Kim Milton Nielsen | Shared play-off agony shows how high the stakes...

Kim Milton Nielsen | Shared play-off agony shows how high the stakes have risen

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    Kim Milton Nielsen was talking to Alex Griffiths

    Referees were central to the results of the past week in UEFA’s play-offs for World Cup qualification, and most of them did a great job. I have to say that the immediate future of Ovidiu Hategan is in doubt, however, and don’t be surprised if he does not get selected for Russia.

    The Italian coach, Gian Piero Ventura, also tried to apply pressure on the officials ahead of his second leg against Sweden, and this backfired to the extent that he is now looking for a new job.

    However bad the Northern Irish feel after going out thanks to a single goal, believe me, no one will feel the pain of his mistake in giving handball against Corry Evans more than the referee himself.

    Hategan now has to face the prospect of that decision defining his career, and he will probably find little sympathy even from the top because he could only hope to be excused if he had gone through an exemplary past two seasons with the highest of marks. That’s simply how it works.

    Felix Brych took the second leg in Switzerland and did his usual great job, but I can tell you that most neutral observers were hoping for 3, 4 or 5-0 to Switzerland so that we could agree the first leg error was not a critical one in the end.

    It did not turn out that way of course, and we are left with the sour taste of a Twitter storm and the unforgivable racist targetting of Hategan by the player’s wife.

    I was lucky that Facebook was not any bigger during my own time, and it just goes to show how impossible these social media things are to police. Comments can be ignorant, inaccurate, and in some cases even lost in the greater fury of an escalating incident, but there is no ideal solution when things can be repeated to millions around the world mere seconds after something has occurred.

    Many supporters seem to feel that a referee may give himself a higher threshold for which he will give a penalty in a particular game. I can honestly say, not only that I never took this approach myself, but that I don’t think most referees ever do this, either.

    A fine case in point would indeed be the Italy versus Sweden second leg, where there were at least four appeals in the game and two in the first 15 minutes!

    I actually hold the Spanish referee, Senor Lahoz, in very high esteem, and while we can spend all day and all week discussing the merits of each penalty appeal, what impressed me most was how he resisted the pressure to give away anything to either side.

    Antonio Mateu Lahoz
    Mateu Lahoz

    Of course, he is used to the utmost pressure from his time in La Liga and the derby matches he has officiated there, not least the El Clasico between Real and Barca.

    I honestly feel that he did not set out determined not to give anything, and that he performed so well because he gave what he saw. As soon as you start to clutter your mind with anything extra, even too much homework on a particular player, I think you can expect the level of your performance to drop, and this certainly did not happen in Milan.

    Obviously, I was one happy Dane sat on my sofa watching the second leg of our play-off game  against Ireland, but what I found even more telling than anything in the game itself was the reaction of our media.

    The following day every newspaper and TV bulletin was leading on how much money qualification will generate, and this tells you everything about the stakes involved at this level now and how they continue to increase, financially speaking.

    It used to be that international managers stayed in post longer than their club counterparts, but not any more. The revolving door is no longer restricted to the biannual period following tournaments and we see managers moving on as a direct result of their play-off successes and failures.

    Until next time, vi ses, or see you later.

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