Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona drew 2:2 in the first leg of the quarterfinal game in the Champions League at Parc Des Princes this past Tuesday. The game started according to the script with Lionel Messi scoring the first goal in the 38th minute of the match. Messi’s goal came after Barca’s Dani Alves beautifully curved the ball with outside of his foot into PSG’s penalty are and towards incoming Messi. Messi let the ball fall and bounce and then without hesitation unleashed a shot across the penalty area, past the diving goalkeeper, and into PSG’s goal. This was typical Messi, making the difficult look easy. However, in the 79th minute of the game PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic equalized when he collected the ball inside the five-yard box that bounced off the far post after it was headed by his teammate. After the fortuitous rebound, Ibrahimovic was the quickest to react and simply tapped the ball into Barca’s goal. Barcelona players were quick to protest the goal, arguing that Ibrahimovic was in an offside position when the ball was last played by the PSG player. As we discuss it in much detail below, the replays showed that these protestations were well warranted.
In the 89th minute, Barcelona restored its one goal advantage after Alexis Sanchez was brought down in PSG’s penalty area and Xavi Hernandez converted the resulting penalty kick. Just when it looked like Barcelona was going to collect three points, PSG struck again and tied the game on Blaise Matuidi’s low-volley shot that was deflected off Marc Barta completely fooling Victor Valdes in the 94th minute of the game.
As we mentioned above, the game’s second goal was very controversial. The goal was scored after Ibrahimovic collected the ball inside the goal-kick area after it bounced off Barcelona’s goalpost. The replays showed that when the cross was made, Ibrahimovic was not in an offside position. However, when the ball made its way into the penalty area, it was headed towards the goal by PSG's Thiago Silva. At the time the ball was headed, Ibrahimovic was in an offside position. Still, a player may not be penalized for simply being in an offside position. Indeed, the Laws of the Game state that “it is not an offence in itself to be in an offside position.” Clearly, more is required.
Law 11 of the Laws of the Game provides that:
A player in an offside position is only penalized if, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team, he is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in active play by:
- interfering with play or
- interfering with an opponent or
- gaining an advantage by being in that position
FIFA further explained that in the context of Law 11, “’gaining an advantage by being in that position’ means playing a ball that rebounds to him off a goalpost or the crossbar having been in an offside position or playing a ball that rebounds to him off an opponent having been in an offside position.” In its Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees, IFAB provided graphical explanation of how a player is involved in active play by “gaining advantage by being in that position” (see below).
There can be no doubt that Ibrahimovic was involved in active play and gained an advantage by being in an offside position when the ball was headed toward Barcelona’s goal and bounced off the goalpost. The assistant referee, whose primary job is to indicate when a player is in an offside position, completely missed this call. On this level, actually on any level, this should not have happened. Assistant referees must be vigilant for any offside infractions but particularly when the ball is crossed into a penalty area from a free kick. There really should have been no element of surprise here. The assistant referee was well positioned and should have spotted it. Unfortunately, his one second loss of concentration caused what was probably his biggest blunder of his refereeing career. It unfortunately was a glaring mistake and one that resulted in a goal that should have never been allowed to stand.
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