Goal line technology: No

Regular readers of Thoughtsport will know we’re not fans of goal line technology.  We realise this places us in rather the minority.  Here’s a mere snippet of those arguing for, just from a quick blog search:

Sepp says ‘enough is enough’Sporting Interests
Robbie Fowler: FIFA must end this goal-line farcePaddy Power Betting Blog
England 1 – 0 Ukraine. Co-hosts sent home as demands for goal line technology get another boostFull-Time Whistle

We won’t go over our old arguments that football is a great leveler.  Tall or short, heavy or light with the right application, skill and determination you can be a footballer.  If you play down the park on a Sunday you could (in theory) play with Lionel Messi, Pele or whoever the heck you want because you’d be playing the same game.

Same rules; same pitch dimensions; same ball — it’d be the same.  Introduce goal-line technology and suddenly the pros are playing a different game.

No, we won’t go over that again (you can read our old blog if you want to).

Last night’s England game against Ukraine, which reignited the goal line technology debate, didn’t alter ThoughtSport’s position one bit.

Watch the ‘goal’ yourself on the BBC website: The ‘goal’ that wasn’t: Ukraine denied equaliser

All the media talk this morning has been about Sepp Blatter, Fifa, Uefa, HawkEye, assistant-assistant refs (what do they do anyway?) — there’s even the age old “these things even themselves out in the end” with much smirking about Frank Lampard’s goal that never was against Germany in the last World Cup.

They are all missing the point.

Watch the ‘goal’ again — notice anything?  Probably not as the Beeb are glossing over the same key point too.  Even their tabloid-esque headline (beneath you BBC) ‘The ‘goal’ that wasn’t: Ukraine denied equaliser’ tells you they’ve made up their mind already.  Why let a few facts get in the way of a good story; especially one which means they can beat the goal line technology drum again.

Milevskiy: Shhh! Don’t tell anyone… but I was offside!

It wasn’t a goal.  Or at least it shouldn’t have been.  Artem Milevskiy, the first Ukraine player to touch the ball in the BBC clip, was offside.

You remember offside?  The rule that says you must at least be level with the last defender when the pass is made?  Yes, there are ‘interfering with play’ rules and caveats, but this fella, Milevskiy, receives the pass directly so no ‘interfering’ rules need interfere.

Why is it that one official’s mistake (the assistant referee who should have spotted the offside) is irrelevant when another’s (the extra assistant who didn’t spot that the ball had crossed the line) is deemed all important?  So important we need to exhort Fifa to sort this mess out?

There’s the rub with goal line technology.  It’s too black and white.  The question the technology is asked is: Did the ball cross the line?  There are only two answers: Yes or no.  The system Fifa are supposedly trialling will alert the referee, via an audible beep in an earpiece, that the ball crossed the line.

Technology would not tell him if the player handled it over the line; it would not tell him if the player was offside when he ‘scored’; it would not tell him if he had in fact fouled the defender/goalkeeper to reach the ball and ‘score’ — all of those things would be down to human judgement.

Dear old human judgement.  It’s what makes football the game we love.  Will the winger try to go one way or the other?  Will he have a shot himself or try and pass?  Will he lunge in now or try and force him wide?  Decisions that are made thousands of times in every game which make every game different.

Mistakes (interspersed with brilliance) are what makes football great — whether they’re mistakes by players or officials.

If those who advocate goal line technology think it will solve all such problems they need to think again.  What will the media broo-haha be if England concede a goal which is ‘allowed’ by goal-line technology but is punched over the line Maradonna style?

Think the sequence of events that would lead to that is all together unlikely?  Perhaps you should read our old blog post after all…  if you’re Irish you probably won’t need to.

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Watch out nose, face needs some spite

Poor old Roy Hodgson.  The team have barely touched down in Poland (even though most of their matches are in Ukraine) for Euro2012 and already the brickbats are flying.

His latest crime is overlooking Rio Ferdinand — again.  Not content with having done it once he’s done it again following the injury to Gary Cahill.

Comic hero Desperate Dan

Desperately bad luck: Cahill’s jaw looks a touch swollen

A quick note on Cahill: it’s a real shame for him and desperately unlucky.  Yes, the crude shove by Dries Mertens in the friendly against Belgium was unnecessary but even in a competitive game would have drawn a yellow card, at most.  However, from the minute he crashed into the rather robust Joe Hart it didn’t look good.  When his jaw swelled to Desperate Dan proportions it was clear he would not be playing much part in the European Championships.

Lots of people (notably ‘the media’) expected Hodgson to go calling for Rio, asking for forgiveness and for the experienced Manchester United defender to step into the breach.

However, Roy, good as his word, went to his reserve/stand-by list and called up Liverpool’s Martin Kelly.  Thoughsport feels a fair bit of sympathy for the young Reds defender too.  Called up to a big tournament he’s already been written off as he doesn’t have 81 caps (he has one); hasn’t won the Premier League (though three of Hodgson’s defenders have) and isn’t called “Rio”.

