FIFA to crack down on dangerous tackles

BRUGES, Belgium (AP) — FIFA medical chief Michel D'Hooghe has a message for players at the World Cup in South Africa: You'll pay for those hard tackles.

D'Hooghe said Wednesday that he plans to give referees plenty of instruction and warning about rough play, adding that a big event like the World Cup offers a chance to send the message that bone-crunching take-downs are unacceptable.

"We will specifically tell our referees and let everyone know" to use the red card as soon as a career-threatening foul is committed at the World Cup, D'Hooghe said.

Early this season, D'Hooghe produced a DVD of some of the worst fouls committed in recent years to convince national federations to curb violent play. Nevertheless, it has continued and D'Hooghe doesn't want it to spill over into the World Cup.

"I took action after four or five serious incidents in a row," he told The Associated Press at his medical office in western Belgium.

One of the fouls was from the Belgian league when Standard Liege midfielder Axel Witsel snapped both bones in the right leg of Poland international defender Marcin Wasilewski during a match against Anderlecht.

D'Hooghe is hoping his campaign will match the success he had combating facial injuries ahead of the last World Cup in Germany.

The 2002 tournament in South Korea and Japan saw no less than a dozen serious facial injuries from elbows, often flying in anger and with callous determination. When Germany came around in 2006, the medical staff at FIFA campaigned to make the elbow to the face an automatic red card.

"We really stressed this ahead of the World Cup in Germany and we went from 12 to just two injuries," D'Hooghe said. "This is my main point. The first doctor at the World Cup is the referee."

The spate of horrific tackles and injuries this season have often boiled down to players blindly launching a tackle and not really caring if the ball is still there. Then, with the outstretched leg, they get the opponent's leg — often in the most delicate area between foot and shin. In comparison, a good tackle goes for the ball just in front of the foot, so a broken bone does not result if there's a miss.

"If you know that over one-third of injuries comes down to foul play, and you can cut down on foul play, then you already achieved a lot," he said.

Players don't always get red carded for these challenges, as they invariably claim they were trying to get the ball and a severe injury was accidental.

Arsenal is a case in point when it comes to being victimized by dangerous tackles. Its challenge for this season's Premier League title was undermined by injuries.

Defender Kieran Gibbs broke a bone in his left foot in November and was left with what manager Arsene Wenger called "a big hole in his leg" following a tackle in the Champions League by Standard Liege player Eliaqium Mangala.

Gibbs did not play again this season, while midfielder Aaron Ramsey could be out for as long as a year after his leg was broken in February by Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross.

The rough play this season has also had an impact on several World Cup teams. Germany captain Michael Ballack tore ligaments in his right ankle in the FA Cup final because of a wild tackle from an opponent.

"In case of Ballack, his World Cup is over and out," D'Hooghe said.


AP Sports Writer Stuart Condie in London contributed to this report.