By now, many of you have seen and/or heard about the controversial goal in the Holland vs. Italy match in Euro 2008 this past week. Despite its controversy, the referee team was correct in allowing the goal and in their interpretation of Law 11, Offside. Below, we will review the decision and explain why many announcers were doing the game a disservice by providing incorrect information to the fans.
During a free kick by the Dutch team, the Italian goalkeeper pushes his own defender out of the way and off the field, where the defender and a Dutch attacker are both down. The Dutch attacker rises quickly and returns to the field. The Italian defender, remains off the field. The ball is played away from the goal and is kicked back to a Dutch player who has the Italian goalkeeper between himself and the goal line and the Italian defender lying on the ground outside the field. The ball is crossed and redirected into the goal by the attacker.
Should the Dutch attacker who scored the goal have been called offside? He had only one opponent between himself and the goal line. There was an opponent lying on the ground just across the goal line.
If a defending player deliberately steps behind his own goal line in order to place an opponent in an offside position, the referee shall allow play to continue and caution the defender for deliberately leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission when the ball is next out of play. That did not happen in this situation.
However, in this case the defender left the field of play as a result of being pushed aside by his goalkeeper. Players in either of these situations – whether they left the field during the course of play or stepped off to place an opponent in an offside position – are considered to be part of the game and thus accountable when determining offside position by their opponents. The only difference is how these players would be treated from a disciplinary point of view (no yellow card was warranted in this case).
There were two Italian defenders to be calculated into the equation, the goalkeeper and the player on the ground just outside the goal line. The referee’s interpretation that the player off the field of play was still involved in the game was correct.
If this interpretation did not exist, then defending players would use the tactic of deliberately stepping off the field of play to put their opponents in an offside position and that is both unacceptable and counter to the Spirit of the Laws of the Game. Unless a player has the permission of the referee to be off the field (in the case of an injury), they are considered to be on it, involved in active play, and deemed to be part of the game.
The Law was applied correctly and the Dutch attacker was not in an offside position when his teammate passed the ball. Hence, the referee was correct in allowing the goal to be scored.
The situation above raises many related questions regarding offside and defending players leaving the field. The following examines a few of these common questions and scenarios.
1. The Italian defender left the field deliberately to place the Dutch attacker in an offside position
Play would continue and the defender would be cautioned at the next stoppage of play for leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission.
Video Clip 6: Colorado at Kansas City – 2001
This video clip provides a visual example of scenario 1 above in which a defender deliberately attempts to leave the field of play to place an opponent in an offside position. In this case, the defender would not be cautioned because he is not all the way off the field at the time the ball is played by the attacker. If he were fully off the field at the time of the initial shot/pass to goal, the referee would be required to caution the defender for leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission. For further explanation of the events in this clip, referee to U.S. Soccer’s August 23, 2001 position paper entitled, “Offside and Misconduct by a Defender.” (Click on the link to access the paper)
2. The Dutch attacker pushed the Italian defender thereby forcing him off the field of play.
Play would be stopped for the foul committed by the Dutch attacker against the Italian defender. The restart would be a direct free kick for the defending team from the place of the infringement, keeping in mind the special circumstances involving offenses within the goal area.
3. While off the field of play, the Dutch attacker, as he was getting up after having fallen, held down the Italian defender.
Play would be stopped; the Dutch attacker would be cautioned for unsporting behavior and the game would be restarted with a dropped ball at the place where the ball was when play was stopped.
4. While off the field of play, the Italian defender held down the Dutch attacker .
The referee would invoke the advantage and play would continue. At the next stoppage the referee would caution the Italian attacker for unsporting behavior.
5. The Italian defender is clearly injured and off the field of play.
The referee makes a decision that the defender is seriously injured and cannot return to play by himself. Once the referee has acknowledged the seriousness of the injury, the player may not participate in the play and must not be considered to be in active play (at this point, he would not be considered in determining offside position and should not be considered in the equation as either the first or second last opponent). For purposes of Law 11, the defender is considered to be on the goal line for calculating offside position. This player, however, may not return to play without the referee’s permission. Remember, the referee is instructed in Law 5 to stop the game only for serious injury.
U.S. Soccer has published “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game.” Within this publication, refer to sections: 11.8, 11.9, 11.10, and 11.11.