Daniel, an adult amateur referee, asks:
Direct free kick for the attackers 18 meters in front of the goal. After the ball has been released by the referee, an attacker shoots the ball towards the goal. A defender runs 3 meters ahead of the wall forward and fends off the shot with a deliberate handball. Referee’s decision? Please motivate the disciplinary sanction.
Your description of the scenario is incomplete in several potentially important areas.
First, what do you mean by “after the ball has been released by the referee”? Referees don’t “release balls” on any kind of free kick. Indeed, there is only one restart that involves the referee releasing the ball and that is the dropped ball.
Second, if it is a direct free kick (DFK) restart (and thus there is no “referee releases the ball” component), there nevertheless is the major issue of whether this DFK restart is ceremonial or not. If it is ceremonial, then the DFK cannot occur unless and until the referee signals with the whistle that the kick can be taken. If the DFK is not ceremonial, then it means that the kick can be taken immediately by the attacker.
The third incomplete information issue is when did the defender run “3 meters ahead of the wall”? If the defender was in the wall at the time of the kick and then ran forward before the attacker kicked the ball, that is an offense by the defender – carries a caution and a retake of the DFK. If the defender began to move closer than the wall after the ball was kicked (assuming it was no closer to the DFK location than the minimum required distance), then no encroachment offense was committed even if that defender made contact with the ball well within the minimum distance requirement. What is interesting about this scenario element is that, ultimately, it doesn’t matter because, if the defender actually ran forward before the ball was kicked, this retake is overtaken by what is discussed below under the fourth element and the misconduct is overtaken by what is discussed below in the fifth element.
Fourth, several different issues arise when you state that the defender then handled the ball. Based on your scenario, the DFK restart was 18 meters from the goal which puts the restart just 1.5 meters from the top of penalty area. The minimum distance for the defenders was 9.15 meters from the ball. Assuming all lines are straight, 90 degrees from the goal line, and not beyond the sidelines of the penalty area (if any of these three requirements is not met, the issue of where the defender made contact with the ball is impossible to determine in relation to the penalty area. All that can be said unequivocally is that, if all three are true, then the defender handled the ball inside the penalty area. Accordingly, if that is the case, the restart becomes a penalty kick. To understand this element, you will probably need to draw a field diagram and mark up the pertinent distances (that’s what we did to make sure we understood the scenario!).
The fifth and last incomplete information issue relates to whether any misconduct occurred and, if so, what color card. If, in the opinion of the referee, the ball was going into or it was an obvious goal-scoring opportunity (high likelihood inside the penalty area), then the card color is red (denied goal by handling). If, in the opinion of the referee, the defender handled to ball merely to interfere with or stop a promising attack (a less likely possibility inside the penalty area), the card color is yellow.
As far as motivating the disciplinary sanction, that’s easy. It’s what the Law calls for. The really critical motivator is that, based on your stated distances and making a necessary assumption about lines being straight and perpendicular to the goal line, the offense was committed in the penalty area.