Should ref have called Van Nistelrooy goal offside?

June 10, 2008

Players react to Van Nistelrooy’s goal

Some you win and some you lose but it looks like almost every journalist and most TV commentators, as well as the Italian players, were totally wrong in claiming Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s opening goal against Italy in Netherlands’ 3-0 win in Berne on Monday was offside.

UEFA have confirmed that referee Peter Frojdfeldt and his assistant Stefan Wittberg were absolutely correct in awarding the goal. UEFA general secretary David Taylor said the ref interpreted Law 11 relating to offside correctly and the reason why is this:

Even though Italian defender Chrstian Panucci was off the pitch after an accidental collision with his own goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, he was deemed to still be in active play and therefore playing Van Nistelrooy onside.

His position is “assumed” to be on the goal-line and therefore Van Nistelrooy had two opposing players between him and the goal when he scored. The law is vague on the issue and Taylor admits it does not specifically cover incidents such as the one that occurred last night.

It also raises a whole lot of questions. If the law is not specific on the issue and open to interpretation by the referee, then shouldn’t it be more specific? Shouldn’t it be re-written?

The officials might have applied the universally accepted interpretation of the law and been exonerated … but is the universal interpretation really in the spirit of the game? You have to bear in mind of course that a defender should not be allowed to step outside the field of play behind the  goal-line to render the opposing attacker offside.

Also, if Panucci had not been injured and lying on his back, and had merely stepped over the line a few feet and then raced back on to the field, he would not have needed the referee’s permission to do so.

On reflection, I agree the referee and linesman were right. But I think the law needs looking at. What do you think?

PHOTO: Players react to Ruud van Nistelrooy’s goal at the Stade de Suisse in Berne, June 9, 2008. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen


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If you’re going to change anything one will need to consider both the situation where one of the two defenders is laying on the ground, potentially injured, on or off the field, as they are roughly the same case. If Panucci, instead of being off the field, was on top of the goal line, but inside the field, would there have been any controversy? If you change the law, can a player that is not obviously injured, but is laying on the ground because of incidental contact, count as one of the two?

Posted by Mia Via | Report as abusive

There’s no way that goal should have been allowed. Why would the referee choose to observe the letter of the law in such an instance where a judgment call and the so-called spirit of the law should have been observed. It’s sad any time you know a referee’s name as well as the guys scoring goals in a game.
In the end though, it probably wouldn’t have mattered much. I think Italy missed Cannavaro more than it will admit, and Donadoni is going to be exposed in this tournament. 06/spirit-of-euro-2008-sapped-by-italy.h tml

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

Law 11, relating to offsides, was correctly interpreted by the match officials and any review of this rule will open a can of worms.

It would be extremely difficult for match officials to determine if players are indeed injured or faking injury just to rule a player off-side. While a player is still on the field of play he is regarded as a ctive player and only when a player leaves the field of play should that player be regarded as inactive.

Posted by Byron | Report as abusive

All of this raises another quetion: If the injured player off the pitch were on the attacking team, wouldn’t an offside call be automatic as soon as that team passed the ball forward? And with that being the case, shouldn’t the officials immediately stop play when such a player is injured behind the goal?

Posted by Bill Ward | Report as abusive

Injured? Panucci wasn’t injured. He just got knocked down by his own goalkeeper. In any other sport, a player in that kind of situation would bounce right back up and get back into the action as fast as possible. But in soccer it unfortunately sometimes pays to “play possum”. I think it’s great that the goal counted, that the ref wasn’t fooled or distracted and that a player seemingly feigning injury ended up hurting his teammates. It would be good to see more of that in soccer — just stay on your feet. Just before that in the 18th minute, Van Nistelrooy had stayed on his feet after Buffon tripped him. He could have fallen and got the penalty. But he didn’t. He stumbled but made every effort to stay on his feet. A great moment for fairness.

