Chris Coleman did his best to sound diplomatic. “It’s disappointing but rules are rules,” the Wales manager said.
But are they the right rules? And would it be unreasonable to suggest Uefa needs to rethink a disciplinary system that means players can be suspended from possibly the biggest match of their lives without being guilty of what could be thought of as excessive foul play?
There are certainly some legitimate questions to be asked when Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies will miss Wales’s semi-final against Portugal on Wednesday – a game widely described as the biggest in the history of their team – on the basis they have received two yellow cards in the space of five matches.
Does the punishment fit the crime? Is it really fair to be strict given the number of card-happy referees these days? Most important of all, could a better system be put in place given the extraordinary number of players – 45 – who were one yellow card away from suspensions going into the four games that determined Euro 2016’s semi-finalists?
With that kind of number at risk, it is almost a surprise that more players will not be affected by Uefa’s totting-up procedure and the regulations that have deprived Coleman of two of his more important players and will affect both semi-finals.
Italy, alone, began their quarter-final against Germany with seven players from their starting lineup, plus four of their substitutes, knowing they would be suspended if they received a booking. Germany had five in the same position but only one of them, Mats Hummels, picked up the dreaded yellow card during 120 minutes of play in Bordeaux.
It is an unforgiving system and it certainly is not difficult to understand why the affected teams think the rules are flawed. “At this level, it’s tough,” Coleman said. “What has not been taken into consideration is the level of intensity and that it’s not that difficult to get a yellow card nowadays. So, yes, it is a bit harsh. You consider the emotion, the physicality – two yellows in five games, it feels a bit harsh. When there is so much on the games … it is tough.”
This is not to say Uefa is wrong to take measures against repeat offenders when, plainly, there has to be a system in place to promote fair play and discourage repeat fouling. There is an argument, however, that it would be fairer to incur bans for three bookings from five matches. Uefa disagrees and it is understood the governing body is reluctant to consider another rule change two years after the last one was introduced.
That is a pity because there are ways of finding some middle ground that could hopefully bring about a fairer system. One option would be to continue the policy of banning players for two yellow cards in the group stage games, as well as carrying over to the first knockout game, but then put a new system in place whereby it needs successive bookings in the quarter-finals and semi-finals to risk a suspension. That, again, might attract criticism for being too harsh when it would mean missing the final, especially if it were the player’s first offences of the tournament. So how about adding a condition that it would apply only if it were the player’s third yellow card?
It is not straightforward and, in fairness to Uefa, there is probably no solution that will appease everybody. This is the first tournament when the slate has been wiped clean after the quarter-finals and the idea for that was to reduce the possibility of players missing the final (something Uefa has been criticised about in the past).
The regulation, Rule 48.04, falls in line with the Champions League and Europa League introducing the same in 2014 and means, in effect, the only way a player would be suspended from a final is by being sent off in the semi-final. What Euro 2016 has shown, however, is that the balance has gone too far the other way and, in turn, created a pile-up before the semi-finals.
Hypothetical now, but imagine if Italy had beaten Germany and, say, seven of their players were suspended because they had two bookings in five games (one of which went to extra time). Rules are rules, you might say, but it still feels unsatisfactory that it was even a possibility – or that two of Coleman’s heroes will be watching from the sidelines in Lyon on Wednesday.
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