New format for UEFA competitions

The UEFA Executive Committee today approved a new format for its club competitions as of the 2024/25 season. Taking the total number of teams from 32 to 36 in the UEFA Champions League, the biggest change will see a transformation from the traditional group stage to a single league stage including all participating teams. Every club will now be guaranteed a minimum of 10 league stage games against 10 different opponents (five home games, five away) rather than the previous six matches against three teams, played on a home and away basis. The top eight sides in the league will qualify automatically for the knockout stage, while the teams finishing in ninth to 24th place will compete in a two-legged play-off to secure their path to the last 16 of the competition. Similar format changes will also be applied to the UEFA Europa League (8 matches in the league stage) and UEFA Europa Conference League (6 matches in the league stage). Subject to further discussions and agreements, these two competitions may also be expanded to a total of 36 teams each in the league stage. Qualification for the UEFA Champions League will continue to be open and earned through a team’s performance in domestic competitions. All games before the final will still be played midweek, recognising the importance of the domestic calendar of games across Europe. (Source: UEFA)
UEFA, the English Football Association and the Premier League, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and LaLiga, and the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) and Lega Serie A have learned that a few English, Spanish and Italian clubs may be planning to announce their creation of a closed, so-called Super League. If this were to happen, we wish to reiterate that we – UEFA, the English FA, RFEF, FIGC, the Premier League, LaLiga, Lega Serie A, but also FIFA and all our member associations – will remain united in our efforts to stop this cynical project, a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever. We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this happening. Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way. As previously announced by FIFA and the six Confederations, the clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level, and their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams. We thank those clubs in other countries, especially the French and German clubs, who have refused to sign up to this. We call on all lovers of football, supporters and politicians, to join us in fighting against such a project if it were to be announced. This persistent self-interest of a few has been going on for too long. (Source: UEFA)

Baldassi confessed a bribery attempt

Former World Cup 2010 referee Hector Baldassi (Argentina), who is now member of the national parliament, confessed to Super Miter Deportivo that a First Division team official tried to bribe him, but he did not accept the money they offered him to help that team: "Sometimes, being in the First Division, they have offered me money. In the world of football we all know each other and I am sure that the team official who wanted to buy me but could not, would boasts of having bought you."
Baldassi also said that he was very surprised when he learned that, on 22 January 2020, he had a heart attack: "I didn't have time to get scared. I was in the gym when I felt pain in my chest: I thought it was muscular and I continued training. it continued to hurt. So I called the girl from CONMEBOL to ask for a doctor: there they told me it was a heart attack. I was never afraid of dying, I am not afraid of death."

Source: TyC Sports

AFC Champions League 2021 – Group Stage (West Region, Matchday 2)

17-18 April 2021

Tractor FC – Sharjah
Referee: Ma Ning (CHN, photo)
Assistant Referee 1: Cao Yi (CHN)
Assistant Referee 2: Zhou Fei (CHN)
Fourth Official: Fu Ming (CHN)

Al Quwa – Paxtakor
Referee: Hussein Abo Yehia (LBN)
Assistant Referee 1: Mohamed Salman (BHR)
Assistant Referee 2: Abdulla Al Rowaimi (BHR)
Fourth Official: Nawaf Shukralla (BHR)

Al Nassr – Al Sadd
Referee: Ali Al Qaysi (IRQ)
Assistant Referee 1: Hayder Abdulhasan (IRQ)
Assistant Referee 2: Ameer Hussein (IRQ)
Fourth Official: Ali Abdulnabi (BHR)

Foolad Khouzestan – Al Wehdat
Referee: Ali Shaban (KUW)
Assistant Referee 1: Abbas Gholoum (KUW)
Assistant Referee 2: Mazen Zazfoun (SYR)
Fourth Official: Masoud Tufaylieh (SYR)

Al Rayyan – Persepolis FC
Referee: Ilgiz Tantashev (UZB)
Assistant Referee 1: Andrey Sapenko (UZB)
Assistant Referee 2: Timur Gaynullin (UZB)
Fourth Official: Hiroyuki Kimura (JPN)

