A disallowed goal puts ISL’s refereeing incompetence back in the spotlight

It was two games into the Indian Super League season before the first major refereeing error surfaced. In its ninth season, the only consistent part of the league has been poor refereeing, which overshadows the efforts of players and technical staff in games. Last night in Bengaluru it saw the away team lose when they should have walked away with a draw.

At the start of the season at home at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Bengaluru FC felt they had the game in their hands and led by a goal just before the referee’s whistle. But what emerged next has now become a staple of ISL matches.

With two of the four minutes of injury time up, Northeast United won a throw-in near the right corner of the field. They had just hit the crossbar and then just missed the goal by a hair’s breadth. The throw-in was whipped into the box where Bengaluru could only clear to the edge of their bastion.

Spaniard Jon Gaztanaga, known as Gazta, balanced the loose ball beautifully on his chest and then unleashed a volley that shot through the ground, between Bengaluru’s defenses and finally through the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. The Northeast United players cheered Gazta on the touchline as the Kanteerava Stadium fell silent.

And then the referee blew his whistle and chaos broke out.

It was the assistant referee on the far right of the field who whistled first. The reason – when the shot went in goal – a Northeast United player was ruled offside. The decision had been made. Northeast United would refuse to equalize.

Replays later showed the player was neither offside nor touched the ball. The gate that should have been standing has been taken away. The Israeli coach of NEUFC, Marco Balbul, was red-carded by the referee for protesting.

NEUFC assistant coach Paul Groves asked the authorities to look into the unrecognized goal. “Everyone can see the replay, I don’t have to say anything to the referee. We play our football our way and we hope to improve. The higher authorities should look at this and decide what to do,” he said in the post-game press conference.

Virtual Assistant Referee (VAR) is not available in Indian football mainly due to the cost involved. The ISL has taken specific steps in the past to achieve better refereeing overall. As reported by PTI, in 2021, FSDL and AIFF pledged to invest 10 crores in Indian referee development over three years. This should be done under the guidance of the Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOL), which provides umpires for the English Premier League.

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