Football: Durkin marks England's card

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The Independent Online
THERE was not a tackle from behind to be seen and the banter hardly qualified as dissent, but then this was not a World Cup semi-final; it was just a training camp down by the river at Bisham. And instructive though it has been to have the Fifa referee, Paul Durkin, on hand this week, giving them the dos and don'ts, the England coach, Glenn Hoddle, remains concerned that the forthcoming French finals could develop into a farce.

It seems that the ambition England have to reach the final is shared not only by the 31 other finalists but also the 34 referees, among them Durkin, who are ready to carry out the world football authorities' instructions to the letter in order that they, too, will be present at the tournament's climax on 12 July.

It will almost certainly result in a welter of red and yellow cards, which could mean the competition is not necessarily won by the best team, but the best-behaved. Contrary to popular belief, it could spell good news for England, a regular recipient of Fair Play awards over the years. Hoddle's fears, however, were not easily allayed.

"The problem is that referees have been told they've got one game each," he said. "They haven't been told that the best or most experienced ones will go all the way. It's a pressure they don't need to be under. We might end up with eight versus eight, which I don't think anyone wants to see - it's ridiculous."

Durkin, who is likely to go further in the competition the less England progress, agreed it was a major consideration. "My continuation in the tournament is going to depend on that one performance," he said. "So, perhaps, a little bit of self-preservation will come into it with regards to 'was it a yellow or red card offence'."

In the course of Tuesday's mild-mannered training match, Durkin, who is attending the sessions at Hoddle's behest, had cause to warn only Gareth Southgate and Gary Neville for a couple of challenges, but a more meaningful competitive match is planned for today in the build-up to Saturday's friendly against Saudi Arabia. In the meantime, Durkin is hoping to talk the players through Fifa's video on "the tackle from behind", which will be as good as outlawed as of next month.

Since it will be an automatic red card if the tackle "endangers the safety of an opponent", no one in their right mind is likely to attempt it. A prime example in the video of what was no longer allowed was a tackle whereby the ball was taken cleanly off an opponent with an outstretched foot between his legs but with the tackler's trailing leg, he took the opponent down.

There will be a general crackdown on rough play, too. Durkin admitted that the yellow card he showed England's captain, Alan Shearer, for a foul on Tony Adams in last Saturday's FA Cup final would probably be red in the World Cup. "Players have got to realise that their judgement must be spot-on," Durkin said.

David Beckham is one of those players who could be at risk, but he said he thought he had learned from his mistakes last summer at Le Tournoi when suspension cost him a place against Brazil. "I don't think those two bookings were justified but the boss has made me realise you get bookings you don't agree with in World Cups," he said.

Norman "Bite yer legs" Hunter, for one, must be relieved he played his football when he did.

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