Al Wahda – FC Goa
Referee: Ahmad Al Ali (KUW)
Assistant Referee 1: Abdulhadi Manea (KUW)
Assistant Referee 2: Ali Ahmad (SYR)
Fourth Official: Hanna Hattab (SYR)

Shabab Al Ahli – Al Hilal
Referee: Mohanad Sarray (IRQ)
Assistant Referee 1: Watheq Al Swaiedi (IRQ)
Assistant Referee 2: Mahmoud Abu-Thaher (JOR)
Fourth Official: Qasim Al Hatmi (OMA)

AGMK FC – Istiklol
Referee: Amirul Yaacob (MAS)
Assistant Referee 1: Yusri Mohamad (MAS)
Assistant Referee 2: Palitha Hemathunga (SRI)
Fourth Official: Hettikankanamge Perera (SRI)

Al Ahli – Duhail SC
Referee: Sivakorn Pu-Udom (THA)
Assistant Referee 1: Rawut Nakrit (THA)
Assistant Referee 2: Thanet Chuchuen (THA)
Fourth Official: Khalid Al Shaqsi (OMA)

Al Shorta – Esteghlal FC
Referee: Nivon Robesh (SRI)
Assistant Referee 1: Iran Udayakantha (SRI)
Assistant Referee 2: Abdullah Al Jardani (OMA)
Fourth Official: Mahmood Al Majarafi (OMA)

Rubino: 36 red cards in one match

In the afternoon of 26 February 2011, south of Buenos Aires, Claypole and Victoriano Arenas, corresponding to the First D Argentina, faced each other in a match where neither the relegation nor the championship was decided, as both teams were sailing through the middle of the table. A match that would not be remembered if it were not for the referee Damian Rubino, who sent off 36 players following a "general brawl" and established the Guinness record for red cards shown in one match. Rubino was born in Buenos Aires in 1981. He has worked as a referee for the Argentine Football Association since 2006 and combines it with his work as a public accountant graduated from the University of Buenos Aires. Damian remembers that game in an interview with the Argentine newspaper "Ole".
- What do you remember from that day?
- Everything went like a normal match. I remember that number 7 of Victoriano Arenas, Rodrigo Sanchez, was sent off in the first half and stayed behind the fence, since he happened to live in the town of Claypole and met many people there. Once the game was over, this player entered the field and threw a pineapple at an opponent. That started on the pitch a battle between all.
- Were you afraid that everything would get even more out of control and there would be injuries?
- No, the truth is that, at that moment, I did not realise what was happening; it took us all by surprise. I did not think that the fans could enter, for example. And luckily that didn't happen. To break the myth... of the 36 players sent off, only Sanchez actually saw the red card. Of course, in the dressing room, I took the roster and checked the red card box for all 36 players, but obviously I did not show the red card to all of them on the field because it was a real lack of control.
- Was it the most difficult game you had to referee, because of everything that happened?
- No, not at all. Another time, it happened to me that I had to run off the field because the fans invaded the field, things got more complicated.
- How did you continue in the dressing room?
- Nothing else happened, everything was left on the field. The players fought there and that's where everything was left.
- If you were now at that moment, would you act in the same way?
- No, today I would rely more on technology. I would try to analyze what happened well and put in the report those who participated, the ones who actually hit. Surely, I would miss some. Surely, some of the 36 players did nothing, but at that moment I couldn't distinguish that. For me, they all fought.

