The Jude Bellingham comments that could come back to bite England in Euro 2024 semi-final

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The Three Lions play the Netherlands in Dortmund on Wednesday evening

It’s a little like finding out that the person you rear-ended on the drive into the office is also the person conducting your job interview. On Wednesday night, England will play the Netherlands in a Euro 2024 semi-final officiated by Felix Zwayer; a referee who Jude Bellingham has previously accused of match-fixing. Here’s hoping he doesn’t hold grudges.

Perhaps some context is required; in 2006 Zwayer was banned for six months after working alongside German official Robert Hoyzer, who was banished from the professional game for life as punishment his role in illicit gambling activities. According to Zwayer, he was approached by Hoyzer and asked to fix the result of a 2. Bundesliga match between Rot-Weiss Essen and Cologne. “When I got this firm offer from Hoyzer, I went to my refereeing colleagues,” he said. “I stress once again that I strongly rejected this offer straightaway.”

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Zwayer’s willingness to speak out against his colleague was a significant factor in his own ban being so brief, but there were also allegations that he was involved in Hoyzer’s fix of a game between Wuppertal and Werder Bremen B in 2004. The German has always denied these accusations, although a DFB investigation did discover that he had accepted a payment of €300 from Hoyzer at one stage.

Either way, news of Zwayer’s ban did not properly break into the public sphere until 2014, two years after he had been officially listed by FIFA for consideration at major tournaments. Since then, UEFA have thrown their full backing behind the 43-year-old, but he has been a marked target for ire, including, most notably, that of Bellingham.

Three years ago, after a contentious penalty decision during a match between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich from which Robert Lewandowski scored the goal that consigned die Schwarzgelben to defeat, the England midfielder was incredibly vocal in his criticism: “You give a referee that’s match-fixed before the biggest game in Germany, what do you expect?”, he said, before being soundly slapped with a €40,000 fine.

Now, the two will cross paths again in the city that the Brummie boy prince once called home. Those of a conspiratorial leaning might be inclined to suggest that England’s fate rests at least partially on the thickness of Zwayer’s skin.

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Of course, you would like to believe that will not be the case. Certainly, the party line from the Three Lions’ camp is that Bellingham’s previous with the referee will have no bearing on the outcome of Wednesday’s contest. Speaking in an interview earlier in the week, defender Luke Shaw said: “We have to respect UEFA on whoever they decide to pick as ref. That won’t change anything for us, we just focus on the game at hand and not the refs we are given.” It would also be wildly inappropriate to accuse Zwayer of lacking in professionalism or impartiality. The relevant governing bodies evidently trust him for a reason.

But, as we are often reminded, match officials are humans, and humans are riddled with biases, prone to grudges. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Zwayer will enact some kind of banal, bureaucratic vengeance on Bellingham and his compatriots; again, that should go without saying. If nothing else, however, it could make the pre-match handshake in the tunnel more than a little awkward.

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