By Alfred Kleinaitis, Manager of Referee Development and Education
Referees must read and understand the Laws of the Game to do their job properly. Even at the highest levels of the game, this is sometimes a problem, as seen in the recent World Cup qualifying match in Asia between Uzbekistan and Bahrain on Sept. 3, 2005. In that match, a referee made an extremely critical "technical" error that led to FIFA ordering the game to be replayed in its entirety, despite the fact that the winning team was the one that protested the referee's inaccurate decision. The protest was raised because the winning team wanted the game to be replayed from the moment of the error, when they should have been awarded a retake of a penalty kick. The reason was that the protesting team, Uzbekistan, wanted the extra goal in the away game against Bahrain to pad its goal difference, which was important in this two-game series. The referee's error was a critical one that quite possibly could have cost Uzbekistan a place in the 2006 World Cup. Neither team had ever qualified for the World Cup finals previously and, the winner of this series would play the fourth-place team from CONCACAF (Trinidad & Tobago) for the right to go to Germany for the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
In the initial game of the series, the referee awarded a penalty kick to Uzbekistan in the 38th minute, with Uzbekistan already leading 1-0. The Uzbek player took the kick and the ball entered the goal. However, the referee decided that one of the Uzbek's teammates had entered the penalty area before the kicker had taken the kick. The referee ruled that the goal would not be scored and ordered an indirect free kick for Bahrain.
After an Uzbek protest, FIFA ruled on Sept. 6 that the referee had clearly made a "technical error" in disallowing the Uzbekistan goal and awarding Bahrain an indirect free kick. The correct call in this situation (when a player enters the area illegally before the kick) would have been to have the penalty kick retaken. Because of this misapplication of the laws, FIFA ordered that the game would have to replayed in its entirety.
All of this occurred because the referee apparently did not fully understand one of the two simple changes to Law 14 for 2005-2006. Referees must study and know the Laws to call the game correctly to avoid such critical errors!
What must the referee do to call Law 14 correctly?
1. The referee must look to see who infringed the Law—whether it was the kicking team or the defending team.
2. The referee must consider what the outcome of the kick was. In other words, whether the ball entered the goal or did not enter the goal.
3. The referee applies the following guide in making the decision:
a. If an attacker (including the kicker) infringed the Law and the ball entered the goal, the penalty kick is retaken. If the ball did not enter the goal, the referee awards an indirect free kick (from the place where the infringement occurred). (Please note that this change occurs twice in Law 14, under infringements by the kicker and infringements by a teammate of the kicker.)
b. If a defender (including the goalkeeper) infringed the Law and the ball entered the goal, the goal is awarded. If the ball did not enter the goal, the penalty kick is retaken.
c. If both an attacker and a defender infringed the Law, the penalty kick is retaken.
Click here to download the June 13, 2005, USSF position paper on penalty kicks. It contains an easily understood chart that shows how to make the correct decision.
And, in case you didn’t hear the ultimate outcome of the series between Bahrain and Uzbekistan, the ending was predictable: In the first game, the teams tied in Uzbekistan, 1-1. In the second game, the teams once again tied, 0-0, in Bahrain. By virtue of the goal they scored in the away game, Bahrain advanced to the playoff against Trinidad & Tobago for a spot in the World Cup finals in Germany. All because of a major error by a referee!