Source: Ole

Webb explains how MLS uses VAR differently

As every week in European football brings a new controversy around video review — or VAR, as it is colloquially known — the scene in Major League Soccer is a bit different. The approaching 2021 season will be the fifth to use video review, which includes a video assistant referee who communicates with the on-field officials when there might be a play that merits review. (VAR was originally short for video assistant referee, but has emerged as an all-encompassing term for video review). Although there are hiccups, there is also a consensus replay has improved the overall product. Perhaps this owes to fans who are familiar with replay review from other North American sports. But there is also the unique manner in which MLS uses replay.
Former English Premier League and World Cup referee Howard Webb has overseen the use of VAR in MLS as general manager of the Professional Referee Organization. He identified and explained some of those differences during a media panel Monday, including the two most obvious to followers of the European game: (1) MLS referees always visit the review area during reviews and (2) MLS does not use virtual offside line technology. The preference to send the official to a screen for all reviews, Webb said, is a reflection of the preference of MLS fans, but also has on-field benefits. “It puts the referee in a good situation to manage the players once they’ve seen it for themselves,” Webb said. “It also emphasizes to the stadium audience that the review is taking place. They can see the unfolding process playing out in front of them.” There might also be a sense that putting the final decision in the care solely of the man in the middle removes an aura of Big Brother. “We feel that, ultimately we want the referee to be the final decision-maker in all cases. And it works for us,” Webb said. As for the virtual offside line, some observers might prefer that MLS doesn’t use the technology, which critics say can violate the spirit of the offside law. But the league’s abstention actually owes to concerns the technology might not be equally effective at all league venues, including some that were built primarily with American football or baseball in mind. “The configuration of the cameras within our stadiums doesn’t really lend itself at the moment to the implementation of those lines,” Webb said. “We have looked at them in the last few months to see whether or not they would be something we could utilize consistently across the league and across all games, and our conclusion was that it’s not.”
Back in 2017, MLS was the first domestic league in the world to use VAR during the latter third of the season. It could also be one of the first to pilot giving TV viewers a live look into the video review process on a more permanent basis, Webb said. During several matches at the MLS is Back Tournament last summer, viewers were able to see replays match officials watched in real time and listen to their audio communications. “We’re working with the International (Football Association) Board and FIFA around potentially looking at doing that again in the future as a pilot,” Webb said. “We’re also speaking to other federations around the world that are interested in maybe also looking at doing that in their competitions.” Webb remains aware of the controversies that grip VAR elsewhere, particularly in his native England. But he believes some of those issues will resolve as leagues get better at using the technology. He cites examples within MLS. According to internal figures, from 2019 to 2020, the league cut down on the length of reviews by an average of eight seconds. It arrived at the correct result in 93% of replay reviews, and overall has reached 98.5% accuracy in the situations that are eligible for review. “We’ve tried to implement it in MLS in a way that really does achieve what it was set out to achieve,” Webb said. “And that’s a maximum benefit to a minimum interference. Good officiating starts on the field of play. It starts with referees making good calls based on all of the considerations, and that feel for the game. And the VAR is there as a safety net, should the official not be able to make a good call.”

Source: Forbes

CAF referee suspended for 3 months after AFCON qualifier

The referee of the match of the 5th and penultimate day of the qualifiers for the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations, which opposed Zambia to Algeria (3-3), on 25 March 2021, in Lusaka, the Comorian Adelaid Mohamed Ali, has been suspended for 3 months. The CAF Referees Committee made the decision, following an official complaint by the Algerian Football Federation to the African football governing body, with a copy sent to FIFA.
The Comorian referee is accused by Algeria of having awarded two imaginary penalty kicks against them. Adelaid Mohamed Ali received a questionnaire from the Referees Committee of the governing body of the African football and was asked to explain his decisions during this match in Lusaka. He was then suspended for 3 months and will not be eligible to officiate any match on the first day of the African qualifiers for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, which start in June.

Source: Afrik

Olofsson: “My goal is to reach the highest level”

