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Alternative title: Please explain why the situation leading to Antonio Valencia's red card was not also a foul on Lucas Digne's part.

In yesterday's match Ecuador - France, around the 49th minute a situation occured that looked to me like this (see this FIFA "highlights" video from second 41):

  • Player Y (yellow) has played the ball and is running after it.
  • Player W (white) throws himself, feet first, towards the ball (and Y's running direction), perpendicularly and with no chance of controlling the ball, but some chance of reaching it and changing its direction.
  • Player Y, with coming W into his way, seems to slowdown slightly, but still extends one leg towards the ball, reaching it the same time as W. His foot lands on the ball, slides off it, lands on W's knee, potentially injuring him.
  • After some time for treatment of W, referee sends Y off (red card), to no protests from him or his team (presumably the scene has been replayed in super-slow motion several times on screens in the stadium by then).

But what was Y supposed to do in that situation? If he had tried to get his front leg onto the grass, given W's momentum it would have ended up under him and Y would have fallen over him with no chance of using his legs to soften the fall (unless risking stepping onto W with the other leg).

Extending his leg further in hope of landing past W would mean risking injury to this leg (and falling anyway, too). Note that this was a split-second decision to take.

I realize it would have been the gentleman-ly thing to do to take the harder fall, but either way I look at it, W's action should have knocked Y off his feet. Why is this not a foul?

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The general rule in sliding tackles is whether or not you get to the ball first before making any contact with the attacking player. As a defender your responsibility is to make sure you are going after the ball, and as an attacker you make sure that you play the ball and not the defender..

In the case above Lucas Digne gets to the ball first and executes a textbook sliding tackle. A. Valencia tries to get to the ball, before the tackle and presumably wants to step on the ball to stop and avoid the tackle. Unfortunately for him, he's a bit too late (and too fast to stop so suddenly) so his step lands on Digne's foot. The reason it's a direct red, and that he doesn't even complain is due to the fact that he's going into contest for the ball with his studs "high".

The judgement here by the ref is that Valencia, at the time of the tackle did not have full possession of the ball and it was a contest for the ball by two players. In that scenario, if you go in to the contest with your studs it's dangerous play (with high chance of injury for the other player) and penalized with a red.

See Nigel de Jong's infamous move last World Cup.

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Any reference for that tackling textbook you mention? In other situations, I've heard TV commentators criticize "but I've played the ball" gestures by players whose sliding tackle was considered a foul. Where is the line here? –  arne.b Jun 26 at 10:51
@arne.b I was using that expression to mean how clean Digne's sliding tackle was. I am not sure anyone has written a textbook on how to tackle :) As for the "I've played the ball" complaints, there are two counter arguments to that; a) the fact that you played the ball eventually doesn't matter if you take down a player on your way to play the ball, and b) even if you go in to play the ball first, if it is reckless play it could still be a foul and get penalized by a card. I will look for a reference for what constitutes a clean sliding tackle. –  posdef Jun 26 at 11:59
I don't think you're going to find a reference, as what constitues a clean challenge is based on tradition mostly. The best you could probably do is point out that it is an offence to kick or trip an opponent (in Law 12) carelessly, recklessly or with excessive force, irrespective of whether you get the ball first. Furthermore, as long as the contact isn't a trip or a kick, or isn't careless, reckless or excessively forceful, there isn't a foul committed (which makes unavoidable / incidental contact with the player after cleanly winning the ball okay). –  studro Jun 27 at 1:25
And finally, you could point out that if you tackle carelessly, recklessly or with excessive force, even if you don't touch the player (or neither the player nor the ball), there is still the possibility of a foul. –  studro Jun 27 at 1:26
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posdef's answer is pretty much correct. I tend not to use the term "dangerous play", as it sounds a lot like "playing in a dangerous manner", which is a different offence where no contact is made and a player is unable to play the ball for fear of injury to his or her self or an opponent.

Digne challenged in a way that was neither careless, reckless, nor excessively forceful. He kept his leg flat on the ground, slid it directly in front of the ball and carefully swung it towards the ball. The slide was never directed straight at Valencia.

Valencia had eyes for the ball, and won the ball while trying to control it, slightly after Digne collected it. Yes, it was "studs up", but challenging with studs raised isn't explicitly illegal in the Laws of The Game. There are times where most referees will allow it, such as poking at the ball, or turning on the ball at lower speed. The problems caused by these challenges (and this one here) are usually more about the sheer amount of force used, rather than which part of the boot is used.

Challenging with the "studs up" usually means the challenge is made with a straight, locked leg. As the reaction force from the collision is straight up the leg, instead of perpendicular to the knee, there is no give in the leg, transferring most of the force to the point of contact.

When leading with the bottom of the boot, the momentum of the player is concentrated to a much smaller surface area, and harder surface at the bottom of the boot. That's what makes "studs up" challenges so dangerous. Excessive force can be achieved with any other part of the boot - it just needs to be swung a lot harder.

Valencia hit the ball, went "over the ball" (another common feature of bad tackles) into Digne's leg at great speed, with a straight leg. Most of his momentum (weight and speed) was transferred into the point of contact with Digne. The risk of injury to Digne was extremely high here, and that left the referee with no choice but to identify it as excessive force and send-off Valencia for serious foul play. If Valencia had been moving at half of the speed he was, I don't think this even would have been a foul, or if so only careless (or a free kick) at best.

If Valencia had made the challenge using his toe, he probably would have fallen on Digne (as he did anyway), and play would have continued. The chance of injury to either player would have been unlikely.

He also could have slid into the tackle with his toe pointed out, and both players' legs would have collided with a large surface area, making it neither careless, reckless or excessively forceful. Play probably would have continued here.

Recently I gave an explanation of careless, reckless and excessive force in this answer.

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Better use of the terms, but still only semantics ;) Do you agree that the offense in that particular play was that Valencia went in with studs in, and that it would not be a dismissal had he tried to go for the ball with any other part of the boot? –  posdef Jun 26 at 12:05
I agree that if Valencia had used another part of his boot, he probably would not have been sent-off. However, as I mentioned, if he had been moving at less speed, or didn't stab at the ball as hard with his studs, he probably wouldn't have been sent-off either. –  studro Jun 27 at 1:22
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