We're used to seeing officiating that favours the hosts of tournaments. It's just how it works. Referees know it'll do their career prospects no harm if they give the home side a shove in the right direction. But Serdar Gözübüyük, a new face on the big stage clearly eager to earn brownie points, went overboard in Italy and Spain's Under-21 Euros clash last night. He simply stood by as the Italians kicked lumps out of Spain with utter impunity. They grappled at the Spaniards with their hands, which is an irritation; they went at them feet, knees and elbows-first, which does damage. They snapped at Spain at every chance, hitting where it hurt the most by targeting Fabián Ruiz and Dani Ceballos, our two string pullers-in-chief.
I hadn't seen anything like it in years...
I hadn't seen anything quite like it since my days watching Spanish lower-league matches in the 1960s and, to be quite honest, hadn't expected to ever again. Certainly not at this level. It pretty much defined the outcome of the game - one that Spain had actually started really well, taking an early lead through a wonderful goal by Ceballos, before Italy's brutality began to take its toll on Luis de la Fuente's men. Ceballos did make it through the full 90 minutes in Bologna, but was left in a pretty bad way nonetheless. Fabián, meanwhile, was on one leg by the break, and didn't come out for the second half. With Dutchman Gözübüyük busy doing his bit for the Italians by looking the other way, many others also took hits of all kinds.
To Spain's credit, they kept themselves in it and didn't lose their heads. Although they finally went down 3-1 after a late penalty awarded by VAR - the same VAR which failed to adequately punish several shocking tackles by the hosts - we have plenty of cause to feel confident in this team. As long as this defeat doesn't leave us with too many out injured in our now crucial clash with Belgium, who lost to Poland. Spain face an uphill battle, because losing by two goals makes it that bit harder to finish as the best second-placed side, but this team can get out of this. That isn't what's most concerning about last night, though; no, it's that in this day and age, with video technology now here, we can still see such an unseemly, unfair spectacle.