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The Proper Term for Deciding a World Cup Match

I love the World Cup. Every four years, nations come together for a truly global sporting event. Since billions of people follow the sport, it truly is a world series, and the winning nation can rightfully be called “world champion” (even if it was France).

How many other sports can be credited with starting a war (between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969) and achieving peace (Ivory Coast’s civil war in 2006)? Few others.

In this tournament, I feel very smart because anybody who asked me during the knockout phase who I liked, I told them Croatia. Luka Modric was a revelation — although if I followed European football a little closer, I would have known about him since he plays for Real Madrid, which just won the UEFA Champions League.

Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the tournament, even getting up early to watch those early-morning matches. The one thing I didn’t enjoy — and never do — is the tiebreak procedure.

I believe the format should follow hockey. If there is a tie after regulation, take your usual 15-minute break, then play 45 more minutes until somebody scores (you can add substitutions if you’d like). Keep doing this until somebody scores, as many 45-minute periods as it takes.

But if you’re going to use the current format, at least call it by its correct name: “Kicks from the Mark.”

The FIFA Laws of the Game make it very clear that is what the procedure is called. It is not called a “shootout” or a “penalty shootout,” as I heard Fox announcers call them over and over again. Only once did I hear somebody say it correctly (I think it was Rob Stone, but I’m not certain).

First, a “penalty kick” is only awarded if a foul punished with a direct free kick occurs in the penalty area. As the tiebreak procedure happens after play concludes, there are no fouls. The word “shootout” does not appear anywhere in the Laws of the Game.

However, players are taking kicks, and they are taking them from that mark 12 yards from the goal line. Hence, kicks from the mark.

The next World Cup is November 2022 in Qatar. Plenty of time to get it right next time.

Until next time! Use the right words!


July 17, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Know Your Soccer Defenders

The other day, as I officiated a soccer match, I heard a parent shout at his son, a forward, to go stand near the opposition’s last defender. I heard it over and over: “The last defender! The last defender, (name of child)!”

I knew the father wanted his son there because the son couldn’t be in an offside position if he stood with that defender.

Only one problem: the last defender is the goalkeeper. Stand there, and you’re in an offside position and will be called offside as soon as you are involved in the play, as soon as you interfere with play, or as soon as a teammate passes you the ball.

What the father meant to say was, “the second-to-last defender,” for Law 11 of the FIFA Laws of the Game (don’t you love how they’re laws and not rules?) specifically states:

“A player is in an offside position if: he is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second to last opponent.” 

Furthermore, Law 11 says that a player is not in a offside position if “he is level with the last two opponents.”

The son never was called offside. He also didn’t score.

Until next time! Use the right words!

September 11, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Back of the Net = No Goal

It’s World Cup time! It’s one of my favorite times: consecutive high-level soccer (or football for most of the rest of the word) every day for more weeks — and then come the knockout rounds.

So far, this has been a high-scoring tournament. But speaking of scoring …

Listen to the English announcers long enough and you’ll probably hear someone say something about putting the ball “in the back of the net.” It’s a common saying; I even found myself using it when I researched old newspaper articles I wrote from 1990-2002.

There’s just one problem: It the ball hits the back of the net, it’s out of bounds.

The correct term is back of the goal. Under Law 1 of the International Football Federation (FIFA) Laws of the Game (yes, they’re laws, not rules), the goal has as opening of 8 yards wide by eight feet high. Behind and to the side is the net. Therefore, if the ball goes into the goal, the ball goes into net that’s facing the goal: the front of the net. The back of the net is out of play.

Incidentally, nowhere in the Laws of the Game or the Interpretations of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees does it mention a net.

John Alexander Brodie, a British civil engineer, invented the goal net in 1889.

Until next time! Use the right words!

June 16, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Good/Bad vs. Right/Wrong, Sports Edition

Among other jobs, I officiate soccer matches. Why everyone thinks that just because you’re watching a match gives you the right to yell at the referee is beyond me, especially when that person doesn’t know the Laws of the Game or the Rules of Soccer, and I have to take fitness and written tests to maintain my certification.

Example: It’s offside not offsides. And a player can be in an offside position without being whistled for offside.

But I digress.

What I also notice while I’m officiating, usually as an assistant referee (that’s what linesmen used to be called), the referee makes a call and, depending on if the call benefits their team, a parent or coach will say “Good call” or “Bad call.”

Except that in soccer, as with many sports, there is no such thing as a good or bad call. It’s either the right call or the wrong call.

Officials make calls based on the rules set forth in each athletic contest. So, an umpire calls a strike in baseball when the ball crosses the strike zone as defined in the rules. A football referee calls a holding foul based on the definition of a hold in the rules. A basketball official calls traveling based on the rules. And so on.

So when a referee makes a call, don’t tell him or her it was good or bad. It’ll make you look bad.

And wrong.

Until next time! Use the right words!

July 29, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

For the Football Fan in All of Us

And by “football” I mean “soccer.”

(I’ll wait a moment to allow everyone who feels he/she was misled by the headline to click off.)

Now then. I referee youth soccer, which means I get to listen to parents, coaches and players yelling at me for the calls I made/didn’t make. But within their comments I can hear ignorance about the game’s proper terminology.

For example, handball. If you read the FIFA Laws of the Game, nowhere will you find that word. The correct term is handling the ball. “Handball” is either a contraction for “handling the ball” or a completely different sport. Or both.

Another example: offside. Forget for a moment that most people don’t understand the concept of a player being “in an offside position” or “offside.” These ignoramuses call it offsides. Again, that term doesn’t exist in the Laws of the Game. And when you think about it, “offsides” is impossible. There are only two sides on the field (or “pitch”), and a player can’t be offside on his/her own side of the field.

One more thing: When I make a call someone likes, I hear “Good call.” Technically, there is no such thing as a good call or bad call. I make calls based on the Laws of the Game. Therefore, it’s right or wrong call.

Until next time! Use the right words!

January 17, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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