Brazen goalkeeper cheating helps Sevilla win Europa League

By Paul Gardner

Is there any excuse for this? That the Europa League cup -- one of soccer's major trophies -- has just been won by Sevilla thanks to absolutely blatant cheating by its goalkeeper?

After Sevilla and Benfica had played two hours of soccer they were still where they started, deadlocked at 0-0. At that point, thanks to soccer’s fatuous shoot-out, those two hours -- in other words the entire game - become irrelevant. They no longer matter. In fact, they need not have been played.

The game will now be decided in the space of a few minutes by a synthetic procedure that has nothing to do with the two hours of sweat, skill and toil that have preceded it.

Off we go, and in no time at all Beto, the Sevilla goalkeeper has saved the second and third Benfica shots. The shootout is virtually over. Whether that means the game is over is another matter -- after all, the FIFA rules do state, unequivocally, that “The kicks from the penalty mark [i.e. the shootout] are not part of the match.” Right. But Sevilla will be the team doing all the celebrating.

I’m not so sure that the refereeing crew have anything to celebrate. Particularly the AR standing on the goal-line. His job is -- isn’t it? -- to make sure that the goalkeepers play by the rules, that they do not cheat by moving forward off the goal line before the ball is kicked. Yet this AR, standing a mere 10 yards away, with an unimpeded view of the goalkeeper, allowed Beto to advance over a yard forward before making the crucial save on Oscar Cardoso’s kick. On the next Benfica kick, Beto was at it again, slightly less flagrantly, in saving Rodrigo’s kick.

Actually, it was worse than that. There was an AR on one side of the goal, and an AAR on the other. Neither indicated anything wrong.

Benfica should surely have been permitted to take both those kicks again. I can add my amendment to the rules now: Sevilla goalkeeper Beto should have been yellow carded after the first offense and told -- though that should not really be necessary -- that he would be ejected if he cheated again. That would mean, as I read the rules, that Sevilla would have to use a substitute goalkeeper from the 11 players already to chosen to take part in the shootout. A non-goalkeeper, in other words. Which should put a stop to the cheating.

And it should certainly end this unpleasant business of turning a cheating goalkeeper into a hero -- the UEFA website talks of Beto's "penalty heroics." We’ve been here before -- with Sevilla, when it won the same trophy back in 2007, thanks to three shootout saves by its goalkeeper Andres Palop; I wrote at the time that Palop had “cheated on at least two of the kicks, probably on all three.”

One of the worst examples of goalkeeper shootout cheating had come in the UEFA Champions League final in 2005 when Liverpool’s Jerzy Dudek advanced two yards to keep out Andrea Pirlo’s shot -- and to help Liverpool win the title.

But we’ve grown used to seeing ARs and AARs standing immobile as statues, apparently unable to decide whether the ball has entered the net, or whether a goalkeeper has moved.

Not for the first time there is a considerable lack of clarity in the rules. What do they say about the role of the AR? Most of us would surely, and logically, assume his role to be identical for a regular penalty kick and for a shootout kick.

Not so. For a start, positioning. For a regular penalty kick, the AR stands on the goal line at the intersection with the penalty area line. In the shootout (where there is no possibility of action continuing after a kick has been taken) the AR moves in to stand at the intersection of the goal line and the six yard box -- i.e. 12 yards closer to the goalkeeper.

The function of the AR at a penalty kick is defined in these words: “If the goalkeeper blatantly moves off the goal line before the ball is kicked and a goal is not scored, the assistant referee must raise his flag.” That’s it. No mention of his making a decision on whether the ball has crossed the goal line.

But for the shootout, the instructions for the AR read very differently: “His main duty is to check if the ball crosses the goal line.” No mention of goalkeeper movement. (Also no mention of goal line technology which, if in use, presumably over rules any AR decision).

