"Why is it that you're seeing more goals scored in this tournament? I think you know the answer: five officials makes things easier. With five, officials see everything. They don't make decisions without being fully aware." - Michel Platini, 18/06/12...
Oh really Michel? I beg to differ my good man...UEFA's experimentation with the "fifth official" has been around for nearly three years now having first been first trialled in the Europa League, heralded as a more natural alternative to goal line technology whilst also granting the officials already on the field of play with an extra set of eyes for decisions in and around the penalty area. However, despite their prominent position around the goal mouth I am left scratching my head trying to remember a key decision in which they have assisted.
The experiment has fallen under further scrutiny as of late during the entertaining Euro 2012 competition, most notably on Tuesday evening as Roy Hodgson's three lions upset the apple cart to progress into the knockout stages having topped Group D. The moment of controversy came on the hour mark, with England holding a slender 1-0 advantage, sustaining prolonged pressure from Ukraine before Mario Devic's shot was acrobatically "cleared off the line" by everyone's favourite central defender John Terry. Or was it? Putting aside the fact that Artem Milevskiy was offside during the build up to the goal for the sake of this rambling argument, replays quickly established that Ukraine could feel hard done by as the ball appears to have crossed the line.
Cue cringe worthy comparisons to Frank Lampard's disallowed goal against Germany in the 2010 World Cup from the commentators and press who are now well and truly making themselves at home on the England Bandwagon that they were keen to mock before the tournament got going. Lowered expectations my backside, how about a realistic expectation of a national side that has done the sum total of nothing since West Ham won the World Cup in the sixties?
Despite embarrassing himself in the post match press conference, Oleh Blokhin can quite rightly feel slightly hard done by given the fact that the fifth official was barely yards away with a clear view of the incident. It was not the first instance in that game when the fifth official was unable to provide assistance to the referee when called upon. Whilst not as controversial as missing the ball crossing the line, there was an instance in the first half where a ball was fired into a crowded England penalty area before passing the fifth official who was unable to determine whether the result of the play should have been a goal kick or a corner for the attacking Ukraine.
However not all manager's have a damning opinion on the maligned fifth officials, just ask Italy's coach Cesare Prandelli in the wake of his side's 2-0 victory over Ireland on Monday night and in particular the opening goal. Antonio Cassano's header from an Andrea Pirlo corner caused panic on Ireland's goal line before being hacked away via the underside of the cross bar. Whilst at first glance it was hard to judge the flight of the ball given the scramble it caused, the goal was given, a decision which was later backed up by slow-motion replays. With more than a hint of sarcasm Prandelli playfully suggested that he had Platini to thank for the goal:
"I have to compliment him because without the fifth man maybe the goal wouldn't have been given."
The final game in Group C between Spain and Croatia also through up some controversy involving the man behind the goal as Croatia were denied a clear penalty just moments before the Spanish finally took the lead through Jesus Navas. Both the referee and the fifth official had a good view of Sergio Busquet's fistful of Vedran Corluka's shirt but it was the fifth official that had the clearest view of the pair. His reaction? Simply to share a laugh and a joke with Iker Casillas whose reaction and facial expression said it all before a goal kick was awarded. Brilliant.
Thankfully UEFA's flirtation with the fifth official may soon becoming to an end as FIFA's introduction of goalline technology is expected to be finally ormally introduced early in July.
Such incompetence from our governing bodies has come to be expected unfortunately and no incident has proven this ineptitude more so than the controversy surrounding UEFA's reaction to a certain ex-Sunderland striker's ill-advised goal celebration during Denmark's clash with Portugal last week. Bendtner was slapped with an £80,000 fine and a one match ban for his act of advertising by exhibitionism, a crime that UEFA deem to be more evil and damning to the sport than racism if the smaller fines dished out to the Croatian FA earlier in the competition are anything to go by.
Thankfully UEFA has quite rightly received nothing but condemnation and ridicule following the events with calls for an urgent review of their priorities. One thing is for certain that only one organisation has benefited from the scandal and that is a certain Irish bookmakers who couldn't have wished for as much free advertising.