Football: Rash tackles cause more yellow fever

EURO 2000: SCOTLAND V ENGLAND: Norman Fox finds the Spanish referee a master of close control
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The Independent Online
IF THE yellow card is to be abandoned and replaced by the sin bin, Kevin Keegan will be one of the first to applaud its passing. From the beginning at Hampden he fidgeted as if trying to sit on a pin cushion rather than rest on the feather bed his players' performance provided.

His fears had always been divided between tactical matters - whether Alan Shearer and Michael Owen could link as a strike force and Sol Campbell play at right-back - and the problem of discipline. Would moments of all too familiar ill-temper or a referee's error destroy England's last chance to reach Euro 2000? He had good reason to worry. Four of his players had been sent off in the nine most recent competitive matches.

His squad included six players who were one yellow card away from missing the return at Wembley, and each one knew that the referee, Manuel Diaz Vega, from Spain, had a favourite colour: yellow, with red his second. On average he brings out the yellow five times in every match and shows a red once in every three. Keegan fretted. Would Vega have sympathy for what was a typical Premiership match in international shirts?

Within five minutes Vega was into his familiar stride, giving a warning to Tony Adams for the sort of push that would not unbalance a canary from its perch. Then he took the name of Colin Hendry for a thoughtless, rather than thunderous, challenge into the back of Shearer. The question was whether his reputation as a disciplinarian would calm the initial intensity of the occasion or aggravate those whose normal game is far more physical than on the Continent.

His booking of Hendry and a verbal reprimand for a tackle from behind by Paul Ince suggested that predictions of a game finishing several players short of a full complement would come true. Far from it. He was superb, and not even Kevin Gallacher, who rammed into the back of Owen, could have been surprised to see Vega produce a yellow card. So Gallacher was the first to forfeit his place in the return.

Keegan would have been delighted to see Paul Scholes take his confidence- giving, fine first goal because this was the one player he felt could let the atmosphere and expectancy eat into his fragile self-control. But what irony. Scholes had his name taken, not for a mis-timed tackle or losing his temper, but for celebrating a shade too long and lovingly with his colleagues.

While Vega showed a convincing understanding of the day's ferocity of passion, he balanced that with his application of the rules - an example to some pedantic Premiership referees. Phil Neville was wasting his breath with a nominal complaint about his caution for felling Billy Dodds, which cost him his place at Wembley, having previously had a caution.

England's second goal by Scholes greatly reduced the possibility that this would indeed be a battle of British interests. With Scottish passion so greatly reduced, there was no need for England to risk further places in the return by committing the sort of offences that had been so damaging in the past two years. Nevertheless, Jamie Redknapp's poor timing again brought out the card, and again Vega was so close to the action that he was almost in its way. Equally he was beyond criticism in taking the names of Adams and Ince, which meant that his average was maintained in English names alone. And that was still a long-term worry for Keegan as, in other respects, he confidently pushed open the back door to Euro 2000.