So maybe the AR in the Sevilla-Benfica game is not to blame. And if he is not responsible for reporting goalkeeper movement, then it must be the referee’s job. Though, if the referee is also expected to keep an eye on the legality of the kicker’s run up (and if he isn’t, I don’t know who is), then his positioning as diagramed in the rule book, at the corner of the six-yard box, is anything but ideal.

Whatever, this episode -- in a showcase game -- was badly screwed up. I will add another of my rule amendments: That TV replays be used to decide the matter. This is one of the problem decisions in which -- just as in offside calls -- the AR (or the referee) is asked to be looking in two directions at the same moment. Not easy.

The main objection to replays, the one that delayed the use of technology for so long, was that the game must go on, that it must never be halted to allow for a replay to be studied.

But the shootout, by FIFA’s own definition, is “not part of the match.” There is no action to be interrupted, hence no reason at all why each shootout kick could not be instantly reviewed on a TV replay, with immediate instructions to the referee if a re-take is considered necessary.

The shootout, whatever one might think of it (for the record, I consider it an absurdity), just happens to be the crucial point of any game in which it is employed. It decides who wins. How, then, can it be acceptable that its operation is so carelessly treated in the rule book, and its implementation so haphazardly conducted on the field?
32 comments about "Brazen goalkeeper cheating helps Sevilla win Europa League ".
  1. James Hardern, May 15, 2014 at 9:05 a.m.

    Mr Gardner,
    Just out of curiousity, what do you think would be the ideal "tie breaker"? I too find penalty kick shootouts rather arbitrary and contrived, but I have not been able to think of a better method either that seems natural to the game.

  2. Eduardo Pereira, May 15, 2014 at 9:06 a.m.

    You, Sir, should be in charge of the game, not Blatter or Platini. Your article sums it up in a pretty accurate way. Last night's final was a disgrace for the image of football, as three other bookable offences inside Sevilla's box remained unpunished. I'm not sure if you are aware of a player called Markovic being suspended for this match because of a sideline fight that even his opponent said it didn't happen - and he was willing to testify, too. Put it all together and you might just end up with one of the most blatant cases of disrespect for a club - not to say corruption - of the decade. Or is it of all time?
    Warm regards from Portugal!

  3. Eduardo Pereira, May 15, 2014 at 9:10 a.m.

    a rematch would be the best way, in my opinion. The problem is that schedules are alredy tight as they stand and that would render an agreement for an extra match virtually impossible. But, as a tie breaker theory, a second clash is still my favorite.

  4. Kent James, May 15, 2014 at 9:52 a.m.

    A better way to end the tie is to have kicks taken from outside the penalty area (including the arc). Let the keeper stand wherever he wants. So it would essentially be a free kick without a wall. The advantage of doing it this way would be that it would take a good kick to score, as opposed to kicks from the mark, when it is usually a poorly taken kick that gives the game to the other team. Short of that, as PG suggests, using TV replays to determine movement of the goalkeeper should be a no-brainer.

  5. T. Michael Flinn, May 15, 2014 at 10:09 a.m.

    Mr. Gardner: Your article fails to mention the difference in style of penalty kick taking. The kicks saved were weakly taken. Sevilla's kicks were powerfully taken and well placed.

  6. Eduardo Pereira, May 15, 2014 at 10:23 a.m.

    Interesting opinion, Kent James. Reminds me of a roller hockey option, where the player starts from a given spot and skates all the way to the goal, shooting when he wants to, mano-a-mano with the keeper. It would be nice to see a soccer player running with the ball from 30 meters out, having only the keeper to beat. Odds would change a great deal for both of them.

  7. Albert Harris, May 15, 2014 at 10:32 a.m.

    Mr. Flinn:

    Your argument about the quality of kicks may or may not be true, but I fail to see how they relate to Gardner's article which is strictly about whether or not the goalkeeper moved off the line before the PK was struck. This is blatantly illegal and at least on the first save pretty obvious to everyone except the FIFA officials. Since the AAR has absolutely no function during a shootout, it would seem to me that he would be the logical person to watch the goalkeeper's feet to make sure they're not off the line before the shooter strikes the ball. But let's be honest, the problem isn't with the division of responsibility, it's with the officials' lack of courage in making a call which will bring attention to them. Grow a set, ref!

