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Question Number: 33972

Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct 8/8/2020

RE: Other

Cameron McGowan of Terrasse-Vaudreuil, Quebec Canada asks...

I'm watching Barcelona play Napoli and I am curious as to the reason for the penalty kick that was awarded to Barcelona when Koulibaly tried to clear the ball and struck Messi in the back of the leg. To me, that was not an intentional play on Koulibaly's part and he never even saw Messi coming. Messi jumped in and put his foot directly in the way of Koulibaly‘s leg which was already swinging to clear the ball. Also, I am curious as to why Messi never had to leave the field after receiving treatment for an injury on that play. Koulibaly left the field before the penalty decision was given and Messi was still having treatment. Once VAR and the referee had decided to give a penalty kick, you can see Messi time his boots and he was never asked to leave the field. Thank you for taking the time to answer this question. Have a wonderful day and stay safe!

Answer provided by Referee Jason Wright

Hi Cameron,

Link is here -

For me this is actually a foul by Messi. He came from behind and planted his leg in the path of a kick that had already been committed to and didn't even touch the ball. A player putting their leg in the path of a swing already in progress means that player has committed the foul - they may be the one getting kicked, but they created the situation.

If we remember that a kicking foul must be careless at minimum, who can we say has acted without due care? The defender who has already started his swing - and one which was completely reasonable and proportionate with nobody between him and the ball, or the attacker who came from out of the defender's field of view and planted his leg between the defender and the ball?

In my early years of refereeing I fell into the trap of not recognising this as a foul by Messi so I am surprised to see a referee at this level make this decision. I am even more surprised to see it came from VAR - remember, for a decision to be overturned through the VAR process it is not enough for a decision to be wrong, it must be clearly and obviously wrong. I honestly cannot see how that criteria has been met.

Not having seen the entire incident I am unable to determine why Messi did not leave - the penalty decision is not the issue a player can remain on if the opponent receives a card for the challenge and the assessment is treated quickly (so basically, by the time any card or decision-making process is resolved). If a card was issued then that may explain it.

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Cameron
These are always difficult calls and each situation will be different.
What swings it for me in favour of the penalty kick is that Messi appears to play the ball cleanly. It is not Koubaily’s intention to kick Messi yet his slowness of action resulted in just that. That meets the definition of careless under the Laws. Koubaily acted without precaution which is why it was for me a foul and no card.
The fact that Referee Cakir had to go to VAR showed just how difficult a call it was in real time as generally kicking sn opponent will always be picked up and called.
As to why Messi did not have to leave it is unclear. Had Koubaily been cautioned or Messi designated to take the penalty kick then he did not have to leave after receiving treatment.
Also as VAR took some time did the referee simply forget about the treatment of Messi? Maybe when he realised that the kick was about to be taken and rather than delaying the game further he simply went with the restart.
One can argue it was a “common sense” call in the circumstances which one might expect from a senior experienced official.

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Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi Cameron,
I guess it's all about opinions but I would have to disagree with my esteemed colleague, referee Wright. The way I (and the VAR, and then subsequently the referee) viewed this incident, Messi has legitimately played the ball away from Koulibaly before a careless kick by the defender caught Messi on the back of the ankle. Looking at the video replays, it's clear to me that Messi had both feet at least partially in front of Koulibaly's body and has almost played the ball before the defender starts his swing for the ball. Messi in fact gets his feet in front before Koulibaly's non-striking left foot even reaches the ground, prior to the defender drawing his right foot back to attempt to play the ball. See image on the link below:

For me, the Napoli player has acted without precaution, one of the definitions of 'careless' in the laws of the game. In my opinion a player cannot just swing a leg at the ball as if he's the only player on the pitch - Messi was actively challenging Koulibaly for the ball and had already got part of his body in front of the opponent in a way that the Senegal international has to take account of, before attempting to kick the ball. I see this as being similar to a player who even though he is 'just following the ball' and not looking at an opponent, swings a leg at a high ball and catches that opponent in the face.

I was however also flummoxed by the referee allowing Messi to remain on the pitch after treatment.

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