It was a total eclipse call, one you rarely or sometimes never see. Personally, this was the first time I had actually seen this call made and for several seconds after it was made, I had no idea what had happened. It’s one of those rules that you know applies but it is never penalized. Instead, the referee will give a warning or motion to continue the play. It was “The Call” that won the game.
It was in the 78th minute of the an Olympic Women’s Semifinal match between Canada and the United States. Canada was ahead 3-2 and the United States was pushing for the equalizer. The United States had a corner kick that was collected in the air by Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod, as she routinely went to the ground. Several seconds went by and we heard a whistle and we waited…what was the referee calling?
The Canadian goalkeeper held the ball for far more than 6 seconds (as defined by Law 12 of the FIFA rules) which is a penalisable offense. However, as many of us know, the rule is rarely if never called. Instead, the referee will verbally or with a gesture, tell the goalkeeper to get rid of the ball. In this case, referee Christiana Pederson pointed to a spot inside the box with her hand in the air, indicating an indirect free kick.
Throughout the match United States Forward Abby Wambach would get in the referee’s face and count the seconds that McLeod held the ball (a common tactic for waste time). Abby was quoted saying, “I got to 10 seconds right next to the referee, and at 10 seconds she blew the whistle.” At halftime the assistant referee of the match informally warned the goalkeeper of her time-wasting. McLeod said the referee told her “don’t delay the play too much.” But it wasn’t a real warning and she wasn’t given a caution. Pedersen might have blown the whistle too early.
There is continued debate on when the actual counting by the referee should start. Should it be when the goalkeeper receives possession of the ball, or should it be after they receive the ball and when they make a valid effort to distribute the ball? The debate is strapped to the fact that it often takes time for the goalkeeper to disentangle themselves, get themselves organized and away from other players, and get themselves back onto their feet.
In a 2010 meeting, referees were instructed that before penalizing a goalkeeper for a six second violation the referee should give a warning. If the time-wasting continues and the goalkeeper is not making their “best effort” to distribute the ball, the referee should then be authorized to penalize the infringing team.
The Canadians were in shock as you would expect and argued the call. The referee explained her decision and eventually we moved on to the free kick. The ball was touched and Rapinoe unleashed a thunderbolt into the wall as it plinko-ed off the arms/hands of two Canadian players. The whistle was blown again and she pointed to the spot for a penalty kick.
The Canadians went crazy! In the official rules if a player does not have enough time to get their hands out-of-the-way, no handball call should be made. In this case, with a shot moving at such a velocity and at a short distance, was it even humanly possible to control whether or not the ball hits any part of your body? The debate continues…
Needless to say, Abby Wambach stepped up to the spot and slotted it into the left side of the goal to tie the match up. The game would later go onto extra time where Alex Morgan would score the game winner in the 123rd minute to send the Unites States into the Gold medal game.
The Canadians immediately protested. Shortly after there were several articles claiming that the match was fixed. Pederson declined to be interviewed as FIFA would not allow her to speak. Two things are for certain, we won’t be seeing Pederson as a head referee for the remaining of the Olympics, and it won’t be long until we see a more defined six second rule in the FIFA referee’s manual.
Was the referee entitled to making that call at such a pivotal moment? Should the Canadian’s have a right protest the match? We have seen fixing in soccer before, could we see a potential scandal?