Friday 20 November 2009

Sometimes, Referees Have To Rely On Intuition Alone

For the penalty decision in the Asian Cup Qualifier between Hong Kong and Japan on 18 November 2009, we are reflecting on a matter of centimetres. The decision is very tight either way (for a penalty or a free kick).

2009/11/18 Asian Cup Qualifiers [4] Hong Kong vs Japan

At 9:00, the foul occurs.
Here are 6 screenshots of the foul taken from an angled view from behind.

We still do not have the optimum camera angle (i.e. a view directly along the 18-yard line). HKRef can only find a front view and an angled view from behind. These views are not 100% conclusive, but we can take in to account some strong facts that may help indicate where contact occurred.

What the front view shows at the moment of contact:
1) Position of Hong Kong captain (red 15) is outside the penalty area (look at his left foot).
2) Position of ball is probably on the 18-yard line (difficult to determine because the ball is not in contact along the ground; it has bounced up slightly)

3) Position of Japan player (blue 33) must be behind the ball and therefore probably outside the penalty area.

What the angled view from behind shows:
1) Position of Hong Kong captain (red 15) is outside the penalty area (without any reasonable doubt).
2) Position of ball when Japan player (blue 33) plays it with his left foot is behind the 18-yard line (this also means blue 33’s left foot is definitely behind the 18-yard line).

3) Position of Japan player when contact is made is inconclusive (there appears to be simultaneous contact by red 15’s right leg on the
left knee and right foot of blue 33).

Common Facts:
Position of Hong Kong captain (red 15) is outside the penalty area (look at his left foot). Also, his body indicates he is in line with (i.e. parallel to) the 18-yard line. His right foot makes almost simultaneous contact with both legs (i.e. the left knee and right foot) of Japan player (blue 33). After the foul, red 15’s right foot is planted right on the 18-yard line.
The laws of physics can explain that blue 33’s forward momentum would have pushed red 15's right foot forward and rotated his body counterclockwise and as a result his right foot lands squarely on the 18-yard line. Therefore at the moment of impact, if these common facts regarding red 15 are valid, the foul was “technically” outside the penalty area.

Note: This incident happened at full-speed, and is impossible for the human eye to capture decisively. HKRef does not consider any referee in that exact moment to be 100% certain in calling the foul inside or outside the penalty area. A referee would have to be superhuman! Or to have the benefit of video technology and from multiple angles. In that moment, all a referee can do is to summon up all his composure, experience, training and intuition and then make a decision that, in his opinion, is correct.

The usefulness of this “exercise” is not to apportion any error or blame, but to consider whether the match officials could have optimized their officiating when this incident occurred. We do not know if the AR was in line with the 18-yard line (which is where the last defender was), in which case his view may have been obscured. We do not know that had the R been closer, he would have been able to decide either. Prior to the foul, the ball had ricocheted off a Japan player and it would have been difficult for the R to anticipate where play was moving.

HKRef hopes this “reflective exercise” is useful for all referees. HKRef also hopes that this is useful to help players and managers understand how difficult it can be for referees who have to make a decision based on “one look” and sometimes only with intuition. It’s not easy, but it’s what referees have to do.

Related: To see Nakamura’s fantastic free kick (despite the fact that the referee should have awarded an indirect free kick), jump to 8:10 of the videoclip.

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