  8. Carl Walther, May 15, 2014 at 11:10 a.m.

    Until the FIFA eunuchs who are in charge of refereeing start penalizing refs. for incompetence, this will never change.

  9. Daniel Clifton, May 15, 2014 at 11:15 a.m.

    I have seen goalies move too early on penalty kicks so many times it makes one wonder what are the ref's looking at. I have seen this in low level amateur matches all the way up to the highest level of Soccer. What is the problem with enforcing the rule? It is a simple rule to enforce. When the goalie jumps out a yard off his line before the individual taking the penalty kick touches the ball it is an easy call to make, and yet you rarely see that call made. Albert Harris tells it like it is. The official's lack the courage to make the call.

  10. C R, May 15, 2014 at 11:59 a.m.

    Given Mr. Gardener's general disdain for all things defensive I don't believe any of the options suggesting a one on one with the keeper, no matter the structure, would be satisfactory in his estimation.

    I think only a golden goal

  11. C R, May 15, 2014 at 12:02 p.m.

    Would satisfy him. Perhaps after two additional 15 minute periods of play. I'm sure there will be those with differing opinions but I think it's the only way to somewhat address lack of offensive play and/ or playing for a shoot out.

  12. Dan Phillips, May 15, 2014 at 1:44 p.m.

    When oh when will FIFA ever make the necessary rule changes, and get out of the 19th Century? 1. use video replay 2.use electronic clock to stop stalling tacticts 3. modify off side rule to allow more offense 4. implament goal line technology for league games 5. Stop over protecting goalie 6. 50-50 calls in box should go to offense, not defens 7. Keep playing OT until somebody wins (sudden death) with unlimited subs, no PK shootout. When would any of these necessary changes be made? Prabably never!

  13. Al Gebra, May 15, 2014 at 3:15 p.m.

    Let the game end in a tie. That'll equally piss off everyone and it's a deserved ending, especially when the game ends in a 0-0 deadlock

  14. paul bryce, May 15, 2014 at 5:38 p.m.

    Excellent article detailing how the game was completely spoilt by a cheat who was allowed to get away with it. Those Assitant Referees should simply be shot they are worthless during the game and even more worthless in the penalty shoot out.

    What an example this cheating is for the forthcoming world cup and for every goalie playing for his local team - if you're trying to save a penalty, cheat, you'll have a much better chance of saving it.
    I think Al Gebra has a good point too - what's wrong with sharing the trophy after all they couldn't decide the winner playing football.

  15. Mark Headley, May 16, 2014 at 12:01 a.m.

    Kudos! Like the USWNT prevailing over China in the 1999 WC final, no?

    How about declaring the winner of a tied match the team that committed fewer (tactical? carded?) fouls? Any more effective way to curb that far more pernicious cheating? To bring back the beautiful game? Where talented players have a fair chance of dribbling past defenders?

    I feel foolish watching matches turning on officials' refusals to enforce the rules. Don't recall this happening in my high school games. Why push soccer away from a fair sport -- toward a spectacle like professional wrestling? Not that capricious officiating is unique to pro soccer.

  16. David Crowther, May 16, 2014 at 3:17 a.m.

    No mention of the fact that one of the reasons Beto managed to get that far in front of his goal was that Cardoso came to a complete stop halfway through his run up to the ball. That also happens to be against the rules. So why are you also calling Cardoso a cheat? Wouldn't it be fairer to say that Beto was simply the more successful cheater?

