April 24, 2018

World Cup: Brazil-Croatia shows football needs to use video technology or change the penalty laws

The Brazil World Cup is the first to use technology to help referees establish whether the ball has crossed the goal line.

This is an improvement over previous tournaments and should help eliminate refereeing errors such as the disallowed goal scored by Frank Lampard at the last World Cup. But yesterday's opening game in the 2014 World Cup has immediately shown that football has to go further, follow the lead taken by other sports and introduce video technology for all important decisions.

Brazil opened the tournament with a match against Croatia. Ultimately they won 3-1. But when the score was 1-1 Brazil were given a penalty that was undeserved and changed the course of the game. The referee thought that Croatian defender Lovren had impeded Brazilian striker Fred. He awarded a penalty that Neymar scored.

This type of refereeing mistake has happened many times in the past. It always ruins the game, the giving of a penalty being very close to the giving of a goal. It takes control of the result away from the players and negates their 90 minutes of effort.

When technology didn't exist this situation had to be accepted. Now though, when technology is used successfully at Wimbledon and in Test matches there is no excuse to allow refereeing errors to ruin games anymore. A short delay whilst the video evidence is checked is not only much better than a false decision, it can actually raise tension and enjoyment amongst the crowd as they wait for the decision. A decision that can be respected as it has been studied from several angles rather than seen once by a blinking human.

If technology is not introduced then it should be recognised that the penalty is too broad a punishment for the variety of fouls that can be committed in the penalty area. Football is a simple sport, except of course for the offside rule, but that does not mean all its laws are sensible. Should an infringement that happens 18 yards from the goalkeeper result in what is usually a free goal? If FIFA rethought the whole penalty process football could even further shake off the bad taste that is left after refereeing misjudgements such as that in the Brazil-Croatia match.

At this World Cup FIFA has successfully introduced disappearing spray to combat encroachment at free kicks. Hopefully they will soon allow the use of technology to help referees make the correct decision at penalties. But that won't be in time to stop further issues in Brazil. Let us hope no more games are affected when the technology already exists to stop games being decided by the referees rather than the players.