I do not wish to pile on the referee, but his decision to award Chelsea their second goal was shocking, especially given the position in which he found himself to view the incident.
Whether the clear foul by John Terry (on two people, mind you) or the fact that the ball did not cross the line is the more egregious miss by Atkinson is the only question from the situation.
However, while the goal clearly affected the match, it is hard to say that it decided the match.
Would Tottenham have played such atrocious defense had the match not gone down this path? Maybe not, but this does not license such sloppy play at the back, most notably from William Gallas.
Hence, let's not focus on Atkinson's clear gaffe.
Instead, let's discuss another decision by the referee that, whether right or wrong, decided the match.
In the 56th minute, some seven minutes after the Chelsea goal that wasn't, a beautiful through ball by Scott Parker sent Emmanuel Adebayor straight in on goal.
With only Chelsea's Petr Cech in his way, the Togolese striker ran into the penalty area and bore down on the keeper.
As Cech dove at the ball, Adebayor moved it to his left at the last moment in what looked to be an attempt to dribble around the keeper.
Unable to stop himself, Cech ended up going through the striker's legs, sending him flying to the ground.
However, as Gareth Bale had been running just on Adebayor's left, the ball fell right to him and he coolly slotted it into the gaping net.
Atkinson's ruling on the matter was that he had granted Spurs advantage, one from which they scored a goal to cut it to 2-1.
Now, while this is understandable, here is the monkey wrench to the ruling: had Bale not been there to snap up the ball and score, Cech would almost certainly have seen red, sending the match down a completely different path than the one we witnessed today.
So was it the correct ruling?
Well, in fact, Atkinson did about right in applying the interpretation of the rules.
According to FIFA's Laws of the Game, Law 12, Article 78, the proper way to handle this exact situation seems to be outlined:
"If the referee applies advantage during an obvious goal-scoring opportunity and a goal is scored directly, despite the opponent's handling of the ball or fouling an opponent, the player cannot be sent off but he may still be cautioned."
Hence, Atkinson did the correct thing not to send off Cech, but probably should have shown him a yellow.
Thus, there is no indicting the referee for his actions.
However, should there be indicting of the law?
In my mind, there should.
Looking past the clumsy grammar in the sentence in which the law is set forth, there are some qualms I have with it.
For one thing, it violates the spirit of the "clear goal-scoring opportunity" red card.
In the recent past, such sending-offs have been called into question because of their effects when compounded with the penalty kick that probably resulted from the foul.
In my mind, though, it is the unsporting nature of going outside of the rules to stop your opponent at their last hurdle that renders the punishment right.
Despite his foul being unsuccessful in stopping a goal, was Cech not guilty of that same unsporting act?
Yes, he was; so why is he not punished for it?
Further, the rule seems to contradict another part of the same rule in FIFA's Laws.
In Article 68, the law reads:
"Advantage should not be applied in situations involving serious foul play unless there is a clear subsequent opportunity to score a goal. The referee shall send off the player of serious foul play when the ball is next out of play."
So which part of the law should be applied when the foul is both serious foul play and a denial of a clear goal-scoring opportunity?
This is not made clear.
But was Cech's foul serious foul play?
Well, it's tough to say as there has been no precedent set for such a matter.
After all, any such foul by a goalkeeper is almost certainly a denial of a clear goal-scoring opportunity, and is hence a red card offense anyway.
However, diving around a player's legs and sending him flying into the air seems to me to be a recipe for injury, and hence, whether intentional or not, an example of serious foul play.
So what does it mean to this particular match?
If Cech goes off, Chelsea are down to ten men for the final half an hour and with only a one-goal cushion.
Meanwhile, Spurs get the chance to pepper the goal of Ross Turnbull while their increasingly tired and porous defense has one less person to worry about.
In the end, though, whether this new scenario results in a different outcome is moot.
Like I said earlier, the correct call was made on the pitch.
Whether it was the right call, though, is a matter that should be discussed by a certain FIFA committee.
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