Last week UEFA made an unprecedented decision at their under 19s Women’s Championship qualifying competition. England had to win or draw their game against Norway to go on to the finals, being held in Israel later in the year. If they lost they would fail to qualify. With the ninety minutes up, Norway were winning 2 – 1 but there was six minutes of added-on time to be played. With two of those minutes left, the referee, Marija Kurtes of Germany, awarded England a penalty. Leah Williamson, England’s penalty taker, coolly kicked the ball past the Norwegian goalkeeper. Her delighted team mates swamped her; believing they were on their way to Israel.
But no. The referee had decided that the goal couldn’t stand as one of the English players had encroached. The video of the match does show one of the English women stepping into the penalty area and then stepping back but technically the decision was correct. Players of both sides accepted that the kick had to be retaken, but things got worse for England. According to the referee it meant an indirect free kick to Norway. With less than half a minute left, the referee blew for time almost as soon as the free kick was taken.
It seemed that the English women’s dream of the finals was to be cruelly denied but that wasn’t the end of the affair. The FA appealed to the EUFA Ethics and Disciplinary Committee that the referee’s interpretation of the Law was incorrect.
The procedure of the taking of a penalty kick may appear complicated taking up five pages in the Laws but it is relatively simple. All the players with the exception of the goalkeeper and the penalty kicker must remain on the pitch but outside the penalty area, behind the ball and at least 10 yards (9.15m) from the penalty mark, until the kick is taken. When satisfied that everyone is in position, the referee blows the whistle. If anyone on either side, from that moment on breaches the law, the referee allows the kick to be taken and awaits the outcome.
If the defending team breaks the law and the ball has gone into the goal, then the goal is scored. If, however, the attacking side is at fault, the kick is retaken. Should the ball not go into the goal for any reason, and the defending side breaches the law, the kick is retaken. However, if it is the attacking side that defaults, then an indirect free kick is awarded to their opponents. This part of the law was altered slightly ten years ago. Whether this stuck in the referees’ mind we’ll never know but there was no change to the Law if the ball goes into the goal. The kick must be retaken, so it was an error in law by the referee.
The UEFA committee agreed with the FA and ordered a replay of just the last two minutes of the match, starting with the retake of the penalty kick. Both teams had to have the same twenty two players as before but not the same referee, who had been sent home because of her error. The replay took place four days after the original match and the Leah Williamson had twenty four hours to think about the kick. She said she didn’t sleep that night but she scored anyway.
The reason I believe it is unprecedented is because in the Laws it says ‘the decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play, including whether or not a goal is scored and the result of the match, are final’. I can think of a number of incidents when referees have made simple errors in law but none resulting in a replay like this.