showing respect to their hosts as both teams and countries deserve.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 1st 2008)

Ustaše Thugs

While the Ustaše and Ante Pavelić represented the worst of Croatians, it should be remembered that Yugoslavia’s resistance was led by a Croat – Josip Broz1 – and that began early in 1941. All nationalities of the former Yugoslavia were members of Tito’s partisans. Even Franjo Tuđman who would later become Croatian President and destroy Tito’s vision of Yugoslavia was a partisan.

Hitler put a price on Tito’s head, but it failed to alter the course of the war or save the Ustaše from history’s condemnation. Ustaše atrocities reached such appalling proportions that even Nazis found impossible to ignore. On June 28th 1941 General Edmund Glaise-Horstenau wrote to Wehrmacht colleagues expressing alarm about Ustaše excesses.

German officers sometimes intervened to prevent the Ustaše committing atrocities. They even arrested Ustaše thugs and disarmed an Ustaše regiment in Bosnia-Herzegovina because of their atrocious conduct. Mussolini also didn’t want to work with the Ustaše even though he had facilitated their seizure of power. Hitler’s requests for Italian co-operation with Pavelić’s government were routinely ignored by their commanders such as General Mario Roatta.

Ignominious End of the Ustaše

By the end of 1942 the war had begun to turn against the Ustaše. News of their brutal crimes swelled the ranks of partisans. The following year made it clear that Pavelić’s government was living on borrowed time. Accounts would be settled.

The partisans took their revenge on captured Ustaše members, but many of them were conscripts who had no involvement in the atrocities. Some tried to flee towards Austria towards the end of the war. They were captured and handed over to the partisans who either executed them or forced-marched them into a massacre. There were atrocities on both sides. Never was there a more vicious circle.

The Ustaše briefly continued fighting after the Nazis surrendered. They were banned after the war. Pavelić was helped to escape to Argentina. On April 10th 1957 – the twentieth anniversary of the establishment of the NDH – Pavelić was shot in Buenos Aires. A bullet lodged in his spine. Two weeks later Argentina agreed to extradite him to Yugoslavia, but he escaped.

The Break Up

Pavelić died in a Madrid hospital on December 28th 1959 from complications resulting from the assassination attempt. Croatian nationalism was suppressed under Tito. During the break-up of Yugoslavia, Ustaše atrocities were used to justify the ethnic cleansing policies of former Serbian President Slobodan Milošević.

Croatian nationalists continued to organise as well. It was a particularly nasty war. While Serbia and Croatia fought each other, both gorged themselves on Bosnian territory too. Both Serbs and Croats drove each other from their territory brutally. Many did not live to tell the tale. It created a legacy of bitterness that will require decades to heal if ever.

Later, the war over, the racism originally unleashed by the Ustaše found an additional outlet in football. In its proper historical context the U-symbol of the Ustaše formed by so-called Croatian fans in Sarajevo and the Swastika in Livorno are utterly offensive at best and suggests that Slaven Bilić may have over-estimated their intelligence. Nevertheless, England’s visit to Zagreb would provide a good test of how far Croatia had progressed on and off the pitch.

1 Broz later took the codename Tito. It stuck.