Head of FIFA Refereeing Massimo Bussaca has defended U.S. referee Jair Marrufo's decision-making, while admitting that a "mistake is human" and a "part of the game", when speaking a day after the U-17 World Cup quarterfinal where Brazil beat Germany 2-1 in Kolkata on October 22.
The match featured a few contentious decisions from Marrufo, a number of which appeared to go against Germany, especially in the second half. Brazil striker Lincoln was only given a verbal warning after kicking German left-back Josha Vagnoman from behind, while strikers Jann-Fiete Arp and John Yeboah were denied spot kicks when bundled down by Brazilian defenders, the incident involving the former taking place late into injury time.
The most debatable decision was the inaction on an off-the-ball incident involving Brazil's forward Yuri Alberto and defender Jan Boller -- both second-half substitutes -- one that left the latter with a gash near his eye. Brazil scored their winner as the ball rolled free for Paulinho, and not surprisingly, German coach Christian Wueck was furious at the post-match press conference, slamming his accreditation card onto the desk when he fielded the first question, which was about the refereeing.
"Did you see the game out there? The question you have can be answered if (you did). Did you see the eye of Jan Boller, just before the second goal? Before this World Cup, every team was given clear instructions, that every arm or elbow in the face is a red card," said Wueck. "We have no problem losing a game. Congratulations to Brazil, who played a very good game, but this way (to go out) is very hard. The kids are crying. We played one good half and Brazil played one good half, but the difference was the referee."
On his part, Brazil coach Carlos Amadeu had said after the game, "I didn't watch the moment, but if it happened, I can say that it is not our style. We are here to play football, and we have had just one yellow card in four games. It's not our style -- this team won the fair play trophy in the South American championships at both U-15 and U-17 level. This is very important for us."
When asked to comment on Wueck's statements from Sunday, Bussaca said, "It's not my habit to criticise. Normally I respect when someone wants to say something unrelated to football. I always think in life, we have to be able to lose and (maintain) respect. Mistake is human, and is a part of the game. What we are doing, we are doing in an honest way. Referees are honest. They go to the pitch and decide what they see, and not what they think."
Speaking about refereeing in general at this level of the game, he said, "When we arrived at this competition, I said to those referees who are considered top at their confederation, that if you underestimate this competition, you will see the mistake beside your door. Now you must be hungry for this competition. The next game will be like a first game for you, because at U-17 we are seeing at the end of this competition, these players are of the top category. So if the referee is not preparing on the pitch or in the classroom, they will not be ready. Till now, I am very happy with the referee and the assistants' performance in the competition."
Bussaca maintained that the approach of referees at an U-17 World Cup is no different from what it would be at the senior level. "Game is the same. We cannot treat (players) in another way," he said. "The way we prepared for the World Cup is how we are preparing for this competition. We always have to respect any FIFA competition -- this is history. Whoever will win, will make history. We have created top players from this competition and we cannot underestimate it. That's why we are sweating and making sacrifices every day."
Yet, one wonders how the quarterfinal could have panned out if Marrufo had sent an early message to the players by flashing a yellow card at the first instance of an overtly physical challenge. It would, for instance, be inconceivable for Lincoln's action of kicking an opponent from behind without possession of the ball go unpunished -- perhaps even with a red card -- at a senior competition. FIFA have their own protocol for evaluating the performances of referees and it would be a surprise to see Marrufo getting another match at this U-17 World Cup.