Ireland Pay The (Kick From The) Penalty (Mark)

by | May 16, 2018

On Monday night, Ireland lost to the Netherlands, in their European Under-17 championship quarter-final, on penalties. But headlines were grabbed by bizarre refereeing which decided the shoot-out. Ireland missed their first penalty. But with the score at 4-4, their keeper Jimmy Corcoran saved the Netherlands’ fifth kick. And the fun began.

I watched the footage from Irish TV (RTE) coverage. unaware of the controversy, and thought Corcoran nearly saved the penalty at taker Daishawn Redan’s feet. So, when the kick was ordered to be retaken, I wasn’t surprised.

When Czech Republic referee Zybnek Proske booked Corcoran for leaving his line, I was surprised, not realising it became a cautionable offence in March 2016, and unable to remember seeing any goalkeeper penalised for it. And I was downright puzzled when Corcoran was sent-off, because he’d been booked during the match.

The post-match controversy focused on whether Corcoran actually left his line, with one twitter photo showing his left foot still on the line as Redan struck the ball. Colour me surprised again. Even observers who admitted that Corcoran might have moved early lambasted Proske for his attitude. RTE website comments included “ref, you have a heart of rubbish” and “there is something wrong when officialdom does this to a young kid playing for his country.”

But what got me scouring the ‘Laws of the Game’ for guidance was Corcoran’s first booking carrying over the shoot-out. Goals don’t. No striker has ever claimed that they do (insert your own Harry Kane joke here). Monday’s result, for instance, wasn’t 6-5 to the Netherlands.

As seems so often the case, the ‘Laws of the Game’ lacked clarity at the vital moment, despite the plethora of addenda to each one, in an effort to cover every in-play eventuality. But, as a gnarled veteran of dense discussions over many years on trade union rulebooks, I knew that a combination of laws could reveal the ‘right’ decision.

Law 14: The Penalty Kick was one notch below chocolate teapot on the helpful scale. Fifa’s PDF version has six photographic explanations of encroachment, for those for whom the instruction ‘stay behind the white line’ is an intellectual challenge too far. And, to emphasise the point, some of the pictured encroachments were not just blatant but nearly offside. However, there was nothing on the specific issue of in-match bookings carrying over into shoot-outs.

Law 10: Determining the Outcome of a Match, was more useful. There was no specific reference to in-match bookings, either in the detailed ‘procedure’ for “kicks from the penalty mark” (KFPM) as shoot-outs are formally known, or among what the laws’ guardians, the International FA Board (IFAB), reckon are the “frequently asked questions.”

But my answer was right at the top of the page: “Kicks from the penalty mark are taken after the match has ended.” Yes, this was followed by: “unless otherwise stated, the relevant Laws of the Game apply.” But surely the match being over rendered Corcoran’s booking a spent conviction? I mean, Dejan Lovren was booked in Liverpool’s Champions League semi-final second leg. And if he was booked again in the final and sent-off straight away, where would Liverpool be…OK, bad example. But, you know…

Ireland manager Colin O’Brien urged fans to “remember the football over the way it ended,” as Ireland did well to reach the quarters in the first place. But senior team manager Martin O’Neill dramatically appeared under Proske’s nose after Redan netted his re-taken KFPM (Roy Keane was also at the match, and what he would have done, we will mercifully never know). And bitterness remains. “Uefa don’t want us in the finals,” one fan insisted. Thierry Henry has been cited in anger. And RTE’s commentators called the decision “the most controversial moment in the history of football,” although this may be one reason why RTE footage of the incident has since been taken down.

But KPFM will undoubtedly be vital during the World Cup, more important than KPMG, even for this money-obsessed Fifa. Proske may have applied what the law meant. But it ain’t what it says. And not even the best VARs on Fifa’s list will help if a decision like this goes against a nation that matters.