The one thing that was expected from Cuneyt Cakir was discipline.
The Turkish referee infamously sent Nani off for Manchester United in their Champions League clash with Real Madrid in 2013, to the fury of Sir Alex Ferguson, after deciding that the Portuguese had hit Alvaro Arbeloa with (of all things) a high foot; the year before he dismissed John Terry in the European semi-finals that cost him a place in Chelsea’s most historic moment.
That summer he went to Euro 2012 and was handed the group game between Italy and Ireland where he made a name for himself by insisting the wall for all free-kicks was precisely 10 yards – no more, no less. Returning for the semi-finals, he dished out nine yellow cards in the Portugal-Spain rivalry that threatened to spiral out of control.
Firstly, Dejan Lovren conceded an early foul in true Dejan Lovren style. His response was to berate Cakir for what he felt was in incorrect call. Some referees may have issued the first caution of the game there and then, so for a disciplinarian such as Cakir, it was a surprise to see his cards remain holstered.
The Liverpool defender then fell foul of the law once again as he hacked down Raheem Sterling with a fairly cynical challenge to kill and England attack inside their own half. Another stern talking too followed, another reprieve passed.
Lovren sealed the hat-trick at full-time when he gave Cakir one more earful before leaving the field, yet the defender didn’t even receive a telling off this time – just a blank face and a generous arm pointing him down the tunnel.
But it would prove Croatia’s equaliser that came as the real talking point. Croatia went hell for leather after half-time, seeking the goal that would keep their hopes of a first World Cup final alive. The controversy came in Ivan Perisic’s goal – a marvellous run in front of Kieran Trippier that left the right wing-back for dead and gave him an edge on makeshift centre-back Kyle Walker.
As you would expect, Stones dived for the ball to head it away. Perisic instead went with his left foot, and as Stones stooped low it was the Croatian who made contact with the ball to guide it past Jordan Pickford. The controversy came in that Stones’ head was beneath the ball and beneath Perisic’s boot, yet England’s cries of a high foot fell on deaf ears as Cakir awarded the goal.
England protested the case, while social media was awash with cries in frustration. “If that’s anywhere else on the pitch” could easily have been the most-tweeted phrase in the world for those heart-breaking seconds that Croatia filled by celebrating emphatically.
Their mood only worsened when Walker, having been barged into by not one but two Croatian players, was then penalised for his reaction and shown a yellow card.
Yet while Cakir’s performance was being called into question, there was no denying that the tide had turned on England.
England have previous with Cakir. It was the Turk who handed Steven Gerrard his first ever international dismissal in a World Cup qualifier back in 2012 – earning himself harsh criticism for what seemed two harsh yellow cards. “I don’t think there was a bad tackle in the game,” was Gerrard’s assessment afterwards.
There will no doubt be those who feel aggrieved with his performance, but England can only have themselves to blame for letting the second half slip away from them.