Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Iran’s Cool, Calm, Confident Referee

The following incident occurred during the second group stage match between Syria and Japan on 13 January 2011 at the Asian Cup in Qatar. The match finished 1—2.

In the 71st minute, a combination of defensive errors by Japan resulted in a situation where Iran referee Mohsen Torky made a tough decision. During the whole incident, the referee was composed, cool, calm and confident (at least on the outside). Please see the SUMMARY, after the freeze frames, to ponder and deliberate whether the referee made the correct decision.

Japan goalkeeper (yellow) is about to (mis)kick the ball with his left foot towards the Syria player standing in the middle of the field.

Did the Syria player (red with white boots) or Japan player (blue with black boots) kick the ball back toward the penalty area?

As the ball returns to the penalty area, the Japan goalkeeper (yellow) fouls the Syria player who is behind him and in an offside position.

Referee Torky ushers Japan coach off the pitch, while behind him players are surrounding the AR.

It took 5 minutes from the moment the Japan goalkeeper fouled a Syria player to the completion of the penalty kick.

Referee Torky decided that it was a Japan player who last touched the ball into the penalty area. Subsequently, the Syria player who was standing in an offside position behind the Japan goalkeeper, could legitimately play the ball. The Japan goalkeeper fouled the Syria player, and the referee awarded a penalty kick and then sent off the goalkeeper for DOGSO.


First and Foremost, the only real consideration to ACCEPT is that the referee at the time of the incident made a decision based on the best of his ability and experience. To his credit, he made the decision quickly and confidently. Furthermore, the referee kept cool, calm and composed throughout, despite how many times the players continuously argued with him and the fact that it took 5 minutes from the time of awarding of the penalty kick and send-off to the completion of the penalty kick. This is something POSITIVE to take from this incident. Torky was Composed and Confident, and remained Cool and Calm in the face of adversity.

The following issues are technical points, and should be taken in the context of being considerations only for post-match analysis. We have the benefit of repeat views, slow-motion replays, reverse backward, pause, magnification and several camera angles. Therefore:

1) Repeat views. Even after repeat views of the incident it is still not 100% clear which player—Syria or Japan—made the crucial touch that pushed the ball in to the penalty area. Without any definitive camera angles and close-ups, it could have been either player or both who touched the ball.

2) Pace of the ball and players’ body position. As the ball rebounds from the player(s) towards the penalty area, look at the pace of the ball. The pace of the ball indicates that there was good, solid contact (since the ball does not bobble up but instead rolls back along the ground at similar speed). Now look at the players. The Japan player, by desperately lunging, is overstretched and the weight of his left foot movement is mostly downward toward the ground rather than at the approaching ball. From simple mechanics, the ball would be hitting his foot (rather than his foot hitting the ball) and then would rebound (but this would not likely be a solid rebound and a “bobble” is likely). Contrast this with the Syria player who does not overstretch and appears to casually just jab (or toe-poke) the ball. From simple physics, the ball’s rebound movement implies that it made contact solidly and cleanly (i.e. the ball was kicked or toe-poked), mostly likely by the Syria player.

3) Players’ attitude and reactions. Now let’s look at the reaction of the two players. The Syria player had a casual attitude when competing for the ball. He did not appear too concerned about stretching himself, possibly because he knew he would get to the ball first (without overstretching himself). And, assuming he got to the ball first, because he could not control the ball (which rebounded from him right back to the penalty area), and since he knew that his team-mate was obviously in an offside position, he therefore wasn’t too concerned about heading enthusiastically towards goal. Furthermore, let’s assume it was the Japan player who actually played the ball back towards his own goal, then the Syria player’s reaction would have been to exploit the situation by either yelling at this team-mate and his team to play on, and/or he would do his utmost to move towards the goal and ball. The Syria player’s non-reaction perhaps tells us the real answer! But then again, the Syria player could have just been really tired (but these are meant to be professional players, so this explanation is probably difficult to accept).

In contrast, the Japan player was committed to tackling and winning the ball. He just kept on running into the penalty area after the ball, most likely because his commitment to trying to win the ball and his momentum carried him on into the penalty area. So either he didn’t touch the ball and didn’t think about the fact that an opponent was in an offside position and so continued running towards the ball, or he did touch the ball and thought he had better continue in his pursuit of the ball. Whatever scenario for the Japan player, it is difficult to fathom the real reason why he continued running into the penalty area after the ball. This is why it is better to look at the reaction of the Syria player.

Even another attacking Syria player (#6) closest to the AR stopped, and therefore possibly knew that his team-mate was in an offside position. Syria player #6 had the same thought (and similar viewing angle) as the AR. That is, both the AR and Syria #6 thought the ball was kicked forward by Syria and therefore the most forward Syria player was offside.


The referee made his decision quickly, confidently and remained cool and calm to sell his decision. Whether it was the right decision, technically, is difficult to call. This is because, even after repeated views of the incident it is still not obviously clear which player—Syria or Japan—made the crucial touch that pushed the ball in to the penalty area.

Only with careful deliberation, countless replays, assessing factors for and against, and all the rest of the things we do in evaluating, can it be said that the referee probably got his decision more incorrect than correct. And if the referee was not 100% sure that the ball did come off the Japan player, then it would be a very brave referee indeed to make that call. As we saw, the referee made a bold decision and sold the decision well. He remained cool, calm, and confident and was very well composed. All credit to the referee. No one can really step in his shoes at that moment, so his brave decision must be applauded (and must be accepted by players, coaches, fans and everyone else).

Here are some videoclips of the incident:

This one in particular has a well-balanced and intelligent analysis, as well as some interesting comments and views.

SYRIA vs JAPAN 1-2 Full Highlights 13-01-2011 Japan 2-1 Syria

Kawashima Red Card Sent Off Controversy, Japan vs Syria (2-1) 2011 AFC Asian Cup Group B

Japan 2-1 Syria 2011 AFC Asian Cup Group B All Goals Full Highlights

NOTE: Another technical point is that the referee sent off the Japan goalkeeper for DOGSO. However the Syria player, who was behind the goalkeeper, was not heading towards goal. Technically, this is one of the conditions that referees are taught to use when considering whether there has been a denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity. Common sense tells us that had the Syria player not been fouled, he would have had time to turn and create an obvious goal scoring opportunity before being challenged by other players. However it can be argued that, technically, the player was not heading towards goal.


  1. as a European I see empty stadiums and mediocre teams, so even if you are right (and you are) the question is: who cares.

  2. Great analysis. The conservative decision and the easy decision would have been to go with his linesman. So many refs would have done that.

    That's what I see too many times in Europe and in the Premier League especially. Referees don't want to make the game altering decision and would rather go the conservative route. It seems that refs are more concerned with the media criticism than getting the call right. See Howard Webb, see Mike Dean not sending off Rooney for his disgraceful behavior against Tottenham or giving Rafael an earlier sending off for him brandishing an imaginary yellow card.

    I applaud the ref for taking a chance. I think it was a back pass my self.

    As for the tournament itself. It's irrelevant in my opinion.