Would instant replay work in soccer?

Referee's questionable call in the United States' World Cup match against Slovenia prompts inevitable discussion

Published June 21, 2010 6:48PM (EDT)

Martin Hansson cried when he found out he missed the Thierry Henry hand ball that sent France to the World Cup over Ireland.

"If you take 10 decisions every minute, it's impossible to have 900 decisions correct in the game," the Swedish referee said Monday.

In the World Cup, with hundreds of millions of people watching around the globe, calls are scrutinized like no others in sports. So when a referee from Mali inexplicably disallowed an American goal that cost the United States a victory over Slovenia, it left many back home wondering why soccer doesn't adopt NFL-style instant replay.

"Each sport is different," said Belgian referee Frank De Bleeckere, selected to officiate Wednesday's match between the United States and Algeria. "In football you have a lot of interpretation, and when you have interpretation, you have never black and white zones. You have a lot of gray zones."

American players complained referee Koman Coulibaly of Mali wouldn't explain why he disallowed Maurice Edu's 85th minute goal Friday, which left them in a 2-2 tie with Slovenia.

English referee Howard Webb, familiar with many of the American players from his work in the Premier League, said that wouldn't happen with him.

"Part of the referee's role, I think, in terms of communication with the players is to make sure the players fully understand what I'm doing," he said. "Without looking at the public and the media, I think certainly the players need to know what we're doing. And if we send somebody off for something, then the players should know why he's being sent off. Absolutely. Maybe through the captain or something like this."

FIFA president Sepp Blatter is against the use of replay technology, saying soccer has room for a human element,

Hansson said he learned about a half-hour after the November playoff that he missed the double hand ball on Henry, who batted the ball to William Gallas for the overtime goal that gained Les Bleus their World Cup berth.

"I have to learn to deal with this. For example, if there is a press conference, I have to answer the same question 10, 15 times," Hansson said at a World Cup referees availability. "Those things are things that I have to analyze to become a better referee, of course. But from France-Ireland, except for this terrible mistake, it was I think one of the best games I have refereed in my career. There were some situations. There were some things happening. A lot of other hand balls as well."

Even given his mistake, he's not sure that he's in favor of video technology aiding officials. He says fans should make the determination if referees should be aided by instanr replay.

"I can imagine that I'm sitting on the tribune watching an excellent game which is fluid from goal to goal and suddenly something happened in the penalty area," he said. "Then they have to stop for one or two minutes to analyze a video. And maybe the video doesn't give the answer."

And, he said, there are so many unresolved issues.

"Maybe if they play on, there was a red card before they could stop the game. What should they do with this red card? Should this player still be sent off? Or should he be back? There's one million questions," he said.

Coulibaly did not attend the availability because he was the fourth official for Sunday's Italy-New Zealand game and was traveling back.

Frank De Bleeckere, a veteran of the 2006 World Cup, 2008 European Championship and many Champions League games, doesn't think video review would work in soccer.

"In tennis, when the ball is out, it's clear. It's white or black," he said. "But in football, you don't have so much occasions to say, 'Look, this is really clear.'"

Jose-Marcia Garcia-Aranda, FIFA's head of refereeing, said he is "very, very satisfied" with the performance of World Cup officials even though he admitted some calls were "not fully correct."

"Some of them are not good decisions on the field of play, and this for human beings is natural," he said.

Amplified vuvuzelas played during referee training, with players from a local university simulating offsides, fouls and pushing and shoving in a Monty Pythonesque drill.

Esse Baharmast, a 1998 World Cup referee from Golden, Colo., used video after the drills to show officials whether offside calls were correct. Currently a FIFA officials instructor, Baharmast was criticized in the 1998 tournament for awarding Norway a late penalty kick that led to a 2-1 victory over Brazil. While initial replays didn't show the foul, he eventually was vindicated.

"In your mind when you know you're correct 100 percent, to be questioned about something that you've seen and be questioned not only about your eyesight and your vision, but your integrity and your ability and things of that nature, is difficult. But we're in this to take pressure. Pressure is no problem for us," he said. "When people talk about instant replay ... there is another view of it. If we would have had instant replay at the time, on the field of play I was correct and the instant replay would have been wrong. So who's to say?

"The referee in the best position is the one that can make the judgment and make the call."

FIFA brought in Manuel Lopez, a Spanish sports psychologist, to work with the referees. Lopez, a retired linesman who worked the 1997 UEFA Cup final in his last match, doesn't think referees should publicly announce their on-field decisions.

"I think that sometimes the explanations can be counterproductive, can be detrimental," he said. "If there is a controversial decision, there is no clear-cut answer."

Webb, however, is undecided on that.

"There's a cultural difference in different sports. I don't know if it would work with the soccer crowd," he said. "I don't know because it's never been tried. Maybe one day it will be."

By Ronald Blum

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