A Breach Of Etiquette by Barcelona?

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Lost in the midweek Champions League fixtures was an apparent breach of soccer etiquette by Barcelona. Instead of returning the ball to an opponent who put the ball out of play, Barcelona attacked and scored. The Spanish team went on to score again in the dying moments to claim a controversial 2-1 victory over Shakthar Donetsk.

With a player injured and holding a 1-0 lead, a Donetsk player cleared the ball out of play so his teammate could receive treatment, a practice that has become standard in modern soccer.

Upon the restart, though, Barcelona threw the ball back in to Bojan Krkic. Rather than playing the ball back to Shakthar as custom dictates, the 18-year old Spaniard carried the ball down the wing. Caught off-guard, the Shaktar players motioned for the ball to be played back as Bojan, indifferent to their protests, swung in a low cross.

Lionel Messi, lurking in the six-yard area, watched with glee as the ball bounced directly to him for an easy goal.

Shakthar’s players were infuriated. One received a yellow card for his protests. The entire course of the match, which Shakthar was dominating, changed with the equalizer.

Admittedly, the goalkeeper Pyatov mishandled the low cross, spilling it at the feet of Messi for the tap-in. However, confusion reigned as Barcelona took their opponents completely by surprise. Barcelona went on to add another goal just before the final whistle and walked away with all three points.

After the game, the Barcelona manager defended the actions of his team, saying:

“My players continued playing because the Shakhtar defense had cleared the ball. I do not understand how that is considered unsporting behavior.”

He does have a point. The Shakthar player Igor Duljaj was in the middle of the soccer field when he cleared the ball and on my first viewing, I didn’t believe he was intentionally playing the ball out to touch.

The debate may never be settled. However, this unfortunate incident underscores a growing problem in the modern game of soccer. When do teams have to kick the ball out of play when a player is hurt and or do teams have to give the ball back to the other team if the ball is played out?

FIFA needs to take action by making a play stoppage mandatory in the case of an injury. I believe now the ref does stop play if there is a head injury. Teams are starting to take advantage of this gentlemen’s rule. The solution is simple: if the referee sees an injured player and he believes he is legitimately injured, he can stop play for the player to receive treatment.

This does pose an interesting challenge. In the modern game, it’s nearly impossible to tell when a player is seriously injured. Oftentimes, players stay down to bleed the clock while his team is holding a lead. This leaves the decision at the discretion of the referee – a man who already has a few things to worry about during a match.

Unfortunately, FIFA does need to step in. Modern players use every trick in their disposal to pull out a result – even to the point of keeping possession after an opponent’s injury. Since the sportsmanship of the players can no longer be relied upon, there is no other choice than to put this decision in the hands of the referee.

It may not be the perfect solution, but it’s the best possible one.

Update: The most famous moment though is this one. Where a player was returning the ball to the other team but accidentlally scored – the ball bouncing over the keeper. So they let the other team score to even things out. Here’s the video.

Norwegian premiership on May 13th, 2012.

While most of the planet were fixated on Manchester City’s epic title win on Sunday, Norwegians were busy picking apart a freak incident during Brann’s crucial win at Lillestrøm.

First thing to point out was the significance of the contest: both Lillestrøm and Brann are already battling relegation at this early stage on their domestic campaign. Lillestrøm, no wins in their opening eight matches, sit second-bottom of the Tippeligaen, whilst Brann have fared almost as badly with just two wins and a draw in their first 8 matches.

So what happened?

After a thrilling first period, Brann were 3-2 up at the start of the second half. Then, in the 49th minute, the match was halted as a Lillestrøm player went down injured and the hosts kicked the ball into touch.

Etiquette dictates that Brann should have returned the ball back to Lillestrøm once the play is resumed, and Erik Mjelde tried to do that. But he amazingly FAILED, scoring a freak 60-yard goal that incredibly bounced over keeper Stefan Magnusson and into the net.

After scoring came the question of conscience. Should Brann allow Lillestrøm a goal to make amends for the freak golazo, or alternatively (considering the desperate need for points) should Magnusson’s error be put down to his own foolishness and thus the match should carry on at 2-4? The Brann answer was mixed.

Whilst most in the visitors team allowed Lillestrøm striker Björn Bergmann Sigurdarson a free passage on their goal, Brann goalie Piotr Leciejewski worked hard at trying to stop the striker from scoring. In the end, Sigurdarson buried his shot to leave the final scorecard reading 3-4.

Andrew Winner is a freelance soccer writer based in Seattle, Washington. He can be reached at: andrewwinner@gmail.com

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