I saw an interesting situation recently in an international Friendly (Germany-England). The ball had been pushed forward by a German midfielder, and was being shepherded by an English defender to the goalkeeper. A German attacker, who had been in an offside position when the ball was pushed forward, “interfered with play” – he reached between the defender’s legs and played the ball, eventually eluding the goalkeeper and scoring. I originally assumed the AR made a mistake (it was an off&on offside situation). I later considered, however, that “possession and control” by an opponent will “reset” the offside condition, which leads me to ask whether shielding/shepherding the ball counts as “possession and control” in terms of resetting offside.
USSF answer (December 9, 2008):
As you note, the attacking forward’s offside position could still come into play here. If, as pointed out in Advice to Referees 11.14 (Becoming “Onside”), the ball is played (possessed and controlled, not simply deflected) by an opponent, including the opposing goalkeeper, then the offside position must be reevaluated. If, in the opinion of the referee, the defending player had established possession, then the forward is relieved of the burden of the former offside position and may play the ball. However, if the defender is not in possession — in the opinion of the referee — the forward must be called for the offside.
In this case, for purposes of deciding if the defender’s actions constitute “possession and control” and thus reset the offside position decision, we believe the defender cannot be “in possession” if he is merely shielding the ball, assuming that by “shielding the ball” you mean nothing more than interposing the body without making any contact with the ball. In short, shielding the ball does not mean “in possession” in this specific context and thus the terms of Advice 11.14 have not been fulfilled. Decision: Offside.