Let's imagine an ideal situation:

  • A player scores a goal
  • Before scoring, they deliberately handle the ball
  • None of the referees notice the foul
  • The referee validates the goal
  • The scorer admits (before restarting game) to referee they committed a foul before scoring

My question is: what should the referee do in this case? Should they care about what the scorer said, change their mind and so changing their decision? Are there rules about this situation?


I'll make an example to explain better:

In the match Ac Milan - Juventus:

Massimiliano Allegri’s men were in the ascendancy, and should have been 2-0 up after 25 minutes, but for a controversial incident which saw a legitimate goal not given.

Buffon initially did well to parry a header by Philippe Mexes from a corner, but hooked out Sulley Muntari’s rebound with the ball clearly over the line, sparking Milan celebrations. However, referee Paolo Tagliavento did not signal, and play continued.

After the game, Buffon declared that he didn't notice the goal, but even if he had noticed it he wouldn't have admitted to the referee.

So my question: would have made any difference if Buffon had seen and had explained to the referee the situation? I mean, if someone tries to be honest/fair the referee wouldn't care at all?

  • 5
    Oh, you mean what Maradona should have done when he scored his Hand Of God goal?
    – LarsTech
    Commented Apr 6, 2012 at 0:47
  • 1
    That's right! Or like Henry scoring with France against Ireland.
    – Advicer
    Commented Apr 6, 2012 at 10:21
  • 1
    It happens on occasion that a referee withdraws a card after the player supposedly being fouled reports that he tripped (or similar). But I think players more readily admit that sort of thing than having scored an invalid goal. Commented May 14, 2012 at 11:54
  • Also, there was a case in Uruguay-USSR game on WC-62 when Igor Netto convinced referee that there was no a goal Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 11:07

3 Answers 3


FIFA's Law 5 from the Laws of the Game 2011-12 notes:

Decisions of the referee

The decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play, including whether or not a goal is scored and the result of the match, are final. The referee may only change a decision on realising that it is incorrect or, at his discretion, on the advice of an assistant referee or the fourth official, provided that he has not restarted play or terminated the match.

If play has not restarted, the referee can change the ruling. However, if play has restarted, no change can be made.

EDIT: Changed answer to quote FIFA's Laws of the Game regarding referee decisions.

  • 2
    I know all these rules, I play football myself. What I was asking was that particular situation. In Henry's case the referee notices the foul. here's another case where Henry scored using the hand and the referee didn't see anything. What would have happened if Henry had admitted the foul after he scored?
    – Advicer
    Commented Apr 6, 2012 at 7:33
  • 1
    @ADvicer, I've added some additional info from the Laws of the Game. The rules (Law 5) indicate that the referee can change the decision only IF play has not restarted. Once play restarts, the goal will stand. Perhaps the title of the question should be changed to "Can a referee's decision be changed after the fact?"
    – JW8
    Commented Apr 6, 2012 at 16:48
  • 1
    I agree, the title definitely need to be changed.
    – o0'.
    Commented May 13, 2012 at 11:26

A good example would be the penalty case with Costin Lazar (FC Rapid Bucharest), if I remember right, in 2009. he went down, a penalty was given but Lazar told the referee it wasn't a foul. The ball was given to Otelul and the game resumed.

However, Robbie Fowler did the same thing in an Arsenal - Liverpool match but the referee wouldn't care.

Any decision can be reversed, in any conditions, if the game wasn't resumed.


I would point out that, according to a strict reading of the Laws of the Game, if none of the referees (including the fourth official) has seen the infringement, the referee should not decide based on a player’s statement. Note the referee cannot be sure the player is telling the truth (Hollywood-style plot: he might even be trying to set the referee up…), and if the referee did not see the infringement, he would not be able to decide on other aspects of the problem (e.g. whether he should caution the player, where should the free kick take place, etc.). Also note the quotation of Law 5 says “on realising that it is incorrect”, not “when a player says something”.

Imagine a slightly similar theoretical situation, where the referee would see an instant replay of the situation on a TV screen, and notice the infringement there. Should he act according to the replay, he would be in direct violation of the no-video-review policy of FIFA. Note that a similar situation (almost?) occurred in a recent match in the top Czech football competition (Czech-language news article, Google translation), and, quoting the chairwoman of the Refereeing committee of the Czech FA:

If the referees really decided on the basis of the video, I would not tolerate it.

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