February 20, 2015

Stopping a Promising Attack & Denying an Obvious Goal-Scoring Opportunity - Part 1/4

With top-flight football getting increasingly quicker and players becoming more adapt on a technical side, the idea is that there is more focus on dynamic attacking football than in the past. Against this background, it is vitally important for referees to constantly improve their skills in monitoring these attacks and penalizing offenders stopping promising attacks or even denying obvious goal-scoring opportunities. That's what this series of posts will be about.

Learning goals

1) What is Stopping a Promising Attack (SPA), what is Denying an Obvious Goal-Scoring Opportunity (DOGSO)?

2) What are the revelant criteria to penalize a player for SPA or DOGSO? Where are the differences between both types of offences?

3) How to create consistency in terms of SPA and DOGSO?

4) The role of co-operation and communication

What Law 12 says

The cautionable offence Stopping a Promising Attack is rather a UEFA terminology which does not exist in FIFA's and the IFAB's lawbook. Instead of SPA, Law 12 considers it as a "foul for the tactical purpose of interfering with or breaking up a promising attack" to be classified as unsporting behaviour requiring a yellow card.

Based on UEFA's guidelines, such a "foul" also includes offences like deliberately handling the ball when it prevents the opponent taking up an advantageous position or when it prevents a promising attacking move to develop.

Denying an Obvious Goal-Scoring Opportunity (or even denying a goal) is a sending-off offence and thus must be sanctioned with a red card. It includes infringements "denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player's goal by an offence punishable by a free-kick or a penalty kick", such as tackles, holding offences but also deliberately handling the ball. 

Guidelines & Criteria

You, as referee, as usual, weigh up several different criteria to decide whether an offence has stopped a promising attack or not, or whether an offence has even denied an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.

But as you are no machine and as there are often more grey areas than black-and-white situations, it is your personal impression and assessment which counts to determine whether a promising attack was going on or not or whether an obvious goal-scoring opportunity has been denied or not. Players, supporters and even your colleagues might disagree with that - that is kind of natural.

That's why it is important to have a clear line during the game (which I call intra-consistency), but also from one game to the other, from one performance to the other and from one referee to the other in the same competition or league (inter-consistency).

Intra-consistency can only be achieved by the referee himself, who is asked to monitor his own decisions during the match and should succeed in finding a uniform line in evaluating such offences. Your decisions can be even wrong at times - frequently players accept them as long as they see that you do not apply double standards.

Inter-consistency is more difficult to achieve, since in most competitions and leagues, many different referees are officiating and comparing situations with each other is not always possible or easy.
Here, referee instructors (or blogs :-)) are asked to implement guidelines for orientation to form inter-consistency. UEFA's section "Aiming at Consistency" at their referee seminars is a good example of that. At World Cup 2014, we have seen that most referees ignored clear cases of stopping promising attacks as a consequence of misplaced instructions by their instructors. At least, they were consistent in that - nonetheless, this strategy was not accepted by players and supporters which underlines that consistency in weighing up criteria within a tournament or league is only one side of the coin - following the rulebook is the other side.

There are some voices to demand as little guidelines for the referees as possible. Top-down guidelines would create bigger problems than benefits. This perspective is surely valid taking into consideration topics like "handball" or "offside" and the torrent of confusing criteria referees and assistant referees have to cope with (let alone players and fans).
However, SPA/DOGSO is an issue that does not only crop up pretty often in the same game, but which is also more comparable like for example handball. So the media, fans and players are able to easily detect inconsistencies from one situation to another in the same game or even from one game to the other. That's why we definitely need clear guidelines here represented in criteria to be fulfilled to deem infringements as SPA or even DOGSO.

And these are the criteria to be taken into account when assessing SPA / DOGSO situations - keep then in mind when watching the video clips in the other posts:

Criteria for SPA

Position of the Offence
Was the attacker fouled close to the opponents' goal or penalty area? Or rather in the midfield? Or was it rather very deep in the attacking team's own half (in that case, SPA is mostly not occurring)?
The attacking player's chance of playing the ball
If the offence had not occurred, would the attacker have been able to a) reach b) control and c) play the ball?

Position, number and proximity of the opponents
Where? How many? How close? (the less and the farther away the opponents, the more promising the attack was)

Position of his teammates
Were there other teammates? (the more teammates and the more promising their position, the more promising the attack was)

Distance to the goal
A not that important criteria, since promising attacks can also occur in the attacker's own half. Nonetheless, if the goal is close, hindering a player to pull off a shot on it can already be enough to deem the defender guilty of stopping a promising attack (the closer the goal, the more promising an attack is).

Dynamic of the attack
The more dynamic, the higher the chance that a really promising attack has been stopped by an offence. Did the attacker really move dynamically towards the opponents' goal to start an attack? Or were the attacking players rather stationary, which would make it less probable that a really promising attack has been stopped?

Was the attack likely to develop in the next few seconds had it not been stopped by an offence?
Maybe a really promising attack was not visible at the moment of the offence. But, taking into account the whole attacking team's movement or direction towards the goal, it might be that a promising attack was very likely to initiate in a few moments.

