LAW 11 – OFFSIDE, probably the most difficult and controversial law of all 17 IFAB Laws of the Game. It’s generally accepted that most people don’t know the law fully including all of its interpretations, nor would most expect everyone to know the offside law inside-out. However, the few people on this planet one would expect to know this law, and not make such a massive error are the top, elite FIFA list Assistant Referees. Unfortunately, the Rio 2016 quarter final between the United States and Sweden saw what I consider the biggest fail by a FIFA AR at a major tournament.
I can understand tight, close calls where there’s some room left to give the AR benefit of doubt. I can also understand strange plays where offside calls are not immediately realized for whatever reason…there are instances of really tough offside calls. However, in the case of this quarter final there, I am finding it extremely hard to find that doubt as this play seems like a real easy and textbook scenario.
I’m going to take a bit of a backwards approach to this because the hardest part of the offside call is the second phase of the play.
(NOTE – Rio 2016 Olympics are being played under the new 2016/17 IFAB LOTG, and that will be the resource for the following analysis.)
Law 11 – Offside stated the following…
“A player in an offside position at the moment the ball is played or touched by a
team-mate is only penalised on becoming involved in active play by:
• interfering with play by playing or touching a ball passed or touched by
a team-mate or
• interfering with an opponent (…)
• gaining an advantage by playing the ball or interfering with an opponent
when it has:
•• rebounded or been deflected off the goalpost, crossbar or an opponent
••been deliberately saved by any opponent
A player in an offside position receiving the ball from an opponent who
deliberately plays the ball (except from a deliberate save by any opponent) is
not considered to have gained an advantage.“ (IFAB LOTG 2016/17, pg. 78)
In this case, a US defender deliberately plays the ball (however, unsuccessful) and it ends up at the feet of a Sweden striker. The Sweden striker ultimately turns, takes a shot and scores a goal. Just as the shot is being taken, the Tongan AR raises her flag to indicate offside and the goal is disallowed. Now, putting aside the fact that the AR is clearly way out of position, let’s assume that the AR did not realize or see the deliberate touch by the US defender (because of her position, angle, distance, etc.). Remember…this is a major competition and the referee crew are all wearing headsets; they have the ability to talk to each other in real time, at the moment the incident has occurred. The referee should have realized the deliberate touch and waved off the AR. That deliberate touch by the US defender is NOT a deflection and therefore, the Sweden attacker is not considered to have gained an advantage and is not penalized for offside. GOOD GOAL!
But wait…let’s back up a couple of seconds and see where everyone was positioned when the ball was first played by the Sweden player.
Notice…there are no Sweden players in an offside position when the ball is last touched by a Sweden player. For those who are not familiar with Law 11, an offside position is defined as follows:
“A player is in an offside position if:
• any part of the head, body or feet is in the opponents’ half (excluding the
halfway line) and
• any part of the head, body or feet is nearer to the opponents’ goal line than
both the ball and the second-last opponent
The hands and arms of all players, including the goalkeepers, are not
A player is not in an offside position if level with the:
• second-last opponent or
• last two opponents” (IFAB LOTG 2016/17, pg. 77)
Clearly, the Sweden attacker who ultimately gets the ball is NOT in an offside position to begin with when the ball is played and therefore whatever happens after that is completely irrelevant. There is absolutely no reason for the Tongan AR to raise her flag at any point in this series of events.
EPIC FAIL on all accounts!!! AR failed to recognize the Swedish player in an ONSIDE position at the moment the ball was player. Referee failed to recognize the deliberate play of the ball by the US defender and waive off the AR.
The Third Blind Mouse