This past Saturday, AC Milan and Juventus played a pivotal game that could determine the championship of the Italian Serie A this season. AC Milan struck the first blow in the 14th minute of the game when Antonio Nocerino’s shot fortuitously ricocheted off a Juventus’ defender. The ricocheted ball completely fooled Buffon who hopelessly watched it go into the goal and AC Milan was up 1-0. In the 26th minute of the game, AC Milan should have been up by two goals after Sulley Muntari’s header but the Referees – and more critically, the Assistant Referee – failed to notice that the ball crossed over the goal-line. The replays, and the pictures, clearly showed that, despite Buffon’s valiant effort to stop the ball from going over the goal-line, the ball was already inside his goal when he parried it away.
We assign most, if not all, of the blame to the Assistant Referee who, by virtue of his superior positioning, should have alerted the Referee that a goal has been scored. What’s more, under the Laws of the Game, this is the Assistant Referee’s core function. Indeed, the current Interpretations of the Laws of the Game promulgated by IFAB provide that:
When a goal has been scored but the ball appears still to be in play, the assistant referee must first raise his flag to attract the referee’s attention then continue with the normal goal procedure of running quickly 25-30 meters along the touch-line towards the halfway line.
The United States Soccer Federation has spoken on this subject as well. In the 2009 USSF Referee Program Directive (USSF), USSF stated that the Assistant Referee’s “involvement is required” in situations involving “Goal Line Decisions.” The Directive specifically explained that the Assistant Referees are empowered, and even required, to assist the referee with respect to the goal-line “goal/no goal decisions.”
Now, as referees, we are the first ones to empathize with the Assistant Referee and acknowledge that he had to make a split-second decision, without a benefit of slow-motion replays, whether the ball crossed over the goal-line. The difficulty of his task is clearly understandable to us. However, the Assistant Referee’s failure to signal for the goal was shocking here because he was perfectly positioned (see the picture) to spot the goal. Still, he failed at his task. This was a grave error.
Unfortunately, the Assistant Referee’s error is fraught with potentially huge implications. First, the error resulted in AC Milan “losing” two points. Secondly, since only two points separate the two teams and Juventus has one game in hand, AC Milan’s failure to collect all three points might prove fatal to its Serie A championship aspirations.
And this brings us to our last point, which is, that the Assistant Referee’s mistake serves to prove our point that we have been making in our previous posts. Namely, that FIFA must allow for a limited and reasonable use of the goal-line technology to limit the circumstances in which the referee’s errors determine the outcomes of crucial games.
Let us know what you think.