Ghost goal haunts Hoffenheim while Cosmos aim to be part-time champion

By Paul Gardner

Great. No sooner do we move -- finally, after many a delay and much equivocation -- into the modern age with FIFA's approval of goal line technology (GLT, aka GDS or Goal Decision System) than we are plunged back into the dark ages with an utterly absurd decision over a disputed goal in Germany.

Bayer Leverkusen’s Stefan Kiessling headed the ball -- and it ended up in the Hoffenheim net. Goal said referee Felix Brych. Which it wasn’t, because the ball had hit the (outside of) the sidenet and squeezed its way into the goal through a hole in that netting. Hoffenheim’s attempts to draw Brych’s attention to the hole, to get him to reverse his decision, got nowhere. The goal stood. By the time the game was over, with Bayer Leverkusen winning 2-1 (and thus going top of the Bundesliga), everyone -- thanks to television -- knew the goal should never have been allowed.

A clear-cut case, with the Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Voller admitting that the goal was not a goal (though he did suggest that Hoffenheim might want to invest in some decent nets).

What to do? There seemed to be precedent here. Nearly 20 years ago, a Bundesliga game between Bayern Munich and Nuremberg was replayed after Bayern had been awarded a similar “ghost” goal. So Hoffenheim appealed to the German federation, the DFB. And the DFB nixed the appeal.

Listen to Judge Hans Lorenz, the man in charge of the tribunal that heard the appeal. He had, he said, “no alternative” but to confirm the goal. And the referee’s decision, though it may have been wrong, is “irrevocable.”

Mr. Bumble, in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist had his say on the absurdities that the law, and those who interpret it, can attain: “If the law supposes that, the law is a ass -- a idiot.”

Sadly, the law far too often seems to delight in being a ass. Here we have a case of something that is obviously, glaringly wrong, everyone knows it, a major injustice has been done ... but the law says it’s OK. To arrive at that utterly absurd point, Judge Lorenz needs to tell us that “the question isn’t whether this judgment satisfies us from a sporting perspective”.

Actually, that is exactly the question. Soccer games are played as sport, not as court procedures. They are played under sporting rules, which have been carefully constructed to ensure fair play. To see top legal figures picking holes in those rules, spouting legal pedantry to claim that they have "no alternative" but to deliver a fatuous verdict, is thoroughly irritating.

Of course something can be done, should be done. Hoffenheim should be compensated in some way -- either by awarding the goal and changing the result to a tie, or by replaying the game. Of course those things can be done. And one of them should be done, in the name of fair play (a FIFA catch phrase, you know) and sportsmanship.

Am I certain I’m getting this right? No, I’m not. But I am certain that, where sports are concerned, the major, over-riding issues should be those where sporting values need to be upheld. And that is clearly not the case here. No doubt replaying a game carries the threat of setting a precedent ... but so what? That is something that can be dealt with by adjusting the rules (and, please note, I mean the RULES -- not the Laws) of the game so that they can handle these matters “from a sporting perspective” -- the Judge’s words.

In either case, the crucial point is that neither the rules nor the law should act like “a ass, a idiot.” In this Hoffenheim case how can the law make out it is anything other than a ass when it so conclusively insists on confirming an obvious injustice?

* * *

Absurd indeed. And we have another absurdity right here in New York. The New York Cosmos are about to play in the North American Soccer League’s Soccer Bowl championship game. They have earned the right to do that by winning the Fall Championship (i.e. the second half of the NASL season).

The absurdity is that the Cosmos did not play in the first half, the Spring Championship. Seven teams did, each playing 12 games, with the Atlanta Silverbacks coming through as winners.

So now here come the Cosmos, joining NASL for only half of the 2013 season. They win the Fall championship. There is nothing to complain about there -- Coach Giovanni Savarese has quickly and expertly assembled a winning team.

But, should that team, which has played only half as many games as the other seven NASL teams, now be within one game of winning the NASL’s 2013 title -- a title that takes in the Spring season, in which the Cosmos were not participants?

It does not make any sense. Nor, from a “sporting perspective,” is it fair or sportsmanlike. In this case, there are no legal aspects to consider -- but there are what can be considered as business and diplomatic issues.

It surely cannot be in the interests of the NASL to adopt regulations that seem designed to favor its richest club. But that is the impression that is bound to come through.

Worse is another impression -- that the NASL cannot be taken seriously, that it is a rinky-dink league willing to apply ludicrous regulations that, surely, no other top soccer league would even consider.

