Keeper encroachment unpunished

10 April ~ In their 32nd Serie A game of the season on April 5, Inter became the last team to be awarded a penalty, their first in the league since May 8 last year. And when they got one it was actually no more obvious than a lot that they should probably have been awarded before. They join Atalanta, who have had one penalty in 39 league games, as the teams who have had the fewest spot kicks so far this season. And of course having waited for so long, Inter failed to take advantage of the kick, which would almost certainly have given them a 3-2 win over Bologna if they had scored.

Diego Milito’s effort, in the 86th minute, was saved by Bologna goalkeeper Gianluca Curci. Anyone watching the kick being taken, however, will see that Curci was an appreciable distance off his line before Milito made contact with the ball, and so it is quite clear that international referee Paolo Silvio Mazzoleni should have ordered a retake. What makes his failure to do so even more inexcusable is the fact that Serie A now has goal judges as well as linesmen. So we are asked to believe that three pairs of eyes failed to spot an infringement.

Top referees today are professionals who are well paid for doing a job which, while it is intense for the 90 minutes of a match, must surely rank as one of the pleasanter ways in which one can earn one’s living. They are called upon to make split-second decisions on incidents in open play which will often involve a judgment which not everyone will agree with. But there is no excuse when they make wrong decisions on matters of fact.

It could be argued that encroachment means that virtually every penalty should probably be retaken, and that what Curci did is something that has come to be accepted when they are awarded. But there is a huge difference between players from both teams encroaching and what happened in Inter v Bologna. A penalty is essentially a duel between the kicker and the keeper. If the kicker decides to move the ball forward two yards from the spot, would the referee intervene or would he allow the kick to be taken? What goalkeepers are being allowed to get away with is the exact equivalent.

One of many examples of this scenario occurred in a Skrill Conference Premier game between Lincoln and Woking in January. With the score at 2-2 and the game moving into stoppage time, Woking were awarded a penalty. It was taken by Giuseppe Sole, who rarely misses, and it was saved by Lincoln goalkeeper Paul Farman when he was possibly even further off his line than Curci. Referee Jason Whiteley, who admittedly is not paid as much as Mazzoleni and did not have a goal judge to assist him, did not order a retake. The blame for both these penalty misses lies not with Milito and Sole but with the two referees who allowed the goalkeepers to gain an unfair advantage.

As a result of their indisputable mistakes, both Inter and Woking probably lost two points. And as things stand now, those mistakes could cost them, respectively, a place in the Europa League and a place in the Conference play-offs. But perhaps the biggest surprise for me is that nobody seems to protest when these errors occur. Can I really be the only one who notices them? Richard Mason

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