A disallowed goal brings ISL’s refereeing incompetency into spotlight again

It took two games into the Indian Super League season for the first major refereeing blunder to crop up. In its ninth season, the one consistent part of the league has been the poor refereeing that overshadows the effort put in games by the players and technical staff. Last night in Bengaluru, it handed the away team a defeat when they should have walked away with a draw.

Beginning the season at home at the Sree Kanteerava stadium, Bengaluru FC thought they had the game in hand, leading by a goal with the referee’s whistle moments away. But what transpired next has now become a staple with ISL matches.

With two out of the four minutes of stoppage time gone, Northeast United won a throw-in near the right-corner of the field. They had just hit the crossbar and then missed the goal by a whisker moments ago. The throw in was whipped into the box from where Bengaluru could clear it out only till the edge of their bastion.

Spanish player Jon Gaztanaga, known as Gazta, balanced the loose ball on his chest beautifully and then unleashed a volley that skidded through the ground, in between Bengaluru’s defence and finally through the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. Northeast United players mobbed Gazta at the touchline in joy as the Kanteerava stadium descended into silence.

And then the referee blew his whistle and pandemonium broke.

It was the assistant referee on the far-right of the field who had initially blown his whistle. The reasoning – as the shot was going into goal – a Northeast United player was offside. The decision had been made. Northeast United would be denied their equaliser.

Replays later showed that the player was not offside nor did he come in contact with the ball. The goal that should have stood, was taken away. NEUFC’s Israeli coach Marco Balbul, was shown a red card by the referee for protesting.

NEUFC assistant coach Paul Groves pleaded with the authorities to look into the disallowed goal.“Everybody can see the replay, I don’t need to say anything about the referee. We play our football in our way and we hope to improve. The higher authorities should look into it and decide what is to be done,” he said in the post-match press conference.

The Virtual Assistant Referee (VAR) is not available in Indian football, mostly due to the costs involved. The ISL has taken certain steps in the past in an attempt to bring about better refereeing overall. In 2021, as reported by PTI, FSDL and AIFF promised investments of 10 crores into the development of Indian referees over three years. This was set to be done with guidance from The Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOL), who provide referees to the English Premier League.

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