Friday, June 13, 2008

Euro 2008: Howard Webb, Too Bad We Know Your Name

Last gasp? No. More like last grasp!

Again, Euro 2008 is in a situation where you know a referee's name better than you do the players on the pitch--and that's never a good sign. First it was Swedish referee Peter Frojdfeldt's non-offside call against Ruud Van Nistelrooy that set up the Netherlands' 3-0 win over Italy this week. And then yesterday, Howard Webb's injury-time penalty kick call against Poland that leveled the Group C match with Austria 1-1.

Now, I'll concede Van Nistelrooy was by the letter of the law onside and the goal counted. Ultimately, Holland won the game justly and Frojdfeldt's call was of little consequence. But yesterday, Webb's call in the final seconds more crucial because of its timing and outcome for Poland. The Poles went from almost sure quarterfinalists (my pick) to just about on the outside looking in and needing a lot of help to advance.

Webb blew his whistle on Polish midfielder Mariusz Lewandowski who had a handful of Austrian Sebastian Proedl’s shirt. Proedl went down in the box, Vastic converted the PK and Poland manager Leo Beenhakker exploded.

"Maybe he wants to show he is a big boy and has the guts to do it, I don't know. I've never had a problem in 43 years of being in football but this is something I cannot understand. It's impossible to accept but I am working on it. I'm very satisfied with the boys, I have no complaints about the boys. We don't have it in our own hands any more and the conclusion is we are out of the tournament."

Harsh and emotional. But he's right. Poland needs the Germans to lose BIG to Austria on Monday and of course it needs to beat Croatia. Croatia is in the quarters, and Poland may be able to fill its end of the bill. But Austria beating Germany in a game the Germans must win? Doubtful, even if you factor in the home advantage.

It's unfortunate that referees are taking a more public profile in this tournament, which gets better with every game.

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