Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New yellow-card rule: Good for the game

Two yellow cards in two games still result in a one-game suspension, but FIFA has changed the stage at which a player's yellow-card slate is wiped clean. The new rule on accumulated yellow-card suspensions was designed to prevent stars from missing the final, but it could have an even deeper impact on the tournament. 

At past World Cups, a single yellow card received during the group stage was deleted before the knockout stage and the count began anew at the round of 16. At the 2010 World Cup, a yellow card isn’t expunged from a player's record until after the quarterfinal.

A player who receives his second yellow of the tournament in the quarterfinal will be banned from the semifinal. But players face no consequence for a single yellow card in the semifinal. FIFA wants to ensure that teams in the final are at full strength.

The example commonly cited on this issue was Michael Ballack missing 2002 World Cup final. Germany’s best player received his second yellow of the second round in the semifinals, forcing him to miss the final, a 2-0 Brazil win.

(Under the new regulations, Ballack would have missed Germany’s quarterfinal against the USA, in which he scored the winner, because he was cautioned in the final group game and round of 16 game. And Germany may not have gotten to the final. But anyhow ...)

Under the previous format, the longest stretch a player would have to go without getting cautioned twice was three games (either in the first round or knockout stage). That shouldn't be too difficult.

Now a player must go five games without two yellows to avoid a ban.

There's big positive to the new format: it could rein in thuggish defenders.

The majority of yellow cards are handed out for fouls that stifle an attacking player. We know well enough that most defenders will scythe down a threatening dribbler if the consequences aren’t dire.

Among the promising aspects of the tournament during the low-scoring first 16 games of the group openers was that referees didn’t hesitate to pull yellow cards for the cynical fouls that plague the game.

As the tournament progresses and the cautions become more costly, defenders will have to rely on fair means to battle the skillful and creative players. That should give us more entertaining soccer and more goals.

Article courtesy of Soccer America Daily.

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