But the sporting considerations should still be foremost. At the very least, the NASL should make sure that, in future, whenever the Cosmos 2013 record is mentioned, it should be festooned with prominent asterisks.

17 comments about "Ghost goal haunts Hoffenheim while Cosmos aim to be part-time champion".
  1. Allan Lindh, October 29, 2013 at 2:13 a.m.

    I hate to agree with Mr Gardner so often, but he is clearly right about the "Ghost" goal. Problem is that we only know he is right because of video replay, otherwise it's just an argument. Problem is that not a weekend passes but what a goal is allowed, or disallowed, when video replay clearly shows that the decision was wrong -- no argument, it's just clearly wrong. So Dear Mr Gardner, please be consistent. Soccer should have video replay, and the ghost goal should have been disallowed. Can't have it both ways.

  2. Charles O'Cain, October 29, 2013 at 8:57 a.m.

    Would Mr Gardner award a replay to England vs Argentina in view of the incorrectly-allowed Maradona offside "hand of God" goal, from a "sporting perspective"? And can Mr Lindh please cite another example this year (among all televised matches) of a "clearly wrong" decision concerning an allowed/disallowed goal? And for this we are to abandon the flow of play in all other matches in favor of NFL-type video challenges/re-play? May the hand of God intervene to prevent this travesty!

  3. Andrew Bermant, October 29, 2013 at 9:38 a.m.

    The referee team made an egregious error: it is their job to check the goals and nets before the game so a "ghost" goal can never happen. So, first action: the referee team (all 4 of them) should be sent back to the youth leagues - actually, that would be problematic for the youth leagues so, they should simply have their licenses revoked. Second, clearly the goal did not happen within the Laws of the Game because the ball had traveled over the goal line outside of the goal. Since the referee team failed to hold up the Laws of the game, their decision should be revoked and either the goal not counted or, as Mr. Gardner notes, in the spirit of Fair Play, the game should be replayed.

  4. Sam Falco, October 29, 2013 at 10:10 a.m.

    "It surely cannot be in the interests of the NASL to adopt regulations that seem designed to favor its richest club. But that is the impression that is bound to come through."

    That impression has already come through. Many NASL supporters suspected that split season was designed to favor the Cosmos as soon as it was announced under the previous commissioner's tenure. At that time, the Cosmos already showed signs that they wouldn't be ready in time for the beginning of the 2013 season. When their delayed start was confirmed, and the NASL did not block the Cosmos from competing for the Soccer Bowl, many of us concluded that our suspicions had been correct from the beginning.

    "Worse is another impression -- that the NASL cannot be taken seriously, that it is a rinky-dink league willing to apply ludicrous regulations that, surely, no other top soccer league would even consider."

    It has made this impression even worse with its laughable plans for next season, when a ten week Spring season will decide the championship host, followed by a twenty week fall season.

  5. Gus Keri, October 29, 2013 at 11:35 a.m.

    Paul Gardner, NASL, Cosmos, money: Where did I read this combination of words before?

  6. David Mont, October 29, 2013 at 2:09 p.m.

    Charles O'Cain: Galaxy-Seattle, a few days ago.

  7. Charles O'Cain, October 29, 2013 at 4:57 p.m.

    Thanks, David. Human error exists. but goal line errors are quite rare (affecting <0.05% of professional televised matches. Refs/AR's get it right virtually every time. In my opinion, imposing video replay in soccer would be a major negative, even for goal line disputes. Should it then be applied to offside judgements, foul vs simulation calls, corner vs goal kick, handball or not, etc.? Where would it logically end, and what would the result be? More commercial breaks? I can live without that degree of "justice", from the sporting perspective.

  8. Patrick Gomes, October 29, 2013 at 9:41 p.m.

    So once again I see this ludicrous excuse of "break in flow of play" for not introducing television/video replays into the game. Have those making this argument ever bothered to ask themselves how many times the "smooth play is broken" on average, per match, for fouls and injury -- real or otherwise? Have they bothered to compare that to the number of times a play/foul impacting directly/immediately on the scoreline occurs? Throw in those for red cards too.)

  9. Patrick Gomes, October 29, 2013 at 9:49 p.m.

    My previous comment was incomplete, thanks to the placement of the Send button in this tiny screen.

    For those more interested in facts rather than in retaining romantic traditions in the game, there's this:!

