Johannesburg - There were amazing scenes of sadness and disbelief at a Uefa European Under-17 Championship quarter-final game between the Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands in England last week.
The Irish were the underdogs in this encounter and were expected to be beaten handsomely by their more skilful Dutch counterparts.
But the Irish displayed a fighting spirit far beyond their skill and capabilities and, having gone a goal down in the second half, managed to fight back with an equaliser within three minutes.
As this is a youth tournament with 40 minutes a side and no extra time, the teams finished 1-1 and so the dreaded penalties began.
The Irish keeper had been booked late in the second half for time-wasting and so was on “sticky ground”, although it’s unusual for a keeper to be sent off.
Having conceded three penalties in the shootout, he managed to save the fourth – much to his delight and excitement. However, he had moved forward off his line and the save was ruled out.
Not only that, the referee yellow-carded the young goal-stopper. This meant a second yellow card, so he was sent off.
The young man was inconsolable when he realised what was happening, but the referee was adamant.
As the Irish had made all their substitutions, one of the out-field players had to take up the position of minding the nets.
Sadly, he didn’t manage to save the retake and the Dutch went through 5-4.
Now this is what I find most unpalatable. The senior Irish manager, Martin O’Neill, and assistant Roy Keane were at the game and, when the final whistle went at the end of the penalties, O’Neill went on to the field to remonstrate with the referee.
This is totally unacceptable as he had no active part in the team and therefore should have stayed in the stands where, in effect, he was a spectator.
I presume Uefa, following the referee’s report, will take some action to indicate that such verbal altercations are totally unacceptable.
The bottom line is that the referee was well within his rights to do what he did. I’ve been inundated with calls from radio and television presenters who were aghast at what happened, but, I repeat, the referee was right.
The fact that all keepers are not penalised for coming off their line is another issue and leads to the whole debate of inconsistency among referees.
Certainly, inconsistency is something I have a major problem with. I see free kicks being given in the centre of the field, yet the same foul happens in the penalty area and the referees turn a blind eye.
That is wrong.
I’ve also seen many an incident in which keepers are well off their line when they save a penalty and the referee does nothing. Again, referees not doing their job. I call that refereeing cowardice.
Now you can shout and scream from the rooftops if you like, but, in this instance, the referee was 100% correct and cannot be faulted. In fact, if he had not issued the second yellow card, he would have been castigated by the match assessor for not doing his job.
It was a bitter end to a glorious tournament for the Irish youngsters, which was made even more memorable because it was the first and only goal conceded by the Dutch in the entire tournament.
The prize is a semi-final against England.
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