After so many years watching so many games, it is genuinely stimulating to see something for the first time – and that is the experience I was recently fortunate enough to have in Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Maracana stadium.
The occasion was a tense, end of season game, with Fluminense hosting Ponte Preta. The hosts needed a win to ensure their first division safety, the visitors were seeking to haul themselves out of the relegation zone. Half an hour had gone with no score.
Fluminense broke from deep. There was the chance of an effective counter attack. Well inside the Fluminense half, Ponte Preta holding midfielder Naldo attempted to stop the danger at source. He lunged into a dreadful sliding tackle, far too late to get the ball, and so late that it only caught his opponent with a glancing blow. It was well worth a yellow card, but the counter attack was still in progress. There was an obvious advantage to be played, and Anderson Daronco, one of Brazil’s most respected referees, waved play on, gesturing to Naldo that he would be receiving a yellow card at the next stoppage.
Ponte Preta managed to halt the momentum of the counter-attack, but Fluminense still held possession, and played the ball back to their attacking midfielder Junior Sornoza to initiate the second phase. Some twenty five yards out, he went on a forward burst – interrupted when Naldo came sliding across once again to bring him down.
Now there was no advantage. Daronco stopped play. He gave Naldo a yellow card, pointing to the location of the first offence – and then, indicating where the second foul had taken place, he gave him another. Naldo was sent off for receiving two yellow cards picked up in a single move. In all my years of following football I can never remember seeing anything like it.
Ponte Preta were not impressed. Their players surrounded the referee to protest, and there was a long interval until the free kick could be taken. Fluminense went on to win 2-0, and after the match Ponte Preta president Vanderlei Pereira accused the referee of being biased, and blustered about taking up the case with the Brazilian FA.
He might find better use of his time, though, teaching his defensive midfielder to stay on his feet. The best operators in this vital position rarely get their shorts dirty.
As a general rule I have a certain sympathy for one of the sayings of Goethe – those with a strong urge to punish should be mistrusted. But in this case it is hard to disagree with the criteria used by Anderson Daronco. Two times a player clattered into mistimed sliding tackles. Both were probably worthy of a yellow card – so the fact that both happened in a single move is not relevant – especially as Naldo was left in no doubt after the first foul that he would be on the receiving end of a card.
The referee, then, seemed to get it right. No injustice occurred – another reason to go home happy after witnessing something I had never seen before on the football field.