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Stab In the Back for Endo?
The item of interest in today's Japanese media is the official announcement of referees assigned for Japan's games with Iran and Bahrain. For the Bahrain game, the referee will be Uzbekistan's Ravshan Irmatov. For the Iran game, the referee will be Shamsul Maidin (pic, lower left) from Singapore.

I don't think we've seen Mr. Irmatov in any (or recent) Japan games, friendlies or otherwise. However, Mr. Maidin is a well-known face to us. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried about his assignment to a Japan game. Mr. Maidin first made himself famous to us during Japan's game against Bahrain in last year's Asia Cup semi-final when he wrongly red-carded (def mf) Yasuhito Endo (pic, upper right) for shoving at an opponent player's face. He again re-grabbed our attention during this year's friendly against Syria when he again wrongly accused Endo of diving in front of the opponent goalie's outstretched hands. (photos from Y.Emi at,, and

Apparently Mr. Maidin does not like Endo....

Anyhoo, this issue of referees (particularly in the AFC) is a frustrating factor in the already-hypersensitive atmosphere that permeates Asian football showdowns. It is obvious how much influence a referee's performance can impact a game. Mostly, the JapanNT have grown very mature about the lack of control they have over the quality of refs. Sometimes, though, when there is a lack of consistency in the performance of a ref in the course of one game, it can prove a mammoth task for players to try and guage what the boundaries are. I don't care if the refs have their own little idiosyncracies -- but inconsistencies in calls leave the players at a loss for guidelines. It inhibits their play, puts doubt in millisecond decisions they have to make.

The biggest moment of shame for a referee last year was the Asia Cup Iran vs. Oman match. During the game, when Iran was trailing 0-2, an argument broke out between two Iran players who ended up slapping each other's faces. Later on, an Iran player purposefully stepped on the fallen torso of an Oman player. The ref failed to notice what was going on, much less punish those involved. Iran ended up coming back to tie 2-2 with Oman and proceeded to the knockout stage. The ref for this match was reprimanded and sent home mid-tournament.

For the Japan qualifier against Oman in Muscat last October, the Oman football association requested to change the referee. Apparently, the appointed ref had been Malaysian Subkhiddin Mohd Salleh (pic), and Oman had problems with that. This ref was the same ref that granted Japan Captain Miyamoto's request to change sides/goals during the penalty shoot-out against Jordan during the Asia Cup 04. The AFC sent China's Jun Lu to Oman, and he magnificently used the hissy-fit method of getting all players to back off. However, despite his hypersensitivity he failed to catch numerous bad fouls on Japanese players, leading Zico to blow his frustrations from the sidelines. The end result: a red card for Zico's translator, Suzuki (some joke that Suzuki fell on the sword for Zico). The irony is that during the Asia Cup the Malaysian ref Mohd Salleh was considered the top Asian referee; however, (I believe) due to the controversy over the change-of-sides, the AFC referee of the year award went to China's Jun Lu.

Even in this year's three NT games, we saw a number of indications that Asian refs still have lots to learn. In one game, an off-sides was called, even though both passer and receiver were below the half-way line when the ball was passed. Off-sides are called haphazardly during throw-ins. Referees are still getting in the way of the flow of the game. They apparently are being taught certain higher level practices, like allowing the advantage -- however, some overuse it like a new gadget and are under the naive impression that they are showing savvy. Some referees are too frightened to give out penalties; others can't wait to wield their power.

The bottom line is, it's not going to change for a very long while. The problem may be that the referees don't get enough exposure to consistent high level standards in play. Some are used to seeing players hacking away at each others' legs, so the threshold for "foul" is higher than someone in UEFA. The Japanese players are getting accustomed to the frustrations surrounding this problem, but in a tense qualifier it is difficult for everyone to keep cool heads.

All I want to say to Zico is -- don't use Endo in the Iran game! : )
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