Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler reflects on refereeing so far in this summer’s World Cup, and gives us an insight into watching Neymar and Brazil in St Petersburg.
There are no Premier League officials at this World Cup but I am sure they are watching on with interest. I am already starting to wonder how they will react next season.
There has only been one red card in the first 40 per cent of the matches and after 23 games there has been an average of exactly three yellow cards per game. Only three! Not every mistimed tackle deserves a booking but some spicy ones have gone unpunished here.
The games so far have been up-tempo and not complicated by the literal enforcement of the laws. Referees have always had the unwritten law of common sense at their disposal but the word mandatory has entered their vocabulary and our referees will disobey that at their peril.
The philosophy for this tournament seems to be less pedantic. Maybe the safety net of VAR has spawned a more lenient approach but I think it must have come from the top.
Mind you, I was surprised when Bjorn Kuipers, an excellent Dutch referee, having reversed his penalty decision for Brazil against Costa Rica on Friday, did not punish Neymar, who had thrown himself backwards. Five minutes later he did book Brazil’s iconic forward for a show of petulance but it should have been a second yellow.
It was fascinating to be in St Petersburg to see at first hand the most expensive player in the world play in the most expensive stadium in the world. After being accused of putting himself before the team in the opening game against Switzerland, Neymar was noticeably less selfish.
Nevertheless, he still offered the most danger to Costa Rica, not just with his dribbling and passing skills, but also with his clever runs off the ball in behind defenders. The foul count against him is testimony to the difficulty of stopping him.
That might excuse Kuipers’ original mistake but not Neymar ‘s dive. To English eyes that is simply cheating though with every tournament I learn more that many parts of the world just see it as part of the game.
Liverpool fans would have mixed feelings about Roberto Firmino – a real pro’s pro – setting up Philippe Coutinho for that vital late goal. An old understanding rekindled.
There was still time for Neymar to get his name on the score sheet and to weep at the final whistle. So much is expected of him.
I enjoyed my train journey up to St Petersburg on the express from Moscow’s Leningrad station, which arrives at the Moscow station in Leningrad (now of course St Petersburg) – a nice juxtaposition of the usual station names.
Unlike air travel, it has enabled appreciation of the vastness of this country. There were three stops but at towns rather than cities. Just miles of open land with plenty of forests.
The train had its own entertainment system, showing a Jackie Chan movie. No sound required because it’s all visual with Jackie, ending happily after lots of fights and tumbles with a white wedding. As a senior citizen, I could only admire Mr Chan’s agility at a certain age. I wonder how many World Cups he has left.
No return journey though. A direct flight to Nizhny Novgorod and England’s second game. It was a small plane – I was in row 12, the back row. Glenn Hoddle was in seven and I told him he should have been in number 10!