In the recent Boxing Day match between Newcastle United and Manchester United, a controversial goal was awarded in the 28th minute.

[The questioner included a load of detail of items from Law 11, the Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees, and the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game.”

The bottom line is that the ATRs *appear* to offer guidance that is either not backed up by IFAB or FIFA guidance, or the rest of the world is unaware of said guidance.

Any clarification you can provide would be helpful.

Answer (December 28, 2012):
This is a very close call. From the available evidence (two photos and a video clip), it is impossible to decide one way or another. In such cases, we cannot do any better than to rely on the long-time guidance from the IFAB, FIFA, and the U. S. Soccer Federation: The referee must be completely sure that an offense has occurred before calling it. If the referee does not recognize a possible infringement as such and call it (either by whistling for the offense or invoking the advantage clause or making no call at all on a trifling offense), then that offense has not occurred.

We are very concerned, however, with the comment that the Advice to Referees (ATR) appears to offer guidance which is not backed by anything official. Obviously, we disagree. The original question, which I have omitted here, breaks down the decision into its appropriate parts and comes down exactly where it should have: the core question (given the givens) is whether there was interference with an opponent, and THAT is solely a matter of judgment for which the IFAB’s own guidance is quite sufficient — blocking the path, blocking the vision, or acting to distract or deceive. The ATR does not say anything contrary to this. The citation from the ATR is merely a good, concrete example of what exactly is meant by “acting to distract or deceive”: If the actions of the attacker in an offside position “draw” or cause a defender to move in a way he would not likely have moved in the absence of the offside position attacker, that is interfering with an opponent. So it all comes down to the basic issue of determining whether any of the three elements of interfering with an opponent applied. Our opinion is that it is arguable either way. We see the possibility of the goalkeeper’s line of vision being blocked or at least hindered (given where the attacker was). We also see the possibility that the attacker in the offside position blocked a possible movement path by the defender. And there is also the possibility – though we have no information on what was happening in the second or two prior to the first still picture — that the attacker may have drawn the defender to be where he was at the moment the ball deflected off the defender’s knee. However, because these are all only possibilities, that does not negate the guidance from on high that the referee must be absolutely certain of the offense – any offense, not simply offside – before calling it.