2012 Euro: Round Robin Observations and Time for Change

Jun 22, 2012 by

2012 Euro: Round Robin Observations and Time for Change

There has been plenty of controversy off the playing field at the 2012 Euro, with nasty incidents of hooliganism on the streets of Warsaw, culminating with hundreds of arrests and injuries and charges issued against the Russian Football Association for fan misbehaviour. Additional events have marred the 2012 Euro with several allegations of racial abuse marked by charges against Croatia’s Football Association, after supporters uttered racist chants towards Italy’s Mario Balotelli. These issues are important, but, for the time being, I’ll leave others to address their ramifications.  What is of real interest to me and many fans of the game is how the on-field result is being compromised by FIFA’s inability to integrate modern technology into the game. So far the tournament itself has played out in a predictable way, but there have been many questionable calls, with one significant missed call against Ukraine, which have many questioning why FIFA and UEFA have not embraced the technological advances that have become so commonplace in and integral to other professional sports leagues.

As the quarter finals of the 2012 Euro are starting, there have been very few surprises thus far. Pre-tournament favourites like Germany and Spain did as expected, winning their groups with relative ease, with Germany looking especially impressive. Countries like Italy and Portugal found a way through, even if at times their playoff qualification seemed in doubt. The Netherlands were the biggest surprise, going winless while suffering the biggest upset of the tournament losing to Denmark 1-0 in their opening match.

It would have been a nice story had one of the two host countries found a way to move on to the next stage; however, neither Ukraine nor Poland could find a way to advance. But the former country’s exit was particularly noteworthy. Needing a win against England, and down a goal with thirty minutes left, Ukraine’s Marko Devic appeared to score the tying goal, but the goal-line judge ruled that England’s John Terry cleared the ball just in time. Replays show the ball crossed the line, but, muddying the issue further, also revealed that the Ukrainian forward Artem Milevskiy, who assisted on the disallowed goal, was offside upon receiving the pass from his own backfield which led up to the goal.  In this instance both the linesman and the goal-line judge failed to make the right call; however, the most vocal observers are focusing on the fact that the goal should have been allowed – even if the play should have been ruled dead much earlier. However you examine the play, it is clear that FIFA need to re-evaluate their stance on the role of technology in the game – especially goal-line technology.

English defender John Terry clears the ball just as it crosses the goal line. Despite the goal line judges close proximity to the goal, he fails to make the correct call.

Ironically, England was in a similar situation against Germany in the round of 16, at the World Cup in 2010. Frank Lampard appeared to score the game-tying goal with a shot that hit the crossbar and bounced down behind the goal-line a few minutes before halftime, but neither the referee nor linesman caught the goal. Germany would go on to hammer England 4-1, but it’s fair to say that the game’s complexion could have been dramatically altered if England had drawn even before the half ended. The same can be said of the match between Ukraine and England. Ukraine needed a win against England in order to advance; had Ukraine tied the game with thirty minutes left, its course could have been changed, but having to overcome a disallowed goal at that late stage is difficult even for the best of squads.  Sure, the match could have ended in a tie or England could have taken the lead again, but we simply don’t know what the result would have been; instead there is a shroud of doubt that hangs over the outcome – and Ukraine feel they have been cheated.  This whole drama could have been averted if goal-line technology had already been instituted.

There have been numerous highly embarrassing examples which should have already prompted a change, with Lampard’s missed goal in 2010 and now Devic’s, being some of the most recent and egregious.   But FIFA continue to sit on their hands, stubbornly attempting to preserve the purity of the game at all costs.  It is honourable to safeguard the traditions of a sport; however, the close scrutiny of sporting events and the availability of the numerous camera angles to the average spectator have put the onus on professional sports leagues and their governing bodies to simply get things right – especially when it comes to scoring. Clearly the integration of technology cannot be intrusive to the flow of the game, but like the NHL and NFL, when it comes to judging whether points or goals have been scored, FIFA have to put systems in place which give referees the best resources available to make the right call.  Most North American professional leagues have tried to find a balance between maintaining the flow and integrity of the game and allowing for some interruption in the play in order to make the correct calls on crucial plays.  FIFA and all its governing bodies simply must do the same.  The real question is, How far should they go?  This is probably the most difficult decision to make.  What many are forgetting about Devic’s disallowed goal is that Milevskiy, the assisting forward on the play, was offside.  This calls into question the extent to which we should use replay technology.  Should we use it to monitor questionable offsides, hand balls, and fouls as well?  Should we allow soccer managers a certain number of challenges per game like the NFL or start at a more basic level of integration?  These are complex questions worthy of a more thorough treatment, but it’s fair to assume that the incorporation of goal-line technology is an absolute must.

At the very least FIFA and, in this instance, UEFA, need to ensure that all scoring is accounted for. Goals are extremely hard to come by in soccer and its governing bodies can no longer allow human fallibility to dictate outcomes.  What was particularly revealing about Devic’s disallowed goal was that a goal judge was standing a few feet from the goal line and still missed the call.  The speed and closeness of the play forced the goal judge to make the “safe” call.  The replay simply amplifies the difficulty in making a real-time decision and the need to use some form of goal-line technology to ensure the correct call is made.   FIFA may not be ready to use technology to overrule a referee’s missed offside call, but at the very least, they need to recognize the absolute value of each goal scored – which it clearly has not.

It does appear that the continued embarrassment of missed goals is weighing on some leading figures in soccer.  After the Ukraine v. England match, FIFA President Sepp Blatter tweeted: “After last night’s match GLT [Goal line Technology] is no longer an alternative but a necessity”. Similar cries have been uttered in the past; even after the missed Lampard goal in 2010, there were suggestions that change was forthcoming, but now we can see it was simply rhetoric used to diffuse a controversy and it’s hard to imagine that it’s any different now.

Soccer’s major governing bodies, namely FIFA and UEFA, have been slow to respond to the needs of the modern game and its digitally wired spectator.   Goal line technology is a start in the right direction and If Blatter wishes to truly enforce change then he should push for it immediately and introduce a makeshift process for the remainder of the Euro.  Even if it’s not perfectly executed, fans and media alike will appreciate the swift response and be more forgiving of any short-term flaws which attempt to protect the integrity of the game.  With corruption and betting scandals in recent months hovering over soccer and the negative press surrounding some of the fans’ behaviour at the Euro, the sport is in dire need of some identifiable leadership.  Blatter needs to act and convince UEFA to allow for goal-line technology immediately. Integrating technology into other aspects of play can be dealt with later, but in the interim this initiative would be welcomed by all and unlike most of what has already occurred at the Euro, it would be a highly unpredictable outcome.


Nick Kazos

1 Comment

  1. Nice article. Goals are difficult to come by, and fifas reputation is taking a beating. Something must be done when millons of fans around the world instantly can view game changing errors made by referees, who do not have access to the multiple camera angles that we do in the comfort of our own home.

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