In the first half of Nigeria’s 1-0 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina tonight, Edin Dzeko ran onto a terrific through-ball and beat Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama with a precise finishing shot. The offside flag went up late and the goal was disallowed. Replays clearly show Dzeko was not offside. It is another unfortunate high-profile officiating error that is entirely avoidable.
Fortunately, so far this World Cup tournament hasn’t been marred by many similar errors, but that is little comfort to Bosnia-Herzegovina who are now eliminated.
FIFA, an organization often lacking common sense, reversed that trend by wisely employing goal-line technology for this World Cup. It is a vital, positive development, but FIFA needs to go one step further and allow limited instant replays. The idea isn’t to use replay as referee replacement, but referee enhancement. It would simply be available as backup for the most pivotal decisions of a match.
Coaches could be allowed a limited number of replay challenges during matches. Otherwise, mandatory replay consultation would be limited to decisions made in the penalty box (particularly vital for examining dives) and for red cards – decisions with the most potential game-changing impact. How different would the Brazilian national team’s current World Cup outlook be if the penalty kick decision that resulted from Fred’s opening match dive against Croatia had been reversed? Brazil might be sitting on two uneasy points instead of four.
One of the primary objections raised in the discussion about replay use in soccer is that it would take too long and interrupt the flow of matches. This might have been a more valid argument in the days of cueing up cumbersome videotapes, but in this digital age most decisions could probably be made by the fourth official using a hand-held device. Most of the time the head referee wouldn’t even necessarily have to travel to the touchline for discussion. The decisions could be made in less time than it takes most players to recover from their phony or exaggerated injuries. Matches would not be significantly slowed down if replays were employed, and even if they were delayed a few minutes, wouldn’t making accurate decisions be worth the extra time?
Goals, penalty kicks, and red cards are too important to get wrong. We use technology to solve things in everyday life all the time, so what is the harm in using the tools at our disposal to make accurate decisions on the biggest stage of the world’s most popular sport? If these decisions were made in a vacuum, where fans were ignorant of the injustices, that would be one thing, but as in the case of the Dzeko goal tonight, the whole world knows the wrong decision was made within seconds. It’s an absurd situation when fans clearly see a goal legitimately scored, yet the injustice stands in a competition as epic as the World Cup.
The World Cup only seems to grow more massive with each edition, so why wouldn’t it be in FIFA’s best interest to use technology, in a reasonable manner, to get these decisions right? It could be the difference between a team staying alive or getting knocked out of the tournament.