    For the person who asked, "Where would it logically end?", how about applying the simple logic used in cricket? The on-field umpires take the help of the video-umpire whenever they're unsure, and each team is awarded a limited number of challenges as well.

    This wouldn't completely rule out errors of course, but sure as day would prevent travestites we witness on the pitch on an almost weekly basis, with penalties awarded or not awarded.

  10. David Mont, October 30, 2013 at 8:29 a.m.

    Charles, goal line errors are actually very frequent. Of course, they don't affect too many matches, just because such contentious situations are very rare. The overwhelming majority of the goals go in between the posts and hit the net -- there is never any argument. However, when you do have a controversy, then I would say that the error rate is very high, probably around 50%. And as far as breaks in the play... TV viewers can see what really happened within seconds. There is already a fourth official who has nothing to do all game other than announcing subs and time added on. Put him in front of a monitor and within no more than 10 seconds he'll be able to make the right call.

  11. Charles O'Cain, October 30, 2013 at 10:24 a.m.

    What's really ludicrous is the proposal that every referee judgement be subject to video review. Leave that to the referee assessors, get the best referees available, then respect them. And accept that human error will occur, even among viewers.

  12. Patrick Gomes, October 30, 2013 at 11:03 a.m.

    No, what's REALLY ludicrous is reading into what I wrote a proposal for subjecting "every referee judgement to video review", or the suggestion that using such a review system implies disrespect for referees. Oh, and that the fact that *some* human error will persist argues for not lessening it even when possible.
    ~sigh!~ But didn't we hear these exact arguments from the "purists" of cricket some 10 years ago?

  13. Patrick Gomes, October 30, 2013 at 11:17 a.m.

    Perhaps it's too much to ask "purists" of the gameto copy and past URLs that would bring up some stark facts that give the lie to the "break in flow" argument. So here it is then:
    The average number of fouls per game in the European leagues is 29.5. That is, play is broken, on average, every three minutes -- and that's not even counting injury related and touch stoppages.

  14. Charles O'Cain, October 30, 2013 at 12:12 p.m.

    So, exactly which referee judgements are to be subject to challenge/review? Just goal line disputes (i'm actually not a diehard opponent of "GLT', though it seems ridiculously expensive for the number of occasions it actually decides the question)? Offside rulings, red cards, yellow cards, or just routine fouls, handballs dives, corner vs goal kicks, throw-ins? And what about the calls not made (the off-the-ball incidents not seen by the refs, or fouls simply not called - scrums in the box come to mind). All of these judgements have and will affect the outcome of matches on occasion. I'm familiar with The Numbers Game, but am not sure the numbers cited above support the contention that soccer is already fragmented (many free kicks are taken quickly) and the thought that the video review process could be completed in 10 seconds seems quite optimistic (if NBA and NFL experiences are any indication). As for cricket, a test match can last five days ... plenty of time for reflection ... yet even then they're having difficulties with their technology (especially Hot Spot during the recent Ashes series)

  15. Dan Phillips, October 30, 2013 at 2:36 p.m.

    Also in the Seattle - LA Galaxy game last Sunday the Galaxy clearley scored a goal that was ruled no goal. The ball clearly crossed the goal line in replays before a defender kicked it out for the Sounders. Yet the referee ruled, no goal. We need goal line tchnology. And we need to implement it now. Time for soccer to move into the 21st Century!

  16. Patrick Gomes, November 5, 2013 at 5:21 a.m.

    Charles O'Cain: Goal-line disputes, red cards and red card offenses unseen, and offside rulings resulting in goals (and disallowed goals in certain circumstances). The referee can decide whether to go for a video review (play stops anyway when cards are to be awarded -- usually for an inordinately long time as players protest) and each team may also be allowed a certain number of challenges.

    For all its imperfections, no one except the Indians for some reason would want to do away with the review system in cricket.

  17. Charles O'Cain, November 5, 2013 at 1:52 p.m.

    There are probably more cricket fans in India than in all other nations combined, and there they accept that the umpire's decision is final (they may not agree with the decision, but "it's not cricket" to challenge); DRS is not used. And the English and Australians have serious doubts about the technology as well (Hot Spot has been dropped for the upcoming Ashes series in Australia, and they're talking about adding yet a third system - Sniko - to the DRS array). If soccer fans in the US want video replay, then let MLS try it out. I really don't think many other leagues will follow once they see the result. Oh, and let's add a timekeeper and countdown clock to make the improvements complete (care to watch another college match?)

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