The Men of Europe
Now that we know who’s going to the World Cup, here are my initial thoughts on the choices. I’m focusing right now on the Europeans, since I know them best.
Felix Brych, Germany
Brych has been on the ascendancy in Germany for quite some time. Wolfgang Stark has been the number one in Germany until now, but over the past season or two, Brych has surpassed him in performance and fitness. It could have gone the other way, but I think Brych is the right choice
Cuneyt Cakir, Turkey
Manchester United fans will remember this guy for throwing Nani out of a Champions League game for doing absolutely nothing (or kicking a guy straight on in the chest, depending on your point of view). UEFA sided with Cakir against Man U’s protests, and he’s had a pretty good season. Somewhat of a surprise, but not a big one.
Jonas Eriksson, Sweden
Two or three years ago, Eriksson (pictured above) was – how do I put it delicately – fat. Then he came into money, quit his day job, and slimmed down into the muscled, balding refereeing god that he is today. Easy going, Eriksson is a great man manager who has a way of calming the whole pitch. He managed the final of the U21 World Cup and the Super Cup, and I’m not surprised to see him here.
Bjorn Kuipers, Netherlands
Kuipers has come out of nowhere over the past year or so to become arguably one of the best referees in the world. He’s got the pedigree; his father was a Dutch referee of some renown. Very well versed in the rules of the game, calm under pressure. Great referee.
Milorad Mazic, Serbia
I’d say if there’s a big surprise it’s Mazic. He’s only been in the Elite Group since last June, but he’s done consistently well, and he seems to be a favorite of FIFA Referee chief Massimo Busacca of Switzerland (bless him). Whether he is strong enough to have beaten out the likes of Stephane Lannoy and Viktor Kassai is up for debate.
Pedro Proenca, Portugal
No surprise here. Proenca has handled Europa League and Champions league finals, World Cup matches, and dozens of international matches. He is universally admired. He’s still fit and technically brilliant. His experience will serve him well.
Nicola Rizzoli, Italy
Ah, Nicola… Well, someone had to bring the hotness to the Cup! Mr. Smooth may spend a lot of time on his hair, but the truth is, he’s a damn good referee. Maybe the best in the world right now. He was as close to a lock as you could get. He has managed both a Europa League and a Champions League final, and has been entrusted with some of Serie A’s biggest games (including the recent Juventus v. Roma clash). He’s Serie A’s Referee of the Year three years running. The guy’s a beast. Oh, and he’s an architect. Just thought I’d throw that in there.
Carlos Velasco Carballo, Spain
Carballo has been a workhorse in the Elite Group for a while, but it’s a slight surprise that he’s in this World Cup. Not that there’s anything wrong with him; he’s still got good fitness. But of late Alberto Undiano Mallenco has been breathing down his neck in Spain. Undiano had a superb international year, and took a qualifier as well. Many people, myself included, thought this was the year that he would supplant Carballo. But it looks like FIFA decided to go for experience in this case.
Howard Webb, England
I don’t think they could have left Howard out, despite my sadness at Mark Clattenburg not making it through. Webb has been somewhat shaky during the league season (even being sent to the Championship one weekend allegedly as punishment for poor performance). But internationally he’s been stellar. And while he may have lost a half a step or so (he’s 42) he’s still pretty damn fit. Thought I doubt he’d make it all the way to the final again, he’ll do well in Brazil.