The deliberate handball. One of the dirtiest plays in all of sports and probably the dirtiest one in soccer. Yet players get off with a minimal punishment considering how much of a game-changer it can be.
This might seem like odd timing. Nothing happened recently in soccer that sparked this conversation. This is actually as a result of an argument I had with a buddy of mine recently about how one of the most controversial rules of soccer works.
For anyone looking for an example of what I mean, here is a perfect one. At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Uruguay met Ghana in the quarterfinal round. The game was tied and it was late into the second half. Ghana put together an attacking move that led to a shot that rebounded off the keeper. Another shot was blocked by an outfield defender and the ball careened into the air. One of Ghana’s players got their head to it and directed it towards goal. Luis Suarez, who was standing on the goal line, blatantly blocked the ball using his forearm preventing a sure goal for the African side.
Suarez was given an immediate red card and was suspended for the ensuing match. Ghana was awarded a penalty, which Asamoah Gyan banged off the crossbar and over. Uruguay would go on to win the game on penalties and advance to the semi final round.
But there never should have been extra time or penalties. The game should have ended with Ghana in front 2-1. Ghana had essentially slotted home the winner until Suarez illegally prevented it from going in. The referee did what he was supposed to do, which is eject the player and award a penalty. Sure Ghana had more chances to score in extra time and during penalties but it should never have come to that.
However, that hardly seems fair. Ghana had a shot heading into the net that would have counted for a goal. They should have just been awarded the goal. Earning the penalty is nice, but then they still have to take a shot on goal again with the keeper prepared to defend it. Going from a goal scored to another shot on goal isn’t exactly an equal pay off.
I’m sure most people will say, “Well that’s just how it is.” I’m saying it shouldn’t be. Think about it from the standpoint of a basketball play. If a player is fouled in the act of shooting or before he even takes the shot but there was a clear path to the basket, they are awarded free throws. Their scoring opportunity was taken away and as a result, they have a chance to earn those points in a different way. They don’t just award the player the points though because there is still a possibility that he could have missed the ensuing shot even without the foul.
This is similar to in soccer when a player is taken down inside the penalty area. They are awarded a penalty. Logically, that makes sense, the defender committed a foul that prevented a goal-scoring opportunity for the offense and now they are given a chance to take another shot on goal from the penalty spot. Once again, it was not guaranteed to go in though, so the goal is not just given.
Going back to basketball, there is an instance in which a team is awarded a basket even if the ball does not make it through the netting. Goaltending is called when the ball is knocked out of the basket illegally. Rather than award free throws, the referee simple awards the points the shot was worth because it was already going into the basket when someone wrongfully interfered.
Soccer does not have that. In the case of Suarez’s handball, Ghana was not awarded a goal despite the ball heading into the net. It is the exact same concept as goaltending in basketball, but it is called very differently.
That is just how the rules of the game work for soccer. It shouldn’t be though because it promotes cheating. Uruguay won that game because Suarez broke the rules. That should not be allowed. It tears down the very integrity of sports. It allows the cheaters to win because of the way the rules are written. They might be penalized, but in that instance, the cheating paid off. That should never be the case. A team that deliberately breaks the rules should be not be given a second chance to make up for the situation.
I think soccer should introduce a goaltending rule, similar to what happens in basketball. If an outfield player illegally prevents a ball with a clear path to the net if he is the only player in between the ball and the net, as it was in Suarez’s case, then a goal should be awarded. The ball was going into the net. There is no question about. It would have been a goal had it not been for an illegal play.
That rule would boost the integrity of the game of soccer. There would be no reason for players to deliberately block the ball with their hands to save a game because it would not save the game any more. The goal would still count and the player would still be ejected. It would not benefit his team in any way to make that play so players would stop making it. It is a logically change for FIFA to make.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Chris McGlynn