While the world dissected Howard Webb, the English referee was conversing with his assistants. “I remember saying to my assistants over the radio, ‘This is not going as planned. This is not what we expected,” Webb told the Toronto Sun prior to this World Cup.
Webb is one of just 20 referees to take charge of the biggest game on the planet. He’s among the elite group of officials who can recount the hours leading up to becoming the most-watched person in the world. “Looking back now - eight years later - it’s almost like looking back on someone else,” Webb said. “To think how you sleep the night before that game knowing what’s at stake… The sport is so huge globally,” he added. “It’s just such a significant thing to do.” He was “feeling pretty confident” as his team attended Soccer City the night before the final to get a feel for the behemoth venue. Webb recalls being tended to by technical instructors and physios. “On the morning of the game we sat back with a sports psychologist and looked back on all the big games we’d delivered well,” Webb said. “We drew strength from that. We had some technical instruction as to how the teams would play.” After all, La Furia Roja were in the midst of their “Tiki-taka” era and the Dutch offered a list of quality attackers. “The game was so much harder than I ever anticipated,” Webb remarked. “I just couldn’t have imagined it would be quite so physical.” In a match that ended with 13 cautions and a sending off, Webb reminisces about an early interaction that indicated things were going to be different. “There was (an early) tackle by Robin van Persie, who at the time played for Arsenal. I knew Robin pretty well. I’d refereed him a dozen times or so,” Webb said. “He committed a foul that wasn’t worthy of a caution, but it was worthy of a word of advice. “I spoke to Robin, but he seemed a little bit different in his demeanour towards me … He wasn’t quite as responsive as I’d expect during a Premier League game. “I guess it was the intensity of the occasion and these players knowing they were on the cusp of something great.” He had already cautioned four players inside the first 30 minutes when de Jong crushed Alonso. “(The cards) didn’t calm anything down,” Webb continued. “It kept coming and coming.” He adds Spanish defender Carlos Puyol would have been ejected had Arjen Robben gone down under a second-half challenge. “It would have been a sending off. It would have been for sure,” Webb interjected. But Webb correctly played advantage upon seeing Robben shrug off Puyol’s cynical challenge. With only the goalkeeper to beat, the Dutchman’s breakaway was denied by Iker Casillas, paving the way for Iniesta’s moment in extra time. But even that moment caused the English referee to hold his breath. “I’d already cautioned 12 players,” Webb pointed out. “When Iniesta took his shirt off to celebrate my heart sank because I’d lost a bit of track of who’d been cautioned. “I looked at my card … There was no ‘No. 6’ on the Spanish side (of my book). That was another piece of good fortune on my side.” While most of the talk and thoughts have centred around the players ahead of Sunday’s final between France and Croatia, Webb will be thinking of someone else. “I remember having dinner the night before the final in 2014. I’d been with (World Cup final referee Nicola Rizzoli) and remember thinking I… could imagine how he was feeling,” Webb said. “I didn’t really wish I was going into that game the following day. You just know that it’s something that will change your life. Hopefully it goes well and nobody is remembering you for the wrong reason, but that can happen.”
Former World Cup referee Howard Webb didn’t have video assistant referees, making life all the more difficult for old-school officials. “The results… are extremely clear and extremely positive,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said, according to The Daily Telegraph. There have been 440 “checks” during this World Cup, with 19 reviews and 16 decision changes. “VAR is cleaning football, making it more transparent and honest, helping referees to make decisions,” Infantino continued, claiming 99.32% of calls at this tournament have been correct. “Offside goals are finished in football, at least with VAR. You will never see an offside goal scored because with VAR you either are, or you are not, offside. How many times have you (the media) been writing about this: Is he offside or not? Now you will have other arguments because offside is finished.” Webb told the Sun that VAR helps World Cup referees sleep better at night.
Source: Toronto Sun