Criteria for DOGSO

The attacker's likelihood of controlling the ball or getting in control of the ball
Was the attacker in full control? Yes - then DOGSO is possible. No? - then DOGSO still is possible, as long as the likelihood of getting in control of the ball is given and preferably high. Some of the video clips at the bottom illustrate such cases. If the likelihood of getting in control of the ball is low, this is an argument in favour of SPA and against DOGSO.

Position of the attacking player
Where was the attacker? Was his position very good for an obvious goal-scoring opportunity? Or was the angle of shooting at the goal rather bad?

Position of the defenders and their goalkeeper - did they have a chance to intervene fairly?
Often times, commentaries tend to say "He was the last man, so it is red!". That's of course not always correct, but mostly, and mirrors what is meant by this criterion. If there is no other defender who can intervene fairly, your decision should be DOGSO. If there are still defenders who are maybe on the same level like the attacker or even closer to the goal and have the chance to intervene in a fair way, DOGSO is not probable and SPA is more adequate.

Overall direction of the attacker's and the ball's movement
Was the attacker's movement directed towards the goal or penalty area? Or did he rather move towards the corner flag with very little chances to score a goal?
Where did the ball move? Towards the goal, close to the attacker's feet? Away from the goal? Maybe even towards the midfield or corner flag? Was the ball, at the moment of the offence, maybe even crossing the goalline?

Distance to the goal
The closer, the more likely an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. That's a quite easy formula, but there is a problem: imagine that in the last minute of the game, with Team A being 1:0 in front. Team B has a last corner-kick so that their goalkeeper decides to leave his goal and try to support his attackers. They however lose the ball after the corner and Team A's attackers are sprinting towards the empty goal of Team B and only stopped by an offence of the last defender 60 metres in front of the goal. Of course, they were denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity despite the very large distance to the goal (because there were no other defenders, the goal was empty....).
This shows: All these criteria are interdependent! You cannot consider one without the others.

Was the attack likely to produce a goal had it not been stopped by an offence?

Special Considerations for DOGSO

Basically, there is no difference between an offence committed by a goalkeeper or common player. In both cases, the consequence of denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity is a red card.

When a goalkeeper commits an offence in a 1-vs-1-situation with the attacker, the mostly appropiate sanction is a red card. There are exceptions though: When the attacker is moving into a direction or is in a position from where it is very unprobable that he will score a goal, a yellow card for SPA is enough.

What is important?

1. In order to come to a decision for a complex SPA / DOGSO decision, you need criteria to weigh up. Sometimes one set of criteria is fulfilled while the other is not. Sometimes most criteria are fulfilled but one criteria is so important that it should be enough to prevail over the other ones. There is no clear rule, so that by means of video education and guidelines referees depend on developing a feeling for the correct application of these criteria.

2. For the weighing-up process, you require accurate pieces of visual information. Specially in DOGSO cases, the position of the players is decisive, but can change quickly after some parts of a second, since some players move more quickly than others or slow down their movement having anticipated the foul. This means: you have to keep in mind the position of the players just at the moment of the infringement. You can succeed in that by kind of freezing your mental image. That's something quite common in offside situations as well and can support you in ensuring the correctitude of the information that underlies your later decision.
This video shows an example where this was the problem: The referee had to rely on his assistant referee's perception concerning the question whether another defender would have been able to intervene fairly (or whether the offender was the "last man"). If he had freezed his mental image correctly, the assistant referee would have probably advised his boss to send the player off for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.

The red frame shows the moment of the contact / foul. The AR must freeze this moment in his mind to answer the question: "Did he deny an obvious goal-scoring opportunity?" (in this case equivalent to: "Was he the last man?")

3. This situation shows another issue: as the main referee, maybe being in a full sprint following a quick counterattack, you do not always have the best visual angle to determine whether a defender was the "last man" or whether there was maybe another defender that could have intervened with fair means. Luckily, you can use the visual information seen by four, sometimes even six eyes - co-operation is the key word here!
Some decisions are thus trivial and easy to take that you do not need your colleagues. But some of the video clips I will present you show that referees often have no chance to assess the relevant criteria given a poor visual angle. Assistant referees and additional assistant referees should be encouraged to provide the referees with accurate pieces of information, as they often savour insights into situations the referee can only dream of. It's like putting some pieces of a puzzle together - at the end, the outcome should fit. This might take some time though.

4. For the weighing-up process, you need this time. It needs some time to conduct complex tasks and come to good solutions. Furthermore, before taking a vital decision (DOGSO decisions are always key decisions with the power to change games), co-operation in the referee team often is necessary. It is therefore no problem to such decisions with some seconds delay - quality counts.

5. Communication! Refereeing is not just about taking a decision and that's it. You should sell your decision per verbal and non-verbal communication. Some video clips will show situations where referees well used hand gestures to demonstrate "Man, that was a 100% clear goal-scoring opportunity, I have no other chance!" or "The ball went towards the corner flag, so no DOGSO!" or "There was still a defender who could have intervened!" etc. Players, but specially supporters are thus able to easily understand your decision and its acceptance might increase (not necessarily though).


  1. Thanks to everybody who worked on this and please keep these good articles and examples coming.

    1. Thanks, parts 3 and 4 will be published next weekend.

  2. Anonymous6/4/15 19:43

    Thank you very much for this really interesting and useful articles


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