So this happened:
And the debate that raged centered in two camps:
1) The goal should be disallowed because the attacker was in an offside position when the ball was originally shot and a deliberate save was made by the defender which pushed the ball into the post.
2) The goal should be allowed because the attacker’s offside position is reset due to the defender’s deliberate play on the ball which pushed the ball into the post.
While there is no debate about the wording of Law 11, the debate really centers around the definition of a save as given by the 2016-17 Laws of the Game (published by the IFAB at theifab.com):
An action by a player to stop the ball when it is going into or very close to the goal
using any part of the body except the hands (unless a goalkeeper within their own
The words “VERY CLOSE” are what are keeping the discussion lively.
Some referees believe that “very close” means balls that are headed toward a position near the goal. Others believe that “very close” means balls that almost enter the goal.
I attempted to find guidelines on the subject from FIFA. What I found first was mentioned in several blogs about “UEFA Guidelines” which state:
Deliberate Save (UEFA Guidelines)
- made by any player
- save means "to save a goal from being scored"
- In cases where the ball was clearly not heading towards the goal, there can be no deliberate save
However, UEFA does not actually place their Guidelines online. I was about ready to give up on the search, and I found this, from Referee Joe McHugh (Ireland, Grade 1 Senior):
“As regards deliberate save the Law is vague on this and we are left to seek interpretation from our associations on this. These interpretations are given to our most senior referees. UEFA has opined that deliberately playing the ball requires a clearly deliberate act of a player making a clear movement towards the ball while the quality of this action is to be ignored by the referee. A deliberate save can be compared to a goalkeeper’s save. It is applicable for every player on the pitch though and means that a potential goal is prevented from being scored by this save.”
Additionally, Referee Richard Dawson (Canada, Class 2) had this to say:
The deliberate save generally involves the keeper but can be attributed to defenders’ goal line clearances that prevent the ball from crossing the goal line under the crossbar and between the posts without the keeper in behind. … [Balls which] DO NOT reset offside must in the opinion of the referee impact the player without his knowledge or at a speed and distance where there is no time or space to react effectively by choice.”
So, did the defender’s actions in the video constitute a deliberate SAVE or a deliberate PLAY? Well, let’s go over the facts as presented in the video:
- The original “shot” is from just outside the 18 and about 5 yards wide right of goal. This distance is approximately 18.5 yards from the inside post.
- The defender slides and touches the ball at a point a yard outside the 6-yard goal area line and about 4 yards wide right of goal. This distance is just a shade over 8 yards from the inside post.
- Another attacker (the one who eventually scores) is directly behind and about 5 yards back from the defender who touches the ball
- The GK has moved to take a position on the inside post.
- The original trajectory of the ball, had the defender not touched it, would have ended either with the ball wide right of goal by approximately 2.5 yards OR the final attacker receiving it as a pass.
So, does this meet the definition of “very close to the goal” in order for the defender’s touch to be a deliberate SAVE?
Given the information presented, with the guidelines and interpretations above, I’d have to say no, this is a deliberate PLAY. Why?
- Distance to goal – The original shot is more than 18 yards out. The defender touches the ball 10 yards later. That is ample distance to choose whether or not to play the ball.
- The defender SLIDES to touch the ball – this implies a deliberate action.
- The trajectory – can’t be a save if the ball had no chance of entering goal. Wide right is not on target.
- The final attacker – the defender’s deliberate action initially prevents the final attacker from receiving the ball directly from the attacker outside the 18.
However, I am simply a grassroots USSF Grade 7 referee. There are many respected refs that have chimed in on the subject of this video from varying parts of the world. Two of the more current authorities on the subject:
Austin Gomez (former USSF National Referee, retired):
In my opinion, this is clearly NOT a ‘Save’ as such —– [due to the Goalkeeper still on/near the Goal line and this Defender NOT even close to the Goal itself, to be considered a ‘SAVE’] —— My belief is that is clearly a ‘DELIBERATE-PLAY’ wherein there was Movement towards the Ball, with Time & Space assisting this Defender! ………. Therefore, (‘Ergo”), this ‘offside-position’ Attacker should NOT be considered as ‘Gaining an Advantage by being in that Position’ (as LAW 11 stipulates)!
Murray Milavsky (current Canadian Soccer Association instructor):
Looks like a deliberate play on the ball by the defender, it’s at least 7 yards from goal where he made a play for it. It wasn’t like he turned around and it hit him. Don’t think you can consider this a save, there was no guarantee that ball was going into the goal.