So What Exactly Happened With Michael Woud’s Overturned Penalty Save for the U20s?

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People, we’re living rent-free on controversy corner right now. The kiwi U20 lads were up to some magical things in Poland and were on the brink of history when keeper Michael Woud pounced to his left to deny Andres Perea for Colombia. It was Woud’s third straight save to start the shootout. Joe Bell had already missed one for NZ but Sarpreet Singh had scored and Max Mata, who would step up next and score his, would have been in a position to make it 2-0 after three kicks each which would have meant that New Zealand were just two positive spotties away from advancing to the quarters. Two goals, two more misses, one of each… whatever suits, mate.

Except that the video assistant referee piped up with a word to the ref and it was determined that Woud had committed an infringement. The kick would be retaken. Perea changed his run-up but sent the kick the same way as Woud dove in the opposite direction this time. Colombia were back in it and they wouldn’t miss again, scoring five straight as New Zealand were eliminated 5-4 in the shootout, Gianni Stensness and Matt Conroy also missing.

It was a moment of mass controversy for the folks amongst us who had really invested in the potential of this team. Obviously Jerry Rugby couldn’t care less about a youth football team (but an All Black stubs his toe, woah buddy, headline news!). That’s fine, their loss. But for the ever-expanding football community of Aotearoa this was a special bunch of lads who were doing special things in this tournament and here they were so bloody close to victory against a South American opposition when an unexpected slice of officiating came along and it all slipped away from that point.

I’ve already written about the effects of that decision. The effects on the psyche of the kiwi team, the effects on Woud’s freedom of movement as a goalkeeper, the effects of the mental boost it gave Colombia… all of that. Read that match recap first if you wanna get up to date on those yarns. Here I just wanna get down to the nitty gritty of exactly what happened because there’s a fair bit of chat floating around.

Here’s the incident itself, with some nifty amateur slo-mo included (you’re most welcome)…

So yeah, there’s a little jump from Woud. Quick shuffle to the side he’s about to dive, almost like he knows where it’s going and is impatient to get this save over and done with. That quick refresher taken care of, now here’s what the rules say about penalties, the bits that pertain to goalkeeping anyway, old mate Law 14 and all that…

“The defending goalkeeper must remain on the goal line, facing the kicker, between the goalposts, without touching the goalposts, crossbar or goal net, until the ball has been kicked. When the ball is kicked, the defending goalkeeper must have at least part of one foot touching, or in line with, the goal line.”

There’s a clarification of that last bit too, which goes:

“Goalkeepers are not permitted to stand in front of or behind the line. Allowing the goalkeeper to have only one foot touching the goal line (or, if jumping, in line with the goal line) when the penalty kick is taken is a more practical approach as it is easier to identify than if both feet are not on the line. As the kicker can ‘stutter’ in the run, it is reasonable that the goalkeeper can take one step in anticipation of the kick.”

Rightio so them’s the technicalities.

How does this apply to Woudy? Watch that clip again and see where he makes that little jump. That’s what they’re ruling on, it has to be considering it’s the only thing even fathomable. Just as Perea is about to strike, Woud goes hippity hop. The thing about that, however, is that his right foot comes down as the ball is struck. He’s allowed to have a foot nudged forward as long as there’s still one touching (or in an aerial parallel with) the line, even if that other airborne foot is in front of it. So maybe there’s a deeper context to the rule that I don’t understand but that doesn’t sound like a breach to me unless they’re saying his right foot is beyond the goal line.

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He certainly does take a jump forwards, you can tell that by watching the clip, but it doesn’t look like he jumped far enough for both feet to be in front of the line. To me there’s still a heel though I’ll happily change my mind if I can see an ultra HD pic that proves there wasn’t. You have to assume that the VAR had access to a goal-line camera angle which would have cleared it up pretty definitively. On the other hand, we can only really go by the telly coverage because of course there was no replay of the incident that clarified anything one way or the other. Typical FIFA trying to sweep their self-created controversies under the rug.

I think part of what’s got people riled up about this as well is that it’s so unprecedented. I’ve definitely never seen a VAR interference in a penalty shootout before, in fact I can’t think of too many times I’ve seen even a ref ask a shootout kick to be retaken despite many a time demanding it loudly at my screen (usually it’s encroachment from other players that causes retakes and obviously that’s not a factor in a shootout). There are keepers that pounce miles off their line in these situations and get away with it. If Woud was over then it was by centimetres at the most, pretty harsh to call that up - especially with the implications it had on momentum and mentality.

If you listened to the commentary at the time, the esteemed John Helm mentioned that a penalty had been retaken for a keeper leaving his line early in a previous game this tournament. I believe the one he’s talking about was Saudi Arabia versus Mali, where the Malian keeper rushed out early for a penalty that had been awarded by VAR in the first place…

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Safe to say that one was rather obvious and, in this case, no dramas with VAR stepping in at all. This is exactly what that service is there for: the clear and obvious attempts to cheat. The Saudi Arabia fella scored at the second attempt. Just like Woud, the Mali GK was booked for his indiscretion as well.

It helps when there’s a beautiful replay that confirms the decision. The penalty shootout cauldron doesn’t allow as much room for replays amidst all the action as a spot kick in normal play but it woudla been nice to clear it up and end our kiwi conspiracies. Because I’ve gone all zapruder on this sucker and still can’t come to a conclusion and if that’s the case then the words ‘clear’ and ‘obvious’ don’t exactly feel appropriate – why invite the drama? If Perea’s penalty hadn’t been deemed to be retaken, I don’t think anyone would have noticed or complained. Even John Helm didn’t notice at first. He was still talking about the save even after you saw the NZers at halfway react annoyed to the decision.

As to whether all the other penalties were legal? Hey, let’s take a look…

Nothing to go with there. All the rest looked perfectly fine. Although take note that Woud makes the same shuffle jump to his left for the first save too, granted less blatantly (right foot looks to land safely on the line). It’s not so pronounced when he dives right, though. Still, we’re talking a minor infringement at absolute worst and of course a young keeper’s gonna be eager in this situation.

I dunno, it still doesn’t seem particularly fair and this might be tin-foil-hat thinking on my part but I did wonder at the time whether the ref would have overturned that had the game been more in the balance. Like, for example, on a sudden death kick rather than for the third save in a row by the same keeper. (Please don’t institutionalise me for all this – I’m reading a book on conspiracy theories at the moment, I know how it goes).

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