World Cup 2022: Why Japan’s controversial goal vs. Spain stood despite appearing to go out of play

Japan's forward #09 Kaoru Mitoma (L) crosses the ball for his team's second goal during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group E football match between Japan and Spain at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on December 1, 2022. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP) (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images)
Japan's Kaoru Mitoma crosses the ball for his team's second goal against Spain at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on Dec. 1, 2022. (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images)

DOHA, Qatar — The goal that dumped Germany out of the 2022 World Cup initially didn’t count. Japan scored it to take the lead during its 2-1 win over Spain on Thursday, but referees initially disallowed it because the ball, a second before the goal, seemed to have crossed the end line.

But the video assistant referee (VAR), after reviewing the play, overturned the call on the field because, although replays and still photos both appeared to show the ball crossing the line, it didn’t — at least not fully, apparently.

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There was, from some camera angles, green grass between the ball and the white end line. That bit of green led millions of fans, and even refereeing experts, to assume the goal wouldn’t count. “As we see on this replay, yes it is, it’s out of play,” former English Premier League ref Mark Clattenbirg said on Fox’s broadcast. “And therefore it will be disallowed. … This will get chalked off.”

But Clattenburg was wrong. That bit of green between ball and line does not matter. By rule, the ball is only out of play when the entirety of it has fully cleared the plane of the boundary.

In other words, if you were to draw a line perpendicular to the ground — straight up from the end line toward the sky — and that vertical line intersects with any part of the ball, the ball is still in play.

Camera angles that offered a bird’s eye view seemed to show that the ball hadn’t done this; that a sliver of it still hovered above a sliver of the line.

Japan's Kaoru Mitoma appears to have the ball over the line before crossing it for a goal during the World Cup group E soccer match between Japan and Spain, at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
Japan's Kaoru Mitoma appears to have the ball over the line before crossing it for a goal. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

The VAR, though, had access to multiple angles from cameras perched in line with the end line, and the video assistants concluded that those angles, which FIFA finally revealed Friday morning in a tweet, were definitive.

And thus, after video review, the goal was given.