Tess Olofsson is one of the top female officials in Europe and officiates professionally in the men's second tier in Sweden. A former Sweden youth international goalkeeper, Tess Olofsson transitioned to full-time refereeing following injury, having combined both roles since first taking up the whistle at 13. Now, she is a professional official in in Sweden's second division of men's football, the country's Referee of the Year and a regular in the UEFA Women's Champions League and international fixtures.
- You are fortunate to have had role models to emulate throughout your career.
- In Sweden, we are lucky to have had high-profile female players and successful teams, to make it feel like a career is achievable. I had many different role models, as a player especially the goalkeepers. I had Caroline Jönsson, she was the Swedish national team goalkeeper, but also Andreas Isaksson from the men's team was an inspiration because I watched a lot of football when I was young. As a referee, it was inspiring to see Bibiana Steinhaus, the first female referee in the Bundesliga in 2017, and then we saw Stéphanie Frappart in the UEFA Super Cup, another big step for women's football and female referees. It is great to see a pathway, and my goal now is to reach the highest level of the men's game in Sweden, referee International men's games, and also be a part of the UEFA Women's EURO next year and the Women's World Cup in 2023
- Does it feel as though you have had to work extra hard to prove yourself in the men's game?
- When I go to training sessions and train together with the men, you want to show them that you are as fast as them. But it's not possible for me to be as quick as them, so of course I need to work hard in every training session to be at the right level. On the pitch, it's important you can read the game, time your sprints and position yourself well, because if I start too late then maybe I will be too far away when I need to make the decision. With players, if I referee new teams, they sometimes try me in the first games, but then after a while they can see that I know and understand football just as well - I think they are surprised at the beginning. But then they accept me and respect me as a referee and see that it doesn’t matter if I'm a woman or a man.
- What is your advice to anybody interested in following a similar path as a referee?
- You have to put in so much effort, train really, really hard, and push yourself to the limit. When I became a FIFA referee, I realised how much I need to train, but also to stay healthy to avoid injuries. I hope that seeing people like me succeed can inspire young girls and boys to start because it's a really great experience to be a referee. I have the chance to be full-time professional and I hope more women will get this opportunity.

Source: UEFA

UEFA suspended referee Lapochkin for failing to report match-fixing

Russian referee Sergei Lapochkin has been suspended for 90 days from any football activity, as of 25 March 2021. "We inform you that by the decision of the UEFA control, ethical and disciplinary body, Russian referee Sergei Lapochkin has been suspended for 90 days from any football activity due to a violation of Articles 11 (2) (a), 12 (2) ( a) and 12 (2) (d) of the disciplinary regulations. The RFU provided full assistance in the investigation", said the RFU communications service.
The temporary suspension of the Russian referee Sergei Lapochkin from any football activity is connected with the investigation into the match of the Europa League second qualifying round match between the Latvian team Ventspils and the French team Bordeaux in 2018, a source familiar with the investigation told RIA Novosti. ”According to UEFA, some people contacted Lapochkin with a desire to influence the outcome of the match. Lapochkin did not agree, but at the same time did not report the incident to the relevant UEFA department", a source told RIA Novosti. Lapochkin has been on the FIFA list of match officials since 2013. He has handled a 2018 World Cup qualifying game between Albania and Liechtenstein, and games in qualifying rounds for the Champions League and Europa League, but was not appointed to any European competition since last season. However, the 39-year-old Lapochkin is regularly refereeing matches of the Russian championship.

Source: RIA Sport

AFC Champions League 2021 – Group Stage (West Region, Matchday 1)

14-15 April 2021

Pakhtakor – Tractor FC
Referee: Jumpei Iida (JPN, photo)
Assistant Referee 1: Osamu Nomura (JPN)
Assistant Referee 2: Abu Al Amri (OMA)
Fourth Official: Hussein Yehia (LBN)

Sharjah – Al Quwa
Referee: Nawaf Shukralla (BHR)
Assistant Referee 1: Mohamed Salman (BHR)
Assistant Referee 2: Abdulla Al Rowaimi (BHR)
Fourth Official: Ahmed Al Kaf (OMA)

Al Wehdat – Al Nassr
Referee: Omar Al-Yaqoubi (OMA)
Assistant Referee 1: Hayder Ali (IRQ)
Assistant Referee 2: Watheq Al Swaiedi (IRQ)
Fourth Official: Ali Sabah Adday Al Qaysi (IRQ)

Al Sadd – Foolad Khouzestan
Referee: Masoud Tufaylieh (SYR)
Assistant Referee 1: Mazen Zazfoun (SYR)
Assistant Referee 2: Abbas Gholoum (KUW)
Fourth Official: Ali Shaban (KUW)

Persepolis FC – Al Wahda
Referee: Hiroyuki Kimura (JPN)
Assistant Referee 1: Takumi Takagi (JPN)
Assistant Referee 2: Isao Nishihashi (JPN)
Fourth Official: Hanna Hattab (SYR)

