June 19, 2014

Teamwork at the WC

Jokes aside. One of the, as far as I can see, bigger crucial mistakes made on Matchday 1 in Brazil happened in Switzerland - Ecuador in Group E, but interestingly did not find a medial echo (even in this blog's community) that would be comparable to the one for some other referee performances. The match situation is of high educational value for the blog and that's why I have decided to pick it, contrary to many others, out.

What happened?
Red Player #13 had executed a low pass towards the penalty area, which was not touched by Red Midfielder #10, but which was touched and deflected by Blue Defender #2. The ball reached Red Attacker #19, who then scored a goal having been free in front of the Goalkeeper. Check this video:

What did the referees decide?
Referee Ravshan Irmatov's Assistant Referee 2 Bakhadyr Kochkarov raised his flag for offside when the ball reached the later goal-scorer. The goal was therefore disallowed.

The Situation
At the moment of the pass by Red #13, forward player Red #10 was not closer to the goalline than the second-to-last defender by approximately 0,5m. The Assistant Referee lacked in being positioned on the 2nd-last-defender-line by almost 2 metres. Research by Oudejans (2000) and Helsen (2009, Werner Helsen should be specially known to UEFA Referees participating in CORE seminars) has shown that accurate positioning is the key to taking correct offside decisions on a perceptual level. If you are 2 metres away from where you should be positioned, this will have (and had!) significant impacts on the decision's quality. But this should not be the focal point here. The bigger problem is that referee Ravshan Irmatov could have prevented his colleague from making this game-relevant error:
It is unsure whether AR2 raised his flag after the enlargement (Red #10 or Blue #2?) in the middle or directly for the pass by Red #13. As emphasized, latter would be a wrong decision for sure. The first option has a certain legitimation. At the approximate moment of the enlarging contact in the middle (69:07), Red #19 was indeed closer to the 2nd last defender by almost 2 metres. Kochkarov's facial expression also expresses a high level of confidence in his decision which would be only apparent if he had been 100% sure of a clear offside position. If there had been doubts, he would have waited, stood still and sought a conversation with the referee.
Unluckily for the match officials, this enlarging contact came from the defender Blue #2 and not from Red #10. That was decently visible for AR2 and very well visible for referee Irmatov. At this point you can already grasp that he had a certain responsibility, either in a positive or in a negative way. 

Compliant with Law 11 since July 2013, Blue #2 would have made a punishable offside position of Red #19 impossible, if you deemed this as deliberately playing the ball:

A player in an offside position receiving the ball from an opponent, who deliberately plays the ball (except from a deliberate save), is not considered to have gained an advantage. 

The 3rd Team proposes the following criteria to detect whether a defender deliberately played the ball. They are applied to the video example from Switzerland - Ecuador:

Deliberately playing the ball requires:
a) the active movement towards the ball - RATHER NO (He moved his leg towards the ball, but not his body. He stood still and just reacted intuitively to the ball coming towards him unexpectedly.)
b) the intent to play the ball - YES and NO (the defender rather found the ball unexpectedly coming against him)

Deliberately playing the ball does not require:
a) being successful when playing the ball - the quality does not matter! (NO, but doesn't matter!)
b) intentionally passing the ball with the foot (NO, but doesn't matter!)

Conclusion No.1: Not all criteria for deliberate play were fulfilled.

Compliant with Law 11 since July 2013, Red #19 would have been in a punishable offside position despite Blue #2 having enlarged the ball, if you deemed this as a deflection:

A player is considered to have gained an advantage by being in an offside position. Gaining an advantage means playing a ball that [...] is deflected to him off [...] an opponent having been in an offside position.

These criteria have been put forward to gauge whether a ball is deflected by a defender. They are applied to the video example from Switzerland - Ecuador:

The ball is deflected when it changes direction and the player...
a) does not move towards the ball - YES (only the leg moves, but Blue #2 does not actively move towards the ball)
b) finds the ball coming against himself and attempts to play it - YES
c) and creates an obstacle (during a free-kick or shot). - YES and NO (it was no real obstacle during a free-kick or shot, but during a very slowly travelling ball).

Conclusion No.2: Not all criteria for a deflection were fulfilled, but the most relevant are.

Conclusion No.3: Law 11's wording and specially the corresponding guidelines are not 100% clear. If the forward Red #19 had been closer to the goalline than the 2nd-to-last defender at the moment of the pass from the left side on the pitch, the assistant referee would have had to weigh up whether Blue #2 deliberately played (NO offside) or deflected (offside) the ball.
My personal interpretation is that this was rather deliberate play than a deflection. However, this is not our primar interest in this post. More important is how an assistant referee being in such a conflict can deal with such difficult situations within a short period of time during the match. One key to solve such situation is TEAMWORK.

