Qatar 2022: Why Japan’s controversial goal against Spain was allowed

The goal that dumped Germany out of the 2022 World Cup initially didn’t count. Japan scored it to take the lead during its 2-1 win over Spain on Thursday, but referees initially disallowed it because the ball, a second before the goal, seemed to have crossed the end line.

But the video assistant referee (VAR), after reviewing the play, overturned the call on the field because, although replays and still photos both appeared to show the ball crossing the line, it didn’t — at least not fully, apparently.

There was, from some camera angles, green grass between the ball and the white end line. That bit of green led millions of fans, and even refereeing experts, to assume the goal wouldn’t count. “As we see on this replay, yes it is, it’s out of play,” former English Premier League ref Mark Clattenbirg said on Fox’s broadcast. “And therefore it will be disallowed. … This will get chalked off.”

But Clattenburg was wrong. That bit of green between ball and line does not matter. By rule, the ball is only out of play when the entirety of it has fully cleared the plane of the boundary.

In other words, if you were to draw a line perpendicular to the ground — straight up from the end line toward the sky — and that vertical line intersects with any part of the ball, the ball is still in play.

Camera angles that offered a bird’s eye view seemed to show that the ball hadn’t done this; that a sliver of it still hovered above a sliver of the line.

And thus, after video review, the goal was given.

The decision was not infallible. Whereas goals can be checked via goal-line technology, similar to the “Hawk-Eye” system popularized by tennis, goal-line tech only applies between the posts.

The VAR, though, would have had access to multiple angles from cameras perched in line with the end line. FIFA has not published the video or still photos used to overturn the decision on the field, but the video assistants must have concluded that those angles were definitive.