Conventional wisdom holds that the best referees are the ones that nobody notices.
Instead, these arbiters of what is fair and what is foul are fast becoming the story of this World Cup. Never have so many red and yellow cards been doled out at a World Cup - and that's with two weeks left.
While it's normal for coaches and players to complain about officiating, there have been some calls that all but decided games. Other games have been so brutal, so out of control, as to beg the question - who are these referees, how are they selected, and are they the most qualified to oversee the world's biggest sporting event?
Until Sunday, the name Valentin Ivanov was revered in Russian soccer.
A prodigious goal scorer for Moscow's FC Torpedo and for the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 60s, Ivanov picked up an Olympic gold medal and made two trips to the World Cup.
But it was his son, also named Valentin, who had hundreds of millions of people watching their TVs in disbelief as he oversaw a Portugal-Netherlands grudge match that likely will be his last here. Now the younger Ivanov's name is attached to two World Cup records: He tied the mark for most yellow cards in a match (16) on Sunday, and issued a record four red cards.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter's assessment was scathing.
“I think there could have been a yellow card for the referee,” Blatter said in a television interview.
FIFA selects the best referees from Europe and Latin America, where soccer is the highest quality and referees are accustomed to pressure. But only a few referees from those top leagues come - when FIFA set up the system for choosing referees, the aim was to have the corps mirror the global nature of the tournament.
That works, to point. But different countries have different officiating standards, and that can lead to inconsistency.
Though all have passed FIFA's certification, many referees here are not full-time professionals. Some come from nations that may never play a World Cup game.
The are an eclectic group. Coffi Codjia of the West African nation of Benin lists his occupation variously as marine traffic engineer and tax inspector in Benin. Slovakia's Lubos Michel formerly sold tires. Egyptian referee Essam Abd El Fatah pilots planes.
Italy 1, Australia 0
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany - The Socceroos were tough on Italy. The referee was tougher on Australia.
Another questionable call in this World Cup showed Italy the way to the quarterfinal Monday, giving the Italians a penalty kick that Francesco Totti converted for the 1-0 win as time expired.
Moments earlier, Italy's Fabio Grosso was dribbling a few strides from the goalmouth when Lucas Neill slid in front of him. The Italian cut in Neill's direction and tried to leap clear, but tripped over the defender's back.
To the amazement of the Socceroos, Spanish referee Luis immediately ruled it a penalty with 12 seconds remaining in extra time.
Ukraine 0, Switzerland 0, (Ukraine wins shootout 3-0)
COLOGNE, Germany - The idea is to put the ball in the net, not just keep it out. Ukraine figured that out a lot quicker than Switzerland in the shootout Monday night.
And the World Cup newcomers are headed to the quarterfinals because of it.
After 120 minutes of scoreless soccer, goalkeeper Oleksandr Shovkovskyi didn't have to work very hard in the shootout, either. The Swiss misses came right at him, and another shot clanged off the crossbar.
The Swiss, who did not yield a goal in the entire tournament, stood stunned at their lack of marksmanship from the penalty spot in the first shootout of the World Cup.