Initial reactions are extremely positive to the experiment with two additional assistant referees that is taking place at a UEFA European Under-19 Championship qualifying round mini-tournament in Slovenia.
The Group 5 mini-tournament features the hosts, Norway, Slovakia and Armenia. The tournament began yesterday and continues until Wednesday, and UEFA President Michel Platini has been on hand to watch the experiment in person. In addition to the match referee and two assistant referees on the touchline, two extra assistants are situated behind the goalline to focus on incidents that happen in the penalty area, such as fouls or misconduct.
Mr Platini has been able to hear the first reactions to the experiment, which follows approval of the test by football's lawmakers, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), last spring. Referees Nicola Rizzoli (Italy), who took charge of the Norway-Slovenia game, and Mark Courtney (Northern Ireland), who refereed the Slovakia-Armenia encounter, were given the opportunity to tell the UEFA President about their experiences.
UEFA's head of refereeing Yvan Cornu was present at the meeting, together with FIFA refereeing representatives Leslie Irvine and Fernando Tresaco, UEFA counterparts Marc Batta and Hugh Dallas, and IFAB delegates Donald McVicar and Neale Barry. Each referee or assistant referee at the Slovenia mini-tournament was also involved in the discussions, and UEFA national associations director Theodore Theodoridis and Football Association of Slovenia general secretary Dane Jost attended as observers.
One referee with more eyes
"The goal is to have one referee with more eyes," said Mr Platini. "We do not want to change the philosophy of the game – we do not want to have two or three referees."
The referees and their assistants said they had been pleasantly surprised. The referee has full control of the pitch, but more eyes are focused on the penalty area – which could act as a deterrent to players who try to win an advantage through simulation. It was felt there is a clear view of possible "blind areas", and all of the match officials emphasised that they felt more confident. Last but not least, the extra assistants may be able to give more focus to offside positions.
Very positive feeling
"It was a very good experience for this kind of tournament [with young players]," said Rizzoli. "I have a very positive feeling, which comes from the fact that I had control of each part of the field. We had three pairs of eyes on the penalty box, which is very important."
"It is a very interesting experiment," added Courtney. "The important thing for the match officials is to always make the correct decision. With this system, we can quickly receive additional information from the additional referees, which we can consider as part of the thought process to make the final decision."
More trials planned
Improvements and further tests will obviously be needed, and more trials are planned for later this year in the U19 qualifying round, in Groups 1 and 7 in Hungary and Cyprus.
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