FC Goa – Al Rayyan
Referee: Nazmi Nasaruddin (MAS)
Assistant Referee 1: Farhan Aziz (MAS)
Assistant Referee 2: Zairul Tan (MAS)
Fourth Official: Ilgiz Tantashev (UZB)

FC Istiklol – Shabab Al Ahli
Referee: Hettikankanamge Perera (SRI)
Assistant Referee 1: Palitha Hemathunga (SRI)
Assistant Referee 2: Sanjeewa Wellabada (SRI)
Fourth Official: Mohd Yaacob (MAS)

Al Hilal – AGMK FC
Referee: Ryuji Sato (JPN)
Assistant Referee 1: Hiroshi Yamauchi (JPN)
Assistant Referee 2: Jun Mihara (JPN)
Fourth Official: Ali Al Samaheeji (BHR)

Al Duhail – Al Shorta
Referee: Muhammad Bin Jahari (SIN)
Assistant Referee 1: Koh Min Kiat (SIN)
Assistant Referee 2: Hasim Bin Abdul (SIN)
Fourth Official: Nivon Robesh (SRI)

Esteghlal FC – Al Ahli
Referee: Ahmed Al Ali (JOR)
Assistant Referee 1: Ahmed Al Roalle (JOR)
Assistant Referee 2: Mohammad Al Kalaf (JOR)
Fourth Official: Khalid Al Shaqsi (OMA)

Iranian TV "rattled by a female referee in shorts"

Iran's state TV channel were forced to crudely cut away from their Premier League broadcast of Tottenham vs Manchester United more than 100 times to avoid showing assistant referee Sian Massey-Ellis. The Islamic Republic state broadcaster instead showed Iranian viewers a landscape shot of the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and the backstreets of Enfield in a bid to avoid showing Massey-Ellis, who was wearing shorts.
According to an Iranian civil rights group, the decision to continually cut away from the action was to stop viewers from seeing the bare legs of Massey-Ellis. It is claimed that Massey-Ellis, who is regarded as one of the best assistant referees in football, was censored constantly due to the state's strict religious laws. My Stealthy Freedom, a group that campaigns against discriminatory gender laws within Iran, wrote: 'The television censors were rattled by the presence of a female referee in shorts. Their solution was to cut away from the action to views of London's backstreets, which made a mockery of the game. At the end of the game, one of the commentators joked that he hoped the viewers enjoyed the geographic show. Censorship is in the DNA of the Islamic Republic of Iran. We should not normalise this practice. This is not our culture. This is the ideology of a repressive regime.'
Since 1979, the hijab has been compulsory for women in Iran as a result of the Islamic Revolution. Women are required to wear loose-fitting clothing and a headscarf in public while failure to do so could see offenders arrested for 60 days. In 2019, Iranian women were granted access to enter football stadiums for the first time in decades to watch the sport live and in person. The country had originally barred female spectators from football and other stadiums for around 40 years before FIFA threatened to suspend the Islamic republic over its controversial gender policies. For their 2022 World Cup qualifier against Cambodia in October 2019, which they won an emphatic 14-0, Iran allocated just 4,000 tickets for women in a stadium that seats about 80,000 people, keeping them separated from men and under the protection of female police officers. And it's not the first time Iranian state TV has censored their football coverage. In 2018, an Iranian state television channel bizarrely blurred out a section of Roma's badge during coverage of the Champions League quarter-final with Barcelona. Football fans watching Iran TV's third channel noticed that the producers had purposely censored the Italian side's crest during the studio intervals. The Giallorossi badge portrays a female wolf having its teats suckled on by Rome's mythical twin founders Romulus and Remus superimposed on to a red and yellow background. However, the depiction on Roma's badge appeared to be a little bit too much for the TV show's producers as the backdrop behind the presenter showed off the blurred out wolf's nipples. One year later, it was reported that Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga game against Augsburg wasn’t shown on Iranian TV because the referee for the match, Bibiana Steinhaus, was a woman.