Posted by Erik Kirschbaum | Report as abusive

[…] Source: Mike Collett […]

Posted by Soccer Camps » Blog Archive » Should ref have called Van Nistelrooy goal offside? | Report as abusive

A Sunday league ref writes: This is total back-covering garbage from UEFA – or should it be FIFA since they are the guardians of the laws. Nowhere in the laws of the game or the accompanying guidelines for referees does it state or even hint that a player on the ground beyond the byline should be considered to be part of the action.
The only reference that even comes close is for a situation when a defender deliberately steps off the field of play in an attempt to play an attacker offside -in which case he is deemed to still be part of the action.
To extrapolate this to include a player knocked over by his own goalkeeper and lying on the floor three yards beyond the byline is farcial.
I remember when offside was as simple as a salt and pepper pot and a bowl of sugar.

Posted by Warren | Report as abusive

I am a referee and this interpretation is taught even at the most basic levels. I was watching the game with 5 friends and all of them jumped immediately to said it was off side. My referee mode kicked in and I immediately said valid. For the day to day fan, it is not so obvious, for referees it is very obvious. I don’t think the law itself needs to be clarified. Laws start to get messy when you try to cover all crazy situations that happen everyday in a football field

Posted by Ivan | Report as abusive

I agree with the above. How can an injured player be deemed as one of the two whom play the striker onside. If he were not injured he would therefore be actively playing the striker onside, but if injured, how can he be actively doing anything, not to mention playing the striker on side.

If a striker is standing in an offside position, but not having an active part in the forward move, then they are not deemed offside, because they are not active! Injured or not injured. Therefore if a defender is injured and cannot play an active role, how can we deem him to be actively playing a striker on-side?

All this aside Pannucci was injured AND off the pitch!

Posted by Dissapointed supporter | Report as abusive

Obviously the goal counts. Dutch goals should always count, as they are the best.

Posted by Doodles | Report as abusive

To Bill Ward,

In short, No. An offensive player can be considered inactive, it does not matter if he is over the line or not. A defender cannot be inactive.

Posted by Omar M. | Report as abusive

To Dissapointed supporter: what if the defender was in the field of play but not active?

How does the referee know if the player that gets knocked down is injured or not. The was a pretty clear cut good call.

Posted by Omar M. | Report as abusive

People gotta stay on their feet, on the pitch … good rule, good goal

Posted by Lawnin Crawford | Report as abusive

clearly offside.

why? when the coaches of germany and portugal and all the dutch players and their coach think it should not have been ruled good, then, perhaps the interpretation of the rule is stupid. i think these guys know something about football.

he was hurt. sad for you people who hide your prejudice in desperately wanting to believe the player was a cheat. he was recently injured, what if re-injured? i am saddened by the obvious stupidity. if the rules declared stand in front of a mack truck how would you interpret them?

Posted by J Simpson | Report as abusive

Two points:
One: as a ref of 10 years, I appreciate and enjoy that the refs nailed this call correctly. At no point in my reffing career do I want to see defenders “accidentally falling” out of bounds to cause an offside situation. Clearly, the Italian defender did not intentionally collide with the keeper, get injured, etc. However, if he were ruled “inactive” then other defensive players would seek to exploit this rule in the future.

Two: Luca Toni is the only person to blame for this goal. He left his mark (Van Nistelroy) and pushed forward, in “an offside trap.” He’s paid millions of dollars to be one of the world’s premier strikers. The refs, who are *not* millionaires, know the rules. So should Toni.

Naturally, I’d be happy to teach him for a modest salary and a small villa in Italy or Munich.

Posted by RobD | Report as abusive

the law isn’t vague in the least. It can’t delineate every possible situation. It’s pretty clear that you can’t leave the pitch without ref permission and be considered no longer part of the game. I don’t get what’s hard to understand about that?

You leave the pitch without ref permission, you are sitll in play. Simple. Goal stands. (this is coming from a German supporter supporting the Dutch on this as well so c’mon! :) )

Also, many think it’s ‘unfair’ since he was ‘injured’ but how often does the ref blow the play dead IMMEDIATELY unpon someone going to ground? The routinely let play go on if the team is attacking and making something happen. If they changed the rule to be immediately stoppage of play you may as well pencil in 0-0 scorelines in all matches from here to eternity.
Plus Panucci got up just fine after the goal and played 90 minutes. He wasn’t that injured.

Posted by papa bear | Report as abusive

@- Posted by Dissapointed supporter

that is one of the more foolish analyses of this situation I’ve read.