Advices for the Decision-Taking Process of Unclear Offside Situations (thanks to our user Eric Taylor who raised this area of thought!):

1. As a referee, you should create an awareness for the new version of Law 11 and for offside as a whole to be able to adequately deal with situations as they happened in this match situation. Looking through the eyes of an assistant referee does not harm to reach this goal.

2. Once this mental awareness has been created, it is important to help the assistant referee in taking correct decisions by efficiently and preventively using the micro system. For example, to signalize his assistant referee that the enlarging touch was caused by Blue Defender #2 and not by another Attacker, Irmatov could have shouted (on their mother tongue): "BLUE! BLUE! BLUE!".
Using a minimum but precise choice of words backed up by a sufficient pre-match discussion (the AR must know what you tell him by shouting "BLUE! BLUE!...", agree on a code you use during the match), the assistant referee can easily hear your words via micro and integrate this valuable input into his decision to either raise the flag or not. It is important that your words are short and loud to avoid misunderstandings, to guarantee a high-speed decision-taking process and to allow the AR to hear your words again if they were missed in first place due to a noisy atmosphere.

3. As described above, this situation is not quite clear. There are arguments for deliberate play and a deflection, so that the information you, as a referee, should pass to his assistant referee has to go farther than tellinh him "BLUE! BLUE!...". Or in other words: Sometimes it is not about the WHETHER but about the HOW. This demands practice and, above all, TEAMWORK! (As you know, Together Everybody Achieves More...)

4. Good referees have created a feeling for offside and mostly automatically look out to their colleagues. Create eye-contact! If the assistant referee is having doubts, he will signalize it either by standing still, i.e. not moving on the sideline, maybe even his mimic and shouting into the micro and asking the referee to come to him.

5. The referee should go out to the assistant referee to consult with each other face-to-face. Both should exchange their views. Before taking any decision, the situation must be reflected and analyzed. The referee must ensure that this discussion takes place without any interference, i.e. with full exclusion of all players. All this should not take too much time, around 1 minute is suitable and should be already the maximum.

Pay attention to these four steps of taking an unclear (offside) decision:


The decision the referee and assistant referee have reached should be communicated to the players appropiately - it is recommended that the referee briefly informs both captains. For all players, fans and even TV watchers, such a decision-taking process will create credibility and understanding. You can sell the decision much better by following the circumscribed steps.

6. Last but not least, have the courage to correct your Assistant Referee either if his flag had come before you were able to advise the AR due to the dynamic of play or if your input was not appropiately followed by him. If you are sure, be brave, overrule him!
As an assistant referee, never be too quick if you are having doubts! You are the 3rd Team on the pitch and your colleagues are there to solve doubts.


  1. Anonymous20/6/14 00:09

    Well the soccer gods worked it out for Switzerland in the end

  2. Anonymous20/6/14 13:16

    Comparing Blue#2's action to this video below (FIFA explanation from last summer on deflection) I would not go so far as to call this delibarete play. More like deflection in my opinion.

  3. On FIFA.com:

    BEL-RUS: Brych (Borsch, Lupp, Vera)
    KOR-ALG: Roldan (Diaz, Lescano, Faghani)
    USA-POR: Pitana (Maidana, Belatti, Lopez)

  4. It seems the Roldan has Korea - Algeria and Brych Belgium - Russia.

  5. Anonymous20/6/14 22:42

    Niclas, great article and analyses, but yeah - this is 100% deflection

    1. The article will be changed but at the moment I just don't know when I have time for that.
      The interesting thing is that I asked several int. match officials for confirmation and the guidelines they received in their domestic leagues said that deflections only concern shots on goal and free-kicks. One necessity for deflection is, as far as I know and as far as the guidelines say, "creating an obstacle" during a free-kick or shot on goal. In this case it was a soft pass travelling in slow pace for 20 metres.

  6. It is difficult to judge for Irmatov if the forward was "initially" in offside position and not after the deflection. Therefore he blew his whistle for offside as the defenders touch is a deflection more than a deliberate play, in my opinion.

  7. I think the biggest point here is the AR raised his flag too quick and the Referee went with whatever the AR had, not even trying to have a quick chat. Imagine if the referee blow thw whistle, then quickly jog to AR and chat for 10 seconds and come back to signal the offside. Nobody will say a word....because that's how you sell the call!

  8. What about the fake by red #10, should we consider he played the ball without touching it?


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