Second best

Much has been made of Kelly’s utility.  Ostensibly he’s now back-up right-back to team-mate Glen Johnson and, supposedly, offers cover across the defence too.  Sorry Roy but if that’s the reason you’ve called him up it’s balderdash.  Even Liverpool fans would struggle to call Kelly’s a centre-half.  Yes, he has played at left-back too — in desperate times at Liverpool — and it’d have to be similar for England to deploy him there.

Realistically Kelly won’t play at all (so where’s the harm in taking a 23-year-old to gain tournament experience?) and it’d take injuries to three of John Terry, Joleon Lescott, Phil Jagielka and Phil Jones for Kelly to get a look-in there.

Yet Thoughtsport are still uncomfortable with his inclusion.  (Incidentally, we’re also fans of the growing school of thought that says England’s first choice centre-back pairing should be Lescott and Jagielka.)

Why?  Because it’s starting with a compromise.  Call us traditionalists but we say “Use the best tool for the job.”  If you had a hammer and a screwdriver, you wouldn’t use a Swiss Army knife to bang in a nail and screw up some shelves would you?

Tournament squads are made-up of 23 players.  Basic maths tells you that’s two players for everyone position plus one spare.  Most teams opt for a third goalie to make up the 23.  So why take a player who isn’t even first choice right-back for his club side?

Similarly with Phil Jones — yes, his adaptability is great.  If we had to pick a 15-man squad there’d be some sound arguments for taking him.  But we don’t.  It’s a 23-man squad.  We can take two right-backs — full-time, professional, do nothing else but be a right-back right-backs… we don’t need to take utility players!

Mind your nose

Fit of pique: Carrick & Richards opted not to be on ‘stand-by’ list

We risk over using the “Where is Micah Richards?” drum – especially as we know the answer.  Word is both he and Michael Carrick (more on him later) refused to be on the stand-by list.  Again, we risk exposing ourselves as the staunch traditionalists we are but… if your country needs you, even if it’s a “we might…” you stand by your bed, ready for the call.

It’s the David Beckham school of thought.  ‘Becks’ had his weaknesses but lack of patriotism was never something that could be leveled at him.  He’s always stuck to the line (we paraphrase) “I’ll never retire — it’s not for me to decide if/when my country doesn’t need me.”

Richards and Carrick would do well to take a leaf out of Beckham’s book.  With Lampard and Barry on the injured list Carrick would, surely, have been a shoe-in for the squad.  One would hope too that Richards would have been ahead of Kelly on the stand-by list too.

Still, both chose not to be on said list for whatever reasons they saw fit.  We can almost understand it from Carrick.  He’ll be nigh-on 31 by the time the tournament ends.  We’re family men at Thoughtsport and could possibly, maybe, just about see that, for Carrick, dragging yourself out to Poland/Ukraine to sit on several substitute benches, away from your family and kids for 2-3 weeks may not sound that appealing.

But Richards?  He’s 23.  It may be a little early for international-career-suicide moves like his fit of pique.  Yes, it’s disappointing not to be first choice but we’ve seen 4-year-olds ‘lose’ with more grace than the Richards/Carrick “I’m taking my ball home then…” hissy fit.

If I were either man’s nose I’d be watchful around shaving time… they might be out to cut you off.

Fifa seeding ‘fix’ another blow for fairness

This blog risks becoming an an anti-Fifa rant – but the football governing body’s latest decision heaps more ridicule on their independence and role as protector of all things football.

In late September they announced that the play-offs for the European section of the World Cup qualifiers would be seeded.  They tried to hush it up as much as possible, hiding amongst debate about the current hot topic of the time – Olympic sports.  Farce-fiddler in chief, Sepp Blatter, wibbling on about ‘soccer’s’ place as an Olympic sport – as talk moved on to rugby sevens and golf as the latest Olympic money-wagons.

The timing was also critical as well.  Left any later the cries of ‘fix’ would have been deafening.  With two fixtures left in most of the World Cup groups they tried to sneak it under the radar.  At the time the list of teams that may have ended up in the play-offs included: France, Germany, Russia, Portugal, Sweden and the Czech Republic – amongst others.

A tournament without the majority of those teams, with the likes of Slovakia and Serbia having the audacity to qualify ahead of the ‘big boys’.  Lille’s Robert Vitek just isn’t as ‘sexy’ as va-va-voom Thierry Henry – and won’t appeal to nearly so many sponsors – sorry, ‘Fifa family’ members.

Teams like the Republic of Ireland, having already battled through their seeded group – bravely overcoming Bulgaria and running World Champions Italy close – face another seeded draw.  It’s just plain unfair.

