In the UEFA championship match, there was a situation where the referee applied advantage to a reckless foul (deserving of a caution) and allowed play to continue.  Over the course of the next several seconds, the advantage was fully realized but, in the end, the ball ended up in the hands of the opposing team’s goalkeeper.  At that time, the referee stopped play and showed a yellow card for the reckless foul.  Is this proper?  I thought you had to wait for the ball to leave the field before giving the card?  Was the restart correct?

USSF answer (June 2, 2009):
Several questions have come in regarding this incident, a few referring directly to the UEFA match and others raising the issue generally.  Although we have answered these questions individually, there has been some misunderstanding of what is truly at issue here.  Accordingly, we are using this latest question to offer some general advice for handling such situations.

Several referees felt that the referee, having decided not to stop play immediately for misconduct based on the application of the advantage concept, cannot thereafter stop play solely because the advantage, which lasted long enough to erase the foul, has ended. Our position is not only yes, he can do that, but we would ask in return, why not? The Law requires only that the card be given at the next stoppage of play and, per the Law, that can occur by the ball leaving the field (which is often the ONLY type of stoppage considered here) or by the referee stopping play. Why do referees stop play? Well, there are hundreds of reasons, including (see Advice to Referees) simply wanting to talk to a player as well as such more obvious things as injuries, weather, another foul, etc., or simply for the good of the game”!

We recommend for everyone’s reading the Interpretations/Guidelines (on p. 90 of the 2008/2009 Laws) regarding the referee missing the AR’s flag for severe misconduct and reiterated in the USSF Memorandum Supplement 2008:

Law 6
Both last year and again this year, the International Board has created an exception to the general rule that, if advantage is applied to misconduct, the appropriate card must be shown and the proper action taken (e.g., the player sent off) at the next stoppage; otherwise, the opportunity to card has been lost. The Interpretations provide that, if an AR signals for violent conduct but the signal is not seen until after play is restarted after the next stoppage, the referee may still display a red card and send the player off the field. If this should occur, the restart is based on the current stoppage of play rather than on the violent conduct that occurred previously.

USSF advises that:
– this exception is not limited to “violent conduct” in its official sense as a form of misconduct but applies as well to serious foul play (where violence or excessive force is involved) and other acts of misconduct,
– the AR must have signaled for the misconduct at the time it occurred and maintained the signal until it is seen by the referee, and
– if play is stopped solely in response to the signal by the AR, play is restarted with a dropped ball where the ball was when play was stopped (except for the special circumstances involving restarts in the goal area) but otherwise the restart is in accordance with the Law.

Referees are strongly urged to cover this type of situation in their pregame discussion and to make clear what sorts of misconduct are serious enough to warrant maintaining the AR’s signal past the next stoppage of play. If a player has received a second yellow card in the same match but was not at that time shown a red card and sent off, the referee remains able to correct the error at any time it is brought to his or her attention by a member of the officiating team.

This information from the Interpretations/Guidelines is not directly related to the question at hand and some will argue that it is also “not specifically authorized” in the Laws of the Game. However, there are many things we do that are “not specifically authorized” and fall under the words used in the Laws themselves, “If, in the opinion of the referee.” In this case the solution is indeed part and parcel of the Laws and it prepares the way for a more proactive role for the referee after applying the advantage. If the referee has to stop the game because no “natural” stoppage seems imminent, then he can do so. Referees are expected to do what is needed to meet the demands of the Spirit of the Game, to give the players a fair game. Waiting for a “natural” stoppage in this game would have left open a path for more infringements. Better to stop them now, before they occur, rather than wait and hope.

As we read it, the International Board was so concerned about violent conduct going unpunished that it carved out this exception to the general rule that a card not given at the next stoppage (natural or “unnatural”) is lost forever. With this in mind, why should the referee be prevented from implementing the same spirit by stopping play himself after the advantage has been realized and the opposing team (the one that committed the violent conduct in the first place!) now has control of the ball? This does not mean that the referee should in every case do as was done in this situation, stopping play without waiting for a “natural” stoppage. However, it does mean that the referee must keep his or her finger on the pulse of the game, applying, as we suggest in Advice 13.5, his or her feeling for the game in what FIFA calls “Fingerspitzengefühl” (literally: “sensing with one’s fingertips”). Only by exercising common sense can the referee do what is correct in such cases.

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