The exciting match between a depleted Chelsea and a Barcelona team determined to assert their supremacy in their own home, ended in high drama. Barcelona wanted to be the first team to repeat as European champions, but could not break down the top-of-the-penalty-area resistance, the manning of the castle walls by the surviving ten players. Then this happened: A pass did not find its target, and a defender wellied the ball upfield to a lone player who had drifted towards the halfway line. With a delicate first touch, Fernando Torres controlled the ball and was over the midfield stripe ten yards before the nearest opponent started chasing him. See it at http://youtu.be/yd9UeNsdZCo?hd=1.
What riveted me to the scene as Torres took off on his sixty-yard run, with the ball fully under his control for fifty-five of them, was the realization that he was almost certainly going to score. No one could catch him, the goalkeeper was late to react (but in any case was condemned to solitary confinement in his penalty-area), and all the Chelsea striker had to do was round Victor Valdez and tap the ball in the net. What I have described, you may notice, is an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, and obvious at fifty-five yards from the goal.
Yet in the ancillary advice (four items or the "Four Dees") pitched to referees to help them understand when to penalize the denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity is a warning about distance, distance from the goal, that is, where the foul is committed that takes the striker's opportunity away. Too far upfield from the goal, the advice says, and you must not send off the defender. But how far is too far?
Torres' run for goal.
The commentator, former Manchester United and England full-back Gary Neville, knew as soon as Torres took off with the ball at his feet that a big event was coming, and said so. Then when the ball ended up in the net, he celebrated it with a strange moaning sound that most people would be glad to hear in a bedroom, though perhaps not in a stadium with more than ninety-five thousand voyeurs. In this case, a foul that stops Torres anywhere along this marvellous run would have been denying him an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, would it not?
But wait! There's more! Take a look at this closer view as Torres approaches the top of the penalty-area and is challenged by the goalkeeper:
Valdez approaches, is deceived by Torres' body-swerve and goes to ground, scrambling to his left hoping to make contact with the ball. Notice the direction of the striker's path. Is he going towards the goal?
From C to D to E, he appears to be heading off towards the corner of the goal-area, but his general direction has been towards the goal, ever since he sprinted across the halfway line in the breakaway. Not only that, but every one of his positions shown in the drawing is closer to the goal than is the previous one. He is indeed heading towards the goal and with the ball under control. And if Valdez had taken him down, Torres would have been denied an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, for which there is only one punishment allowed in the laws. A second of the Four Dees is not always correct.
So don't flinch if your soccer instincts whisper DOOGSO in your ear. Do your duty, and the game will be the better for it.