  17. miguel oliveira, May 16, 2014 at 9:34 a.m.

    dear paul gardner, you wrote a great article exposing the facts and gaps of some older and obsolete laws of UEFA. i'm benfica fan and I'm not happy with the shame that was the tiebreaker by penalties, but I am more angry with what happened in the 90min, in which the referee did not score 3 penalties and not showed 2 red cards to players who already had Post yellow, the worst is that there are no less than 6 _ referee on the field and none saw nothing SHAMEFUL! but it was not supposed to benfica win! Mr. platini ensured that this did not happen after Benfica having eliminated his beloved and favorite super juventus! but what happened in this game tiebreaker for penalties is not unique, because the main referee's looking for the player who will score the penalty. but UEFA refuses to change to not spoil the beauty of the spectacle! the other side of the coin we have a winner who does not deserve to win! where is th sporting truth behind it! best regards

  18. Andres Yturralde, May 16, 2014 at 9:43 a.m.

    "If you're not cheating, you're not trying; and it's only cheating if you get caught." Looking at the bigger picture, Benfica should have put this game away during regular time, period. Seems to me there was a lot more at work here than that final penalty shootout. Nevertheless, good eye and good take, PG.

  19. Joseph Pratt, May 16, 2014 at 10:06 a.m.

    If there were no penalty shootout, and knowing that the game would be decided on the field of play, players would take a different approach during the overtime periods. All too often we see teams content to sit back and wait for the shootout, rather than pushing forward to score. And what's wrong with golden goal? That's certainly a better option than penalties. Using penalties to decide a match is like using free throws to decide a tied basketball game: a stupid idea.

  20. R2 Dad, May 16, 2014 at 11:35 a.m.

    Typically the keeper is allowed one step forward. It's not in the LOTG but that is how they are instructed to play. Can that one step be 1 yard towards the ball? That doesn't seem to be so unreasonable. I have not seen the clips/GIFs so don't know how egregious the keeper's supposed infraction was--anyone find it anywhere? I haven't done the math, but 1 yard forward probably cuts down the angle, resulting in 1 or 2 fewer feet on the ball side of the net. I actually see encroachment and the stutter-step as being bigger cheats from the attacking side in the course of a standard match.

  21. Amos Annan, May 16, 2014 at 1:42 p.m.

    nonsense... it is up to the referee to interpret the rules accordingly.

    There is no specific measurement for this.

  22. Tim Schum, May 16, 2014 at 2:08 p.m.

    Paul: I can't recall if you objected to the old NASL tiebreaker. I believe the attacking player started with the ball at the 35-yard line. He then had five seconds to dribble, beat the keeper and score.

    It was soccer-like and took real skill on the part of the attacker and the GK defender.

    I thought it had a lot to recommend it. Other than it was an American idea!

  23. Kent James, May 16, 2014 at 3:03 p.m.

    R2, you make a good point; most refs are not sticklers about a step off the line (technically the keeper can only move sideways prior to the ball being struck, but most move at least slightly forward). The most blatant move of this type I've ever seen was the US v China WC final when Brianna Scurry moved well forward to save the final kick, and surprisingly enough, the referee did not go against the wishes of 100,000 screaming fans and have the kick redone (it would have been interesting had she done so, but chalk that one up to home field advantage). Most pks have both teams blatantly violating the encroachment rule (though this is irrelevant for kicks from the mark). It's difficult for one ref to change generally accepted practices (and this laxness is at the highest levels), but FIFA should make a more concerted effort to enforce these rules (or change them, as they did when the allowed the keeper to move sideways instead of not at all). But it doesn't look good to have rules blatantly ignored, especially when doing so lets the team violating the rules win a championship. Kind of send sends the wrong message...

  24. R2 Dad, May 16, 2014 at 9:28 p.m.

    Amos, the one-step-forward allowance is actually fact at the amateur level. Maybe Mike W. can advise on college/professional standards, but they may be the same. The whole point of Paul's article is that there is no stated standard for this aspect of keeper positioning and it's being abused.

  25. Zoe Willet, May 17, 2014 at 12:09 a.m.

    I think Mark Headley has the best idea!

