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Ask The Ref: Ansell’s Red Card

This piece seeks to clarify the decision that Delovski took to send off Ansell in the 41st minute of the game between Melbourne Heart and Melbourne Victory on the 1st of March, 2014.  Ansell was sent from the field of play for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity.

Firstly, it would be helpful to give some background on the specific offence which is located on pages 38 and 39 in the FIFA Laws of the Game 2013/2014 edition.

Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct

Sending-off offences: a player, substitute or substituted player is sent off if he commits any of the following seven offences:

  • serious foul play
  • violent conduct
  • spitting at an opponent or any other person
  • denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper within his own penalty area)
  • denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick
  • using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures
  • receiving a second caution in the same match.

A player, substitute or substituted player who has been sent off must leave the vicinity of the field of play and the technical area.

There are numerous factors a referee needs to take into account before issuing a red card for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity. In the FIFA Laws of the Game Handbook there is a handy section at the end which gives you help with interpretation. This particular excerpt is located on page130.

 Denying a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity

There are two sending-off offences that deal with denying an opponent an obvious opportunity to score a goal. It is not necessary for the offence to occur inside the penalty area. If the referee applies advantage during an obvious goalscoring opportunity and a goal is scored directly, despite the opponent’s handling the ball or fouling an opponent, the player cannot be sent off but he may still be cautioned.

Referees should consider the following circumstances when deciding whether to send off a player for denying a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity:

  1. the distance between the offence and the goal
  2. the likelihood of keeping or gaining control of the ball
  3. the direction of the play
  4. the location and number of defenders
  5. the offence which denies an opponent an obvious goalscoring opportunity may be an offence that incurs a direct free kick or an indirect free kick

As you can see in the highlighted section there are five key questions that need to be answered before a decision can be made.  On a sidenote this needs to happen in the 3-5 seconds after an incident.

  1. 1.     How close did the incident occur to the goal?
    1. There is no set distance for when it definitely becomes a goal scoring opportunity as usual it depends on a lot of factors. Having said that, the closer you get to goal the more *obvious* it becomes.
  1. 2.     If the incident did not occur what are the chances that the attacking player would have kept control         of the ball. Was it within playing distance?
    1. For example, if an attacking player kicked the ball around the goalkeeper, and was subsequently taken out by the goalkeeper. It would be an obvious goal scoring opportunity, only if he could have regained control of the ball.
  1. 3.     In what direction was play moving, as in was the attacking player moving towards goal or sideways           to the touchline?
    1. It becomes increasingly difficult for it to be an obvious goal scoring opportunity if the player is moving away from goal.
  1. 4.     Is the player committing the foul the last defender? Are there defenders moving back to cover?
    1. In this situation it is handy to think of a hypothetical. If the foul had not occurred could another defender have gotten to the attacking player in time to prevent a goal? If yes, it sheds doubt on the situation being an obvious goalscoring opportunity in certain circumstances.
  1. 5.     Is the offence that caused the denying of an obvious goalscoring opportunity punishable by a direct           or indirect free kick?
    1. This question is purely raised to acknowledge that even if the foul being committed is only punishable by an indirect free kick, a red card can still be issued.

Now that we have had a bit of a refresher, let’s look at the Ansell sending off through the lens of these five questions.

1.1 Ansell committed the offence approximately 20m from goal (just outside the penalty area) in a very central position. Especially considering the goalkeeper had ventured outside the penalty area preventing him from handling the ball. If Williams had made contact with the ball and cleared Thomas the most likely outcome would have been a goal.

1.2 The probable reason why Williams missed the kick was because Ansell pulled on his shirt pulling Williams off balance. This action slowed Williams down enough to prevent him from making contact with the ball. The ball at the time of the incident was definitely within playing distance of Williams.

1.3 The play was moving directly towards goal in a very central position.

1.4 When the incident occurred (shirt pull) there was only Ansell and the goalkeeper in contention to prevent Williams from scoring a goal. While Traore was running back he was behind play and so would not have been able to prevent Williams from scoring a goal.

1.5 Direct free kick punishable by a yellow card, which turned into a red card due to the offence denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity.

After seeing the facts presented like that, what do you think? Do you think it warranted a sending off or would a yellow have sufficed?

The main argument that I am hearing for a yellow is that the tug was very light, and shouldn’t have affected Williams. In reply, what was the point of Ansell grabbing Williams’ shirt? In my mind the only reason to pull a player’s shirt in that situation is to put the attacking player off so he cannot get a shot off. If Ansell had ended up not pulling William’s shirt I believe that a goal would not have occurred anyway. The thing to remember is that the offence is not only about denying a goal but also denying the opportunity for the player to score a goal.

To conclude in my opinion Delovski made the right decision to send Ansell off for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity. That is not to deny that it was harsh, though unfortunately that isn’t enough to stop the red card.

While you might disagree or agree with my breakdown, I ask you to keep in mind that Delovski had only a few seconds to collate and process the available information to determine the correct outcome. If you follow the breakdown I think it is reasonable to see why Delovski went to his top pocket.

  • Ari

    100% agree mate. Excellent analysis.