Some lessons from the World Cup

THE World Cup football tournament is almost over; just three games remain and within a few hours the second finalist will be known, the one who will take on the Netherlands on Monday morning (Australian eastern time) for the title.

There have been plenty of upsets this time – Italy and France, the two finalists in the last tournament went out in the first round, Spain was beaten by Switzerland in the group games, New Zealand drew with Italy, Brazil were put out in the quarter-finals, and Germany gave England a thrashing in the second round and Argentina a similar hammering in the quarter-finals.

But for all that, it has become apparent that football has some catching up to do with other sports in many respects. Take for instance, the refusal on the part of football authorities to use video replays to aid referees; England scored a legitimate goal against Germany that wasn’t awarded and the US did the same against Slovenia. Both goals would have been given if referees had the benefit of replays.

In the quarter-finals, Paraguay scored a goal against Spain and it was not given because the scorer was deemed to be offside. Replays showed that this was clearly not the case.

There were also numerous penalties given when they were not deserved; in some other cases, penalties should have been awarded and were not given. FIFA, however, does not seem inclined to accept the use of video replays.

Rugby union (and several other sports) uses video replays to make judgements when the referee cannot decide and thus there is no doubt left in the players’ minds about the correctness of a decision. Of course, the referee is still left to interpret things in most cases.

One case where football could take a lesson from union is in the case of deliberate handballs in the six-yard box. In the case of football, the player concerned gets a red card — which means that he is sent off and misses at least one more game in addition — and the opposition gets a penalty which they then have to convert in order to get a goal.

In rugby union, if the referee is convinced that a player would have scored a try were it not for some illegal tactic by an opposing player, he can award a penalty try. That means there is no need to score – the five points are awarded. The conversion becomes a matter of course as it can be done from right in front of the posts.

Football could introduce a similar rule – if a player is deemed to have deliberately prevented a goal by using his hands, then the goal should be awarded right away. A classic case is that of the Uruguayan striker Suarez who used his hands to punch the ball away from the goalline in the quarter-final against Ghana. He got a red card but the subsequent penalty was muffed by Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan. He denied Ghana a win but in the end his team won as the match went to a penalty shootout. The rugby union rule would have been more equitable.

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