MELBOURNE: As the big guns flex their muscles at the Asian Cup, refereeing controversies are leaving players and coaches hopping mad with the tournament barely five days old.
Iran, Oman and holders Japan all raged at the officials after their opening games — not the start Asian officials were hoping for after a determined drive to improve refereeing standards.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz launched a withering attack on referee Ben Williams, accusing him of failing to keep a lid on Bahrain’s “dangerous” tackling in Team Melli’s 2-0 win at the weekend and claiming the Australian was out of his depth, despite the fact he officiated at last year’s World Cup.
The red mist descended on Oman coach Paul Le Guen 24 hours earlier after the Gulf side were denied what appeared a nailed-on penalty in a 1-0 defeat by South Korea.
And Japan’s spiky playmaker Keisuke Honda took aim at the man in the middle after Japan’s 4-0 win over Palestine, asking whether Qatar’s Abdulrahman Hussain had been refereeing a basketball game in comments dripping with sarcasm.
Despite the efforts of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to raise standards, Asian refereeing came under the spotlight at the 2014 World Cup when Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura awarded hosts Brazil a soft penalty in the opening game, triggering fury from opponents Croatia and lighting up social media.
Queiroz’s ire centred on Bahrain’s Faouzi Aaish, the team’s snarling forward.
“He tried to elbow my players,” the former Real Madrid coach told AFP. “As you know elbowing is dangerous. The laws of the game are clear. (The referee) didn’t give a single yellow. The referee was not at the level of the game.”
– ‘Rottweiler’ bite –
Portugal’s Queiroz, nicknamed “Rottweiler” by former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson during two spells as his assistant coach, took a more conciliatory line over two poor offside decisions which denied Iran two more goals, shrugging: “On the technical side, we all make mistakes.”
Le Guen appeared to have genuine reason to feel aggrieved after New Zealand official Peter O’Leary waved away appeals when Oman striker Qasim Saeed was clattered inside the box.
“I ask for equity,” fumed the Frenchman. “It’s 100 percent a penalty, no hesitation. But (it’s not given) because of what? Because we are Oman?”
Honda’s gripe was less clear, however, as five yellow cards and a red were dished out for Palestine’s rather agricultural tackling.
“It was like a basketball game,” sniped Honda. “As soon as we made contact with them, the referee blew the whistle. They need to do something about the level of refereeing here.”
But an AFC spokesman told AFP: “We are happy with the refereeing and happy that they (referees) have sufficient experience, including the World Cup.”
Despite the rumpus, South Korea coach Uli Stielike claimed, perhaps predictably, to be mystified at Le Guen’s comments.
“I saw the game like the referee saw it,” said the German. “I don’t know which situation he is talking about. There cannot be a clear penalty or I would remember the situation.”