Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Soccer: Auckland City puts it on the line

A Kiwi club is to make football history with first official use of goal line technology, writes Michael Burgess.

Auckland City will once again be the focus of the football world as Fifa debuts its most important innovation in at least two decades - goal line technology.

The match against Japanese league champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Thursday night in the Club World Cup tournament (11.45pm NZT) will see the worldwide debut of the new technology, after an exhaustive testing process that has lasted almost two years.

It follows City's involvement in the same tournament two years ago, as the first team to play with the new adidas Jabulani ball, later used in the 2010 World Cup.

This time Fifa is allowing two technology companies to trial their wares to solve football's most controversial issue: whether a goal has been scored by crossing the line, a simple task in concept but one which has resulted in stormy debates in some of football's biggest occasions.

"It is an honour to be involved in this historic match. It's a big step for the game," says Auckland City coach Ramon Tribuletix, whose team know first-hand the importance of technology - from this same tournament last season.

"Last year [against Kashiwa Reysol], Ivan Vicelich headed against the bar and it bounced down around the line," points out Auckland City chairman Ivan Vuksich.

"We have watched that 20 or 30 times and we are convinced it crossed the line but no one will ever know. I guess from now on, it will be clearer."

Fifa have been extremely cautious about the introduction of technology into their sport, making this match a rare event. It is also arguably the biggest adjustment to the sport since the back pass to the goalkeeper was abolished in 1992.

There have been controversial goal line moments in football since the 1966 World Cup final, when a shot from England's Geoff Hurst smashed against the Wembley crossbar and was adjudged to have crossed the German goal line by the Soviet linesman.

There have been numerous incidents since, heightened in the past two decades as camera and replay technology has allowed disputed moments to be analysed frame by frame.

Fifa had refused to introduce any form of video technology into the sport, concerned that it would affect the natural flow of the game. However, it appeared their hand was finally forced by Frank Lampard's 'ghost goal' against Germany at the 2010 World Cup.

With England trailing 2-1 minutes before halftime, the Chelsea midfielder's shot bounced down off the crossbar and over the line, before rebounding back into play. The goal was not given, a source of massive frustration for the England side (who were well beaten in the end) and international embarrassment for Fifa.

The process has been painstakingly thorough and much more demanding than what is offered in rugby, cricket, tennis or league.

The mandate from Fifa and the International Football Association Board (representatives from the four home nations, who, alongside Fifa, decide on the laws of the game) was that the indication on whether the ball had crossed the line or not had to be confirmed within one second and only to the match officials. That is to keep faith with Fifa's determination not to slow the game by using technology.

Nine companies took part in the trial process but none were accepted. Then eight companies were involved in two more phases of trials run by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) and two were accepted; the German-Danish company GoalRef and British outfit Hawk-Eye, which already provides technology in cricket and tennis.

Both companies rely on different methods. GoalRef, which will be used on Thursday, uses magnetic field technology and electronic devices inserted inside the ball to detect the exact position of the ball when it is near, or over, the goal line.

Hawk-Eye, which will be used in the quarter-finals, uses several cameras at each end and then video software which will instantly detect if the ball has crossed the stripe.

In both instances a text message - simply stating GOAL - will be delivered to the referee's watch in less than a second. There are high stakes involved and Fifa has already advised both companies to take out insurance, wary of the implications in case of a mistake or technology failure.

The new systems will do nothing to stop more frequent controversies in football, such as offsides, penalty decisions and other infringements (Thierry Henry's blatant handball before scoring against Ireland in 2009 is a classic case). However, Fifa remain adamant that the use of technology will extend only to the goal line.

"It's not a dangerous development as long as it remains focused on goal line technology," said Fifa President Sepp Blatter. "I don't want technology anywhere else. I want football to maintain its human face. This will be my goal as long as I am the president of Fifa.

"This technology is only to help the referee. When it comes to high-level competition, and the decisive moment of a competition, you have to use technology if it is available. If you don't, then something is wrong."

If the technology is judged a success in Japan, it will be used at the Confederations Cup in Brazil next year and the 2014 World Cup. It is also expected to be rolled out in the English Premier League and other European competitions, at the discretion of the respective league or tournament, not Fifa.

Five controversial goal line incidents

Frank Lampard, England vs Germany (2010 World Cup): Lampard's 20-metre effort looped over the German keeper and more than a metre over the line, via the underside of the bar. The referee waved play on, much to the dismay of the English fans in the stadium and around the world.

Roy Carroll, Manchester United vs Tottenham (2005 English Premier League): Match officials were oblivious when United keeper Carroll fumbled a long range lob from Pedro Mendes over his own line before scooping it back into play, denting Spurs hopes of a famous win.

Dorinel Munteanu, Bulgaria vs Romania (Euro 96): A potential Romanian equaliser that crossed the line after smashing off the crossbar was not given and the 1-0 loss to Bulgaria knocked them out of the tournament.

Frank Lampard, Chelsea vs Tottenham (2011 English Premier League): After a Lampard shot spilled from his grasp, Spurs keeper Heurelho Gomes had scrambled back to stop the ball right on the line but the goal was awarded for a crucial 2-1 victory.

Stephen Hunt, Watford vs Reading (2008, Championship): A Hunt corner was headed clearly two metres wide of the goal but the referee, on the advice of his assistant, bizarrely awarded the goal.

- Herald on Sunday

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