With your metrics, what is to stop EVERY defender from falling down ‘injured’ the instant they realize they are going to play a player on? Why not have the entire back line fall down injured as soon as any player comes level with them. The rule is a good one and makes sense.

If he was legitimately injured it would suck for him, but it’s part of the game. The ref is going to blow the play dead in that situation (nor should he) Sometimes people will have bad luck. That’s football.

Posted by papa bear | Report as abusive

You cant play the ‘he was hurt’ game.
Not in soccer. And SPECIALLY not with italian soccer.
How long was Panucci out for? Did you still think he was hurt when he went after the ref? How about 2 minutes later when he was running with no signs of injury?

Whether he was faking or not has no bearing on this call but you have to admit that Panucci showed in the following seconds and minutes that he WASNT hurt and proves why the rule should stay as is.

All those things said above about how if this rule didnt exist we have players faking injury, Panucci confirmed.
Not surprised.

Posted by Rob Enderle | Report as abusive

Very interesting. The only thing that dont make sence is that a forward in a offside position is only passive offside if he is not interfearing with play if a ball is put through to a player in a onside position. That player is only called offside if the ball is then passed to him correct? If so was Panucci playing the forward passivly onside? How could he as he was not interfearing with the play but outside the line? I am sure I have seen forwards moving over the boundry line to keep their team mates on side in situations. Plus if a player is in a passive offside position making his team mate onside when can he come back into play again? Is it when the forward movement is complete? ie goal keeper has saved? goal scored? ball goes out? Can he be deemed offside if the ball hits the cross bar or goal keeper & comes back to him when he was origianly in a offside position? Or is it when the other team pulls back to defend behind him? This is confusing to me.

Posted by ROB | Report as abusive

Don´t understand why this is even a question to ask, the rule books say the refree was correct and so be it. bit of a shame that its not a well known rule, but it´s still a rule. Obviously, the whole world will be clued up this now.

Posted by Babs | Report as abusive

I don’t know why TV and other media broadcasters don’t have an “expert” on the rules on hand to explain decisions like this. It took me about 5 minutes on Google to find the reference in the USSF Advice to Referees on Laws of the Game. Section 11.11 gives the current interpretaion in black and white- “a defender who leaves the field in the course of play…must still be considered… for the purpose of judging if the attackers are in an offside position…”

That is exactly what happened- Panucci left the field in the course of play- he could have been up in the stands buying a hot dog, or laying on the ground bleeding from his ears after being cuffed by his own GK- but he is considered to be on the field at the goal line for the purposes of the offside law. Good for the linesman for getting it right! As a rule, ex-players who are color announcers NEVER agree with refs calls and they are almost ALWAYS wrong. (That means you Julie Foudy).

Posted by Pete | Report as abusive

It’s amazing how many people do not understand the offside rule. I’ve played in recreational games against good technically gifted players who think you can’t be offside on a headed ball, but can be offside on a throw in directly to a player behind the defense. It’s unsurprising so many people were confused by this call.

The only question here is whether Panucci was actively involved in the play. In this case, he was knocked over and landed on the ground. If he had landed in the field of play, there’d be no discussion. Since he was over the end line, there is a question of whether he was ‘active.’ Since there was no stoppage in play, he was indeed active. FIFA’s rules do clearly state that a player cannot step over the endline to become inactive, so it is clear that it is up to the referees to determine if play should be stopped. Refs rarely, if ever, stop play in the middle of a goal scoring opportunity, hence Panucci was judged to be an active, albeit unlucky, defender. Not only was the call correct, it was consistent with the spirit of the game and the norm of not immediately stopping play for a player on the ground.

Posted by Greg | Report as abusive

He’s off the field!!! He is not in the field of play!! just like when someone gets injured he goes off the field and is not playing!! This is the most ridiculous rule of all rules! Doesnt not make sense! Every law abiding text, such as the U.S. constitution can be amended. This bad law should be changed!!

Posted by Mario | Report as abusive

i think according to the law the goal counts and the ref was right. u refferee a match according to the law….thats it!! so, it counts….
in any case, dutch scored 2 more…, no issues even if FIFA wants to take that goal out now :)

Posted by Siddharth | Report as abusive