Ghana’s Heartbreak and Dutch Courage

3 07 2010

What a day of football it was yesterday! Up until this point we hadn’t been moved a great deal by the World Cup in South Africa with relatively few of the games providing the levels of drama or entertaining football we had hoped and expected. It could be said in fact that the competition was passing us by somewhat. However, with Holland beating the might of Brazil and unbelievable levels of drama in the Uruguay and Ghana match, the whole tournament has suddenly come alive.

At the beginning of the World Cup few people would have bet on a Uruguay Holland semi final and for both teams this represents by far their best shot at glory for years. Uruguay of course have won two world cups although this was back in the 1930’s and dim in the memory. For Holland, their sole piece of silverware was won at the 1988 European Championships. It is not so much the victors but the manner of their victories that is interesting however and both are results that will surely be talked about for many years.

For Holland, their win was a testament to their fighting nature, having come back from a goal down and clearly being the worse side in the first half. Brazil, unfortunately, would have won few friends as the match progressed though as, once the going got tough, they seemed to fall apart in a ragged show of indisciplined football. With only Uruguay to come between Holland and a place in the final, a match that the Dutch should be favourites for, they must start believing that, just perhaps, this could be an orange year!

It is the other quarter final that offers the most talking points though. In case anyone missed it this is a synopsis of what happened. With the scores tied at 1-1 in the dying minutes of extra time, Ghana’s Adiyiah headed the ball goal bound only to see Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan outfield player, punch the ball away. Rightly of course, the referee sent Suarez off but then, with the last kick of the match, Asamoah Gyan blasted the ball over the bar. After that it seemed an inevitability when Ghana lost the match on penalties 4-2. Gyan himself showed incredible resolve and character to take the first kick but sadly two weak kicks from two other players sealed Ghana’s fate.

Following the winning kick, Suarez was lifted up onto another players shoulders and was accepting the Uruguayan fans applause and, whilst we appreciate how happy they were, it seemed a bit rich to us. Ghana have no one apart from themselves to blame but considering the manner of their defeat, helped as it was by an appalling bit of gamesmanship, the Uruguayans could have showed more empathy.

The incident last night reinforced what we and many others have believed for years. The ball was only stopped from entering the net due to it being illegally handled and, especially when it occurs in such context as a world cup quarter final, a red card given to the offender does not seem enough.  Therefore FIFA should change the rules so that the referee has the power to award the goal if he believes it is going in. There are parallels in other sports. In rugby for example, when the attacking sides scrum is only being thwarted from scoring a push over try due to foul play by the defensive teams scrum, the referee has the option of awarding a penalty try as well as carding the offending players, thereby punishing the team on the scorecard as well as in personnel.

It might be argued that it would be difficult to police by the referee alone without the use of video technology, yet by dint of how serious the offence is, players wouldn’t ever be tempted to handle it unless the ball was practically crossing the goal line anyway, which in turn means that it would probably be a relatively simple thing to officiate on. What are your thoughts?

Ghana can go home with their heads held high knowing that on another day, such is the lottery of penalties, it might have been them going to face the Dutch. The Compulsive Hookers allegiance has been transferred to the men in orange and we would love to see them upset the more established footballing powers.



3 responses

5 07 2010

Brad, good post. I agree on the handball. If it strikes an arm and would be traveling into the goal without any other player being able to stop it, then a goal should be given. If the player deliberately handballs it (as opposed to the more accidental handball of Kewell’s against Ghana earlier in the tournament) then they should be sent off too.

Football is rife with these sorts of problems though. I think, mostly, because it has very little variation between punishments and a lot of skewed risk/reward situations, which means, on the one hand: referees under-punish minor transgressions (pulling shirts in the box, diving, and second yellows, accidental handballs); but over-punish other fouls (some handballs, obstructions). Both of which encourage gamesmanship on the part of players. I’d like to see an “obstruction” foul, which (like in basketball) if the foul was not cynical, rough, or done in the act of shooting, would result in a free-kick 10m from the penalty spot. Harsh enough that players won’t want to commit it, but small enough that refs will have no problem giving it for any minor transgression (and players running into the box won’t dive for it). For fouls outside the box, a free-kick that must go backwards 10m would be fair punishment for obstruction (where one player impedes another accidentally).

Similarly, players generally don’t go down until they no longer have a chance to score/maintain possession. An advantage rule like rugby union, where play continues until advantage is lost then possession is regained would stop quite a bit of diving. Also from rugby: a 10 minute sin-bin for yellow cards would also be worth considering, instead of suspensions.

Finally, two extra linesmen would make a huge difference. If they are 90% accurate (and independent, which is hard to maintain), then the chance that both could be wrong is only 1%. If one flag goes up, play continues but the central ref can call for a video replay (on off-sides, goals, fouls etc.). If both flags are raised then you can be pretty sure the decision was right.

6 07 2010

Thanks Russ, certainly agree on all you’ve said. Where do you stand on video referrals for line decisions etc?

7 07 2010

Thanks Brad. I’m a bit of a luddite, in that I don’t mind human error, in the main. But, if it works, and doesn’t disrupt the rhythm of the game I can’t see any reason not to. The first is more difficult than it sounds. The UDRS has proven useless for low catches and edges in cricket (I’d like to see them relay the information hawkeye gives for lbws to the umpire in real-time – via a wireless device perhaps?). I can’t see a video system working much better for fouls; they are very subjective. To satisfy the second you require a stoppage in play which can be difficult in football.

As I noted earlier, I’d first like to see more officials, aussie rules has successfully gone from 1 umpire to 3 (making 9 in all), basketball has 2 referees as well, so it can work. The optimum for football is probably 7 on the field. One at each goal looking at penalty box infringements, two sets of linesmen at the defensive line and a central referee. Ghana would never have got the free-kick had there been a linesman there to note the horrid dive.

If the linesmen disagree on the offside then it makes sense to have a video decision, having let play continue until a goal is scored (if a goal isn’t scored, it doesn’t matter), though you’d need to stop play to check something like Lampard’s non-goal. That works relatively well in rugby, as far as I can tell (you’d watch more rugby than I, what is your impression?)

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