Play of the Week 23: Goalkeeper challenges

By PRO Training & Development Manager Paul Rejer

In Play of the Week 23 we are looking at challenges on goalkeepers, examining the Laws of the Game perspective and seeing whether two plays from the weekend, which involve goalkeeper challenges, are legal or not.

Firstly, from Friday night’s game between Vancouver Whitecaps and San Jose Earthquakes, at an Earthquakes corner, we see Anibal Godoy cross the ball into the penalty area onto the head of team-mate Quincy Amarikwa.

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He heads the ball into the hands of Whitecaps goalkeeper, David Ousted, who initially catches the ball before falling back and dropping it on the ground.

Outstretched, he reaches out and puts his hands onto the ball to prevent it spinning over the goal line. At this point, forward Fatai Alashe kicks the ball, which then definitely wholly crosses the line and AR Peter Balciunas raises his flag to indicate to referee Drew Fischer that a goal has been scored. But is this goal legal?

To start, we have to examine at which point the ball wholly crossed the line. If you look at the freeze frame above, when Ousted has his hands on the ball you can see from all the camera angles that it is very close to the goal line. For the whole of the ball to have crossed the line means that if looking from a view over the top of the ball, no part of its curvature can be overlapping any part of the line.

From one of the camera angles you may be able to see none of the ball is actually touching the line but this doesn’t mean that the whole of the ball is over the whole of the line.

Having contacted Hawk-Eye, the company that are the innovators of goal line technology, they confirmed that based on their vast experience from the angles we have, it is impossible for the whole of the ball to have crossed the line at this juncture.

The ball crosses the line when Alashe plays the ball out of Ousted’s outstretched hands, when it was between his hands and the ground – see freeze frame two below.

The law states:

“A goalkeeper is considered to be in control of the ball:

– While the ball is between his hands or between his hand and any surface (e.g. ground, own body)

– While holding the ball in his outstretched open hand”

Therefore, this goal should not have been allowed.

As we have discussed so many times before, positioning plays a part as to why this goal was incorrectly awarded.

If we look at the AR’s movements, after the corner kick was taken, he moves a yard from the goal line to be level with the second last defender. However, he does not adjust his position when a San Jose defender drops back to his goal line.

The optimum position to make crucial goal line adjudications has to be directly on the goal line. He is not in a position to accurately judge in the first phase, when the goalkeeper drops the ball, whether it wholly crosses the line. However, he then readjusts his position when Alashe plays the ball and correctly judges at this point that it has crossed the line. Due to his initial positioning, though, he wouldn’t be 100 per cent sure of the exact moment the whole of the ball wholly crossed the line.

As discussed in last week’s Play of the Week, regarding referees’ positioning at corner kicks, we see center official Drew Fischer take a position on the edge of the penalty area, but doesn’t readjust to be closer and create a better angle so he can clearly see the ball kicked out of the goalkeeper’s hands. He could not rely on his AR to inform him of the exact moment it was played by Alashe and would not have known when the ball wholly crossed the line.

This was a difficult call for both referee and AR to know which came first – the ball over the line or the play on the ball. However, as discussed on so many previous occasions, optimum positioning always provides you with a better chance of making the correct decision.

In the second play, from Seattle Sounders versus Real Salt Lake, we see Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei attempt to throw the ball to team-mate Chad Marshall and RSL’s Yura Movsisyan intercepts, then plays it to Joao Plata, who slots home.

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Was this goal legal?

The law says:

“An indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team if, in the opinion of the referee, a player prevents the goalkeeper from releasing the ball with his hands.”

In this case Frei does release the ball from his hands and Movsisyan does not prevent him from doing this. At the time Frei releases the ball, Movsisyan is not standing in front of him, he is behind him and the goalkeeper has a clear view of where he is throwing the ball. He just took advantage of the opportunity that was presented to him by intercepting the throw to his team-mate by Frei.

Players are not allowed to play the ball when the keeper has thrown it into the air in order to kick it into play as the ball is deemed as being in his possession, but in this case he has clearly released the ball freely.

If you look at the positioning of the vastly experienced AR Chris Strickland, he stays back when he sees Movsisyan inside the penalty area to observe any potential offenses that may occur.

He doesn’t take a position exactly level with the second last defender as he knows there is not an immediate offside decision to make, so he prioritizes. When the ball is intercepted he is ideally positioned to judge that no offense had taken place. He could see that Frei freely released the ball and Movsisyan did not impede or play in a dangerous manner. He then quickly readjusts his position to correctly judge no offside offense when the ball is played to Plata.

Referee Kevin Stott, another vastly experienced official, starts from where he is expected to be, on the half way line, anticipating either a punt from the goalkeeper or the defender launching an attacking move. When the ball is intercepted he still has a clear view but then rapidly adjusts and is in a perfect position on the edge of the penalty area when the goal is scored.

In this Play of the Week we have discussed many aspects of challenging the goalkeeper, when it is legal to do so and when it is not. The considerations in the Laws of the Game and the requirements of match officials in such decision making include:

– Law knowledge
– Anticipation
– Teamwork
– Awareness
– Positioning

Additions notes from Paul Rejer:

“Having received many enquires regarding the Frei/Movsisyan incident, I would like to bring some prospective to the practical element of this play.

“Unfortunately the law does not state the distance of a legal interception, it states that preventing the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his hands is in the opinion of the referee. Therefore, as the officials in this game didn’t believe this play was illegal, then they are correct to allow play to continue in terms of the Law.

“However, there is a practical element to these types of challenges and interceptions and safe refereeing would dictate that the referee penalize this type of interception when it is close enough to be considered a challenge.”

Read more: Click here to see other Play of the Week’s from PRO’s Paul Rejer