Manchester City 1-1 Borussia Dortmund: Equalizer Underscores Problem with Rules

Frank WagnerCorrespondent IOctober 3, 2012

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 03:  Neven Subotic of Borussia Dortmund concedes a penalty kick under pressure from Sergio Aguero of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund at the Etihad Stadium on October 3, 2012 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Stu Forster/Getty Images

When the dust settled around Manchester City's 1-1 draw with German champions Borussia Dortmund at the Etihad stadium on Wednesday, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth.

It was not because I did not think City deserved their first point in the 2012-13 Champions League season. Rather, if just for the amazing display from keeper Joe Hart and their ability to withstand an incredible onslaught from a highly talented side, I think a point is well-deserved.

In fact, such was the poor nature of Dortmund's finishing that I would not have begrudged City the full three points had they put a few balls past the fairly heroic Roman Weidenfellar.

The bad taste left in my mouth wasn't even due to the referee's awarding of a penalty to City in the dying minutes, allowing the Premier League champs to equalize at the death. The ball clearly struck a Dortmund defender on the arm in the box, so the call was quite understandable.

No, my problem was much larger than this one match: It is the vague nature of the law that dictated that final penalty that irked me so.

According to FIFA's Laws of the Game, Law 12 Section 5, "handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with his hand or arm." Further, it advises that officials should take into consideration:

• the movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)
• the distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball)
• the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement
• touching the ball with an object held in the hand (clothing, shinguard, etc.) counts as an infringement
• hitting the ball with a thrown object (boot, shinguard, etc.) counts as an infringement

Seems pretty straightforward right? There's just a few problems: How in the world can an official know whether a player did something deliberately or not? And how does the "consideration" of those bullet-points actually work?

Let's take the City-Dortmund incident as an example. Let's give Neven Subotic, the Dortmund player who handled the ball, the benefit of the doubt and say that he did not outright intentionally handle the ball.

In all replays, I did not see Subotic move his hand towards the ball. Further, he was certainly close enough to the ball that it is impractical to think that he could have avoided it with his arm. His arm was a bit out from his body, but the last two bullet points are moot in this instance.

So should it have been a penalty?

On the one hand, I can understand it being one. After all, our game is not to be played with the hands; hence, it would be understandable for any amount of handling to be a foul. On the other, as Subotic himself so eloquently put it, "I can't cut [my hand] off;" that was a clear case of ball-to-hand that I could see not being called.

Thus, I can see this going either way. Many others agreed, as even commentators on the match said they've seen similar plays not given.

In my opinion, at least, therein lies the problem.

I understand that most fouls are down to each person's interpretation, but for the law that spells out the meaning of a foul to be so vague just opens the whole procedure up to whims. In a sport in which so much rides on each goal, to invite dissonance and allow for any and all extreme interpretations in the awarding of a penalty is just, well, farcical.

I mean, just think of how easy this would make it to have some corrupt parties throw matches, especially in the lower divisions outside of the mass public's eye. (Oh, that really happens?)

Again, this is not an attack on the referee in the City-Dortmund match (who I thought interpreted the rules acceptably) or an attempt to begrudge City the goal. In my personal interpretation of the rule, I probably would have given the penalty, too, just because of how far Subotic had his hand away from his body.

I just want to be able to look on a black-and-white statement as to how the rule works and be able to say, "Here is why the call went the way it did." Instead, I get a piece of fluff that leaves me asking more questions than before I referenced it.

Alas, such is the state of football today.


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