The World Cup goal line technology system is working.


France made history with their 3-0 victory over Honduras on Sunday, scoring the first World Cup goal which was confirmed by goal line technology. French striker Karim Benzema unleashed a shot from inside the bar, and he bounced off Honduran goalkeeper Noel Valladares just over the line. Brazilian referee Sandro Ricci went to replay technology to confirm that it was in fact a goal, which belonged to his side rather than Benzema, who ended the game with a brace rather than a hat trick.

While much of football depends on the referee’s perceptions and inclinations, FIFA has taken a historic step in the right direction this World Cup by introducing goal-line technology. FIFA’s Laws of the Game state that a goal occurs “when the entire ball passes over the goal line, between the posts and under the crossbar”. It might sound simple enough, but sometimes it can be really hard to say.

Arguably the most controversial example of the World Cup comes from the 1966 final, where Geoff Hurst gave England a 3-2 lead over West Germany with a controversial goal:

What is tricky with these kinds of goals is the timing and the point of view. The ball may only be in the goal for a fraction of a second and therefore it may be difficult for a human eye to tell what really happened. It is also plausible that what looks like a goal from the point of view of the referee and linesman does not reflect the actual position of the ball. In 1996, two Oxford engineers used video sequencing to discover that Hurst’s shot was at least two inches from completely crossing the goal line. Ex post facto science aside, England won this World Cup final 4-2. The Germans are still upset by the injustice of it all.

However, FIFA’s choice to bring goal-line technology to this year’s competition probably has more to do with a glaring moment from the 2010 competition in South Africa, again in a match between England and Germany. Frank Lampard’s shot, which would have tied the game 2-2, clearly crossed the goal line but was refused by the referee. Germany won the game 4-1. Uruguayan linesman Mauricio Espinosa later admitted he couldn’t see the ball well enough to make the right choice.

FIFA accepted offers from four goal-line tech companies before awarding a probationary contract to German company GoalControl last year. The GoalControl system, which costs around $ 250,000 per stadium to install, uses 14 high-speed cameras to track the ball’s position both on the pitch and in the air. If the ball crosses the goal line, a buzzing smartwatch alerts the referee within a second. As Business week points out, sports with a long tradition often inspire a Luddite streak. The key to GoalControl is that it can offer a discreet goal confirmation without disrupting the flow of the game. In Sunday’s game between Honduras and France, it only took viewers a minute to see it It was indeed a goal.

Read all of Slate’s 2014 World Cup coverage.

About Shirley L. Kreger

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