Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir has been chosen by FIFA to officiate this week’s crucial World Cup Semi Final between England and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Cakir is one of the most highly regarded referees on FIFA’s payroll, though his reputation isn’t quite so unsullied on English shores.
When playing to the soundtrack of Cakir’s whistle, England’s fortunes at club level have been worryingly mixed. In international football however, the good has generally outweighed the bad. Cakir has taken charge of 5 senior England international matches during his career and the Three Lions are yet to lose with the insurance salesman enforcing the rules.
Cakir and England
Cakir refereed England for the first time in 2008 in their 2-0 victory over Andorra and he officiated over their draws at home to Ghana in 2011 and Ukraine in 2012. Cakir took charge of England’s win against Switzerland in 2014 and most recently, their 3-0 win against Scotland at Wembley back in November 2016.
Cakir’s most controversial English international fixture was the match against Ukraine during the 2014 World Cup qualification campaign in September 2012. Cakir awarded England a penalty in the 87th minute which allowed Frank Lampard to dispatch a vital equalizer. Just a minute later however, Cakir showed a second yellow card to Steven Gerrard to punish a rash lunge by the midfielder. In total, Cakir booked six English players in a second half that threatened to spiral out of control.
While England will be reunited with a familiar antagonist this week in Moscow, Croatia’s players will be dealing with something of an unknown quantity in Cuneyt Cakir. The Turkish referee has never taken charge of a senior Croatian international match before, nor has he officiated over a game involving a Croatian club.
Cakir and English Clubs
Where England’s Premier League clubs and the country’s continental adventurers are concerned, the very mention of Cakir’s name will see pencils snapping and anger bubbling to the surface. The 41-year old has a well-established malevolent reputation, earned through what could be construed as an “anti-English” bias.
Cakir has sent off 7 players from English clubs in European and international competitions, but remarkably, he has never dismissed a player playing against them. In 2011, Cakir sent off Manchester City’s Mario Balotelli in the Sky Blues’ Europa League clash against Dynamo Kiev. Cakir booked 8 other players during the contest.
In 2012, Cakir sent John Terry off in the second leg of Chelsea’s Champions League Semi Final against Barcelona. The red card ruled the Chelsea skipper out of the Final itself. Later that year in the Final of the FIFA World Club Cup, Cakir again dew the ire of Chelsea fans, after he sent off Gary Cahill against Corinthians. The Brazilians eventually ran out 1-0 winners.
Cakir’s most infamous incident involving English clubs was his decision to send off Manchester United’s Nani for dangerous play against Real Madrid in the Last 16 of the 2013 Champions League. It was a game-defining event that helped to swing the momentum of the tie in the Spaniard’s favour.
Card happy Cakir?
His refereeing career statistics suggest that Cakir’s has a penchant for reaching into his pocket and his record at this summer’s World Cup so far certainly serves to enhance his tag as a card happy official.
205 yellow cards and 4 red cards have been dished out in Russia since the 2018 tournament kicked off, with an average of 3.42 cards per game being shown by the respective referees. Cuneyt Cakir has only presided over two matches at the World Cup to date, though his average of 4.5 cared per ninety minutes comes in comfortably above the overall tournament average.
Cakir took charge of the Group B encounter between Morocco and Iran, booking 4 players in total during the contest. He also officiated the dramatic Group D battle between Nigeria and Argentina, a game that finished 2-1 to the South Americans. Cakir booked 5 players during the fixture.
The good news for both Croatia and England however, is that Cakir’s reputation for unleashing his yellow card on a whim carries a little less fear in this week’s Semi Final. All previous yellow cards are wiped from the World Cup after the Quarter Final stage, meaning only a red card can deny a player an appearance in the Final. Cakir has yet to send a player off in Russia.
The yellow card clean slate is a welcome boost for England’s Kyle Walker, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Jordan Henderson, Jesse Lingard, and Harry Maguire who had all been cautioned earlier in the tournament. For Croatia, the list of yellow card offenders was even longer with Ivan Rakitic, Ante Rebic, Marcelo Brozovic, Vedran Corluka, Tin Jedvaj, Mario Mandzukic, Marko Pjaca, Sime Vrsaljko, Ivan Strinic, Dejan Lovren, Domagoj Vida and Josip Pivaric all booked in previous matches.
Cakir’s season statistics
Cuneyt Cakir’s refereeing statistics for the 2018/19 season make for some pretty grim reading. Including the 2 World Cup matches he has refereed so far in Russia, Cakir has been the man in the middle for 28 fixtures since last summer. Those fixtures included 20 Turkish Super Lig games and 6 Champions League contests.
In those 28 games, Cakir handed out an incredible 128 yellow and 9 red cards. Cakir also awarded 11 penalties during the same period, including the spot kick he awarded to Nigeria in their 2-1 loss to Argentina at the summer’s World Cup.
It seems Cakir is never far from controversy and while the best referees are generally peripheral figures, the Turkish task master all too often thrusts himself centre stage. Both England and Croatia will hope that Cuneyt Cakir’s influence on proceedings during their World Cup Semi Final meeting this week will be minimal, though the dictatorial 41-year old might have other ideas.
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