Put it this way.  How would you feel if one of those many plucky Brits at Wimbledon – someone who’s not Andy Murray – battles their way to the Grand Slam’s semi-finals.  They managed to beat the number three seed early on in the tournament and raced through heroically to the last four.  Then, with dreams of a thrilling final against a Federer or a Nadal in SW18 – the All England Club say: “Ah, hang on old chap – can’t have you wrecking our lovely, planned Rafa v Roger final… we’ll just re-draw things so you face the toughest possible opponent.”

The outcry would be huge – and fully justified.  Fifa are effectively doing the same to the likes of Ireland, Bosnia and England-conquerers Ukraine.

If the groups end up, as expected the eight play-off teams will be: Portugal, Greece, Slovenia, Russia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Ukraine, France and the Republic of Ireland.

Fifa will now fix, sorry ‘seed’ the draw according to the Fifa rankings – oops, sorry, the Coca-Cola World Rankings (I kid you not, look).  So: Russia (ranked 6th); France (10th); Greece (12th); and Portugal (17th) cannot be drawn against one another.  Slovenia (54th), Bosnia (46th), Ukraine (25th) and Ireland (38th) will have to take their chances.

The fact that in order to finish second in their group Slovenia have already overcome four teams ranked in Fifa’s top 50 is neither here nor there.  Nor that Ireland battled through a group including two of the top 20 ranked teams.

This is motivated by money, power and greed – pure and simple.  Look at the size of the seeded nations and therefore the size of the wallets of those country’s TV stations.  Look at the heavily sponsored stars in each of those teams.  Fifa run the unthinkable risk of a tournament without the likes of Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo, Frank Ribery, Andrei Arshavin etc.

Sean St. Ledger and his Ireland team-mates will just have to jump through another hoop to have any chance of qualifying.  And if they don’t?  They miss the tournament and their Fifa ranking is damaged again.  The vicious circle is spun once more and Fifa twiddle their fingers and get hearty slaps on the back from the power-brokers of the Football Associations of the big-hitters.

Football lives for the upsets, the battles of David v Goliath.  Think of the most exciting matches you’ve seen, of the most famous cases of a plucky underdog thrilling a horde of fans.  The sad truth is, David doesn’t pay as well as Goliath so the tournament ‘bouncers’ Fifa put up a “Sorry, no trainers” policy as they usher their ragged and tattered mates in through the side door.

Rio’s blues could cost Green

Rio Ferdinand is currently being hauled over the coals after his chronic lapse in the match against Ukraine.   Many are questioning his place in the team if not the squad – at least until he’s 100% fit, both physically and mentally.

However, Rio’s lapse which resulted in Rob Green’s red card (the first England goalkeeper to be sent off) – and it’s the West Ham man who may end up paying the price for Ferdinand’s all too familiar lapse in concentration.

Green was just starting to establish himself in the England team.  Having been picked ahead of the returning David James, Green lined up against Ukraine for his sixth consecutive England cap.  His run started back in June, away to Kazakhstan and quadrupled Green’s caps – from two to eight.

After the much trumpeted Ben Foster has flattered to deceive for both club and country Green found himself in the box seat to be James’ understudy for the World Cup in South Africa.

Indeed, by picking Green ahead of the fit-again James, England boss Fabio Capello had sent a clear message that even the seemingly inked in James’ place wasn’t safe.  James had lost his place through injury and Green, stepping into the breach had performed well – he deserved to keep his place.

It was a smart bit of management by Capello – the message being: “Take your chance when it comes and World Cup places are still up for grabs.”  With the likes of Joe Cole, Michael Owen, Gabriel Agbonlahor and many more setting their sights on South Africa this was a great carrot dangled by the gaffer.

Thirteen minutes into the action in Dnipropetrovsk, Artem Milevskiy was in a heap and Green’s World Cup dreams hang by a thread.   Ferdinand stood, statue-like watching as Milevskiy darted past him, exposing Green horribly.

James was called on from the bench (also denting Aaron Lennon’s World Cup hopes as he was sacrificed) and Green is now suspended for the only remaining competitive match before the World Cup.  The errant Foster has been recalled to the squad for the match against Belarus.

Portsmouth ‘keeper James is still the most likely to start between the posts when England’s World Cup campaign kicks-off.  However, as recent knocks have shown James is becoming more injury prone as he ages – and as we all know only too well every knock seems to take longer to heal with every passing year.

Green position as first alternative looked assured after some steady performances in James’ absence.  However, the Hammers’ stopper still lacks top level experience – not helped by his dismissal and subsequent suspension.  Assuming he makes Capello’s squad he’ll have only eight caps – plus any more he can glean in the meaningless friendlies before the tournament.

Should the worst happen and James pick up a knock during the tournament would you pitch in a relative novice against the likes of Brazil or Germany?  The prospects of the much improved (and 40-capped) Paul Robinson are looking healthier by the day.