  26. Joao Guerreiro, May 17, 2014 at 8:28 a.m.

    i'm benfica fan and I'm not happy with the shame that was the tiebreaker by penalties, but I am more angry with what happened in the 90min, in which the referee did not score 3 penalties and not showed 2 red cards to players who already had Post yellow, the worst is that there are no less than 6 _ referee on the field and none saw nothing SHAMEFUL!

  27. Jaime Costa, May 17, 2014 at 1:58 p.m.

    There is a better way to decide a match. Penalties and golden goal are pretty unfair. Most of the times the final winner was not the best team of the match. The matches should be decided by a system of points gained during the match itself. Points should be given to the team that made less fauls and had the best fairplay, to the team that made more attempts on goal, to the team that had more ball possession and so on... The matches would be all much more interesting.

  28. C R, May 17, 2014 at 6:04 p.m.

    Jaime, your system puts the game in the hands of officials once again. Something Mr. Gardener and many commenters here detest because there is always INTERPRETATION. Fairplay? Who determines that? What is the criteria? Fouls... we can all see that there is no consensus on that. Everyone ALWAYS thinks they can call the game better than the refs especially from the safety of their living room with slow mo replays, zooming and multiple camera angles. Your suggestion is almost equal to having judges like ice skating, boxing, etc. I won't watch a "sport" which depends on judges scoring the event.

  29. stewart hayes, May 18, 2014 at 10:06 a.m.

    My 2 cents. Let GK's move anywhere they want during shootouts ... and free the kicker to do whatever as long as the kick is taken as one kick .... or to score a game differently ... shots that rebound off the posts 'back onto the field' count as tie breakers.

  30. Kent James, May 18, 2014 at 12:40 p.m.

    While I like the spirit of the suggestion, there are a few problems with making the winner of a tied game the team that committed the fewest fouls; first, as C Remund pointed out, that puts the decision in the hands of the officials. A foul count is not always accurate; in addition to referees missing fouls, how does one count an advantage call? Or a trifling call (a foul that was not called because it had no impact on play and to call it would interrupt the flow of the play)? One could count the fewest cards (maybe a red card counts as 2 yellows?), but again, that leaves too much on the performance of the game day officials. To lessen that somewhat arbitrary standard (refs have bad days too), perhaps the winner could be the team that earned the fewest cards (or committed the fewest fouls) in the the whole tournament, or maybe the winner is the team that has scored the most goals over the tournament (and if they're even on that score, then go to fewest fouls/cards). That would reward positive behavior over the life of the tournament (and be less likely to be based on an aberration). The only problem there is the teams would know in advance which team had the tiebreaker in hand, and that team might play more conservatively. So I go back to my suggestion of direct kicks taken anywhere outside the box (and let the keeper move anywhere as long as he's 10 yds from the ball, let the kicker make any run-up he likes).

  31. Marc Warren, May 19, 2014 at 11:51 a.m.

    I think when you get to extra time you start taking off field players from both teams 1 from each side after every 5 minutes. Allows more space, and play until you have a winner.

  32. Ramon Creager, May 23, 2014 at 11 a.m.

    Forget the shootouts. They are a red herring. Brazen cheating by Beto and gross official errors helped Sevilla make the final to begin with. But this doesn't get much mention, perhaps because in this case the brazen cheating involved simulation, which some people around here insist is not a real problem. In this case it got Valencia striker Paco Alcacer banned from the return leg for allegedly fouling Beto when in fact video evidence clearly demonstrated he never even touched him. It was a command performance by Beto, complete with a fake show of frustration at being fouled; nonetheless, despite the clear video evidence, "Fair Play" UEFA saw fit to allow the yellow card to stand and for Beto to go unpunished. So Beto plays and Alcacer watches as the tie is determined in the last minute by the razor thing margin of an away goal. And speaking of the jobs of ARs, how is Stephane Mbia's goal for Sevilla in the first leg of the semis ever allowed to stand? 3 meters offside, but hey, only 3 officials close by; how could they possibly catch that? All-in-all the officiating in the Europa League semis and finals left much to be desired; perhaps UEFA is indifferent to this competition.

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