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Extra pairs of eyes will be on refereeing duty at UEFA EURO 2012 in order to give crucial help to the match referee amid the high-pressure environment during the 31 games that will take place in Poland and Ukraine next month.
Additional assistant referees are being deployed at the final tournament as part of a continuing experiment authorised by football's lawmakers, the International Football Association Board (IFAB). The two additional assistants stand on each goal line, and are on the look-out for penalty-area incidents in particular.
Trials with two additional assistant referees initially took place in UEFA European Under-19 Championship qualifying tournaments in autumn 2008, after which the IFAB gave permission for the experiment to be continued at professional level.
As a result, additional assistant referees have been deployed at UEFA Europa League matches since the 2009/10 season, in the UEFA Champions League during the 2010/11 and 2011/12 campaigns, and in the UEFA Super Cup in 2010 and 2011.
Now, Europe's blue-riband international tournament will feature the two additional officials as part of a seven-man refereeing team for each match – the referee, two assistant referees and the fourth official, the two additional assistant referees and a reserve assistant referee.
Response to the experiment has been good. "The feedback the referees [have given] us is very positive; they really feel in better control of a match," UEFA chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina told UEFA.com. "Of course, the additional assistant referees are very important to control the goal line. We've had several situations with the ball bouncing inside-outside the goal line. Some were very important.
"I can mention the Basel-Manchester United match on matchday six in the Champions League, it was a decisive match for qualification to the knockout phase. The goal scored by Manchester United was not more than 10 centimetres inside the goal line, and the additional assistant referee perfectly assessed [it] and decided that the goal was awarded. No dissent, no protest; the players accepted [it] because of the presence of the additional referee." It should be noted the additional assistant referees are not authorised by the IFAB experiment to signal, but to only use verbal [radio] communication with the referee.
"The presence of an extra official is a very important deterrent for holding and pulling," Collina added. "We've had this problem for many seasons, we had to remind the referees to be very careful at pulling and pushing. I have to say, since the additional assistant referee experiment started, the pulling and pushing inside the penalty area at set pieces has decreased; and this is certainly due to the presence of the two extra officials."
The referees themselves who have been chosen for duty at UEFA EURO 2012 have also shared their positive reaction. "The benefits are clear for me," explained England's Howard Webb. "When I go to these games with the additional assistant referees, I am going into the game with two experienced, usually FIFA-listed officials on my side. They're giving me judgment on important situations in and around the penalty area, from angles I could never hope to get as a match official, as a referee on the field of play."
"I think, additionally, they act as a really strong deterrent. We are quite often asked about holding in the penalty area. Well, it's quite difficult to detect when you are on your own and the penalty area is so crowded. You've got an assistant referee of course, but he's some distance away.
"With an additional assistant, we can split responsibility of that important area within the penalty area, so we have got less to look at. And therefore we have got a higher chance of spotting what is going off. The players respond to that. The players are mindful of this additional official who increases the chance of being detected if they commit an offence."
Thanks to the additional assistants' presence, the chances of referees getting the important decisions right in and around the penalty box are considerably higher. This can only be good for the game – and even more so if it makes players behave in the proper manner and not seek an unfair advantage.
To see this interview in greater depth, watch the video above.
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