What might appear from the stands to be a clear foul is not necessarily what the referee sees. He has a different angle and might invoke the advantage rule or spot another infraction unseen by more distant viewers.
The seven most important words in the rules of soccer, it has been pointed out, are these: "If in the opinion of the referee . . . "
No one else's opinion matters; the referee has total control.
During the most recent World Cup, in Italy in 1990, referees received more criticism than perhaps ever before. Unfortunately, much of it was justified.
The referees had been ordered by FIFA President Joao Havelange to crack down on violent play, under threat of being sent home if they did not. The result was chaos. Some referees punished the most innocuous of fouls, others ignored blatant fouls. Communication between referees and their linesmen was poor.
By the end of the tournament, a record 170 yellow cards had been issued and 16 players had been tossed out of games, including Argentina's Pedro Monzon and Gustavo Dezotti, who became the first players to be red-carded in the championship final.
The abiding image of Italia '90, at least from the officiating standpoint, is of referee Edgardo Codesal Mendez of Mexico being surrounded and jostled by angry Argentine players, including Maradona, who did or said enough to be given a yellow card.
It is not an image FIFA is proud of, and world soccer's governing body has set out to change it in this summer's tournament. Here are some of the changes:
-- The maximum age of the participating referees has been fixed at 45, with the intention of lowering it in the future.
-- Instead of using referees as linesmen, this World Cup will be officiated by 24 referees and 24 specialist linesmen.
-- The "man-in-black" phrase is no longer applicable. Instead of wearing all-black uniforms, referees will be sporting fuchsia, silver or yellow shirts.
"They are fairly conservative but more attractive than the traditional black jerseys," said Scotland's David Will, chairman of FIFA's referees committee. "The image of referees is gradually changing, and we think this is part of the modernization of the image."
-- All referees and linesmen will be based in Dallas during the tournament and will travel to matches in teams of four, grouped according to language compatibility when possible.
"You may rest assured that we will see better control of matches in 1994," Joseph (Sepp) Blatter, FIFA's general secretary, said last December in Las Vegas.
Blatter, who is from Switzerland, visited the United States again last March when all of the referees underwent a series of physical and written tests and attended seminars on rules interpretation.
"Very precise instructions have been given, principally about changes in emphasis," Will said. "We talked about changes in the psychological approach of referees and linesmen to soccer so that, hopefully, in the World Cup we shall see attacking soccer.
"We have tried, by changing the psychology of the referees, to take away the advantage from defenders and give it to the forwards."
One of the new interpretations of the rules will be to consider tackles from behind as serious fouls.
"If it is serious foul play, it is automatically an expulsion," Blatter said. "If there is a tackle from behind, it must be a red card. It cannot be a yellow card."
Yellow cards, or cautions, also will be given to players who fake being fouled by taking a dive, Blatter said.
Whether all these changes will result in more open and attacking play, rather than the defensive doldrums that characterized the 1990 tournament, remains to be seen.
An effort has been made but it will still be up to the referees to make the calls.
"The man in black will not be in black any longer," Blatter said, "but he will still be in charge."
World Cup Referees
These are the 24 referees for the 52 matches of the 1994 World Cup. They are listed by name, age, occupation and country.
Referee Age Occupation Fabio Baldas 45 Clerk Leslie Mottram 43 Teacher Jamal Al-Sharif 37 Civil servant Jose Torres Cadena 41 Businessman Manuel Diaz Vega 39 Manager Pierluigi Pairetto 41 Veterinary surgeon Ali Mohammed Bujsaim 34 Civil servant Neji Jouini 44 Manager Philip Don 42 Headmaster Sandor Puhl 38 Director Ernesto Filippi Cavani 43 Lecturer An Yan Lim Kee Chong 34 Customs officer Bo Karlsson 44 Bank clerk Joel Quiniou 43 Computer specialist Francisco Lamolina 43 Businessman Arturo Angeles 40 Engineer Heinz Hellmut Krug 38 Sports educationalist Kurt Rothlisberger 43 Teacher Renato Marsiglia 43 Systems analyst Rodrigo Badilla Sequeira 36 Office clerk Peter Mikkelsen 34 Teacher Mario Van Der Ende 38 Teacher Alberto Tejada Noriega 37 Surgeon Arturo Brizio Carter 38 Lawyer
Referee Country Fabio Baldas Italy Leslie Mottram Scotland Jamal Al-Sharif Syria Jose Torres Cadena Colombia Manuel Diaz Vega Spain Pierluigi Pairetto Italy Ali Mohammed Bujsaim United Arab Emirates Neji Jouini Tunisia Philip Don England Sandor Puhl Hungary Ernesto Filippi Cavani Uruguay An Yan Lim Kee Chong Mauritius Bo Karlsson Sweden Joel Quiniou France Francisco Lamolina Argentina Arturo Angeles United States Heinz Hellmut Krug Germany Kurt Rothlisberger Switzerland Renato Marsiglia Brazil Rodrigo Badilla Sequeira Costa Rica Peter Mikkelsen Denmark Mario Van Der Ende Netherlands Alberto Tejada Noriega Peru Arturo Brizio Carter Mexico
Four other referees are on call as reserves:
* Vassilios Nikakis, Greece
* Shin-Ichiro Obata, Japan
* Salvador Imperatore, Chile
* Marcio Rezende, Brazil