The system works
Last week, ahead of the start of the World Cup, officials from Goal Control, the company that supplies goal-line technology, and Johannes Holzmuller, head of FIFA's Quality Control programme, expressed their complete faith that the system would work.
"Yes, we can trust the system," Holzmuller said. "We can be 100 percent sure it works."
One hundred percent? Really?
Then again, to paraphrase Kid Rock: "It ain't bragging if you say it, then you back it up."
And on Sunday in Porto Alegre, when a shot by France's Karim Benzema caromed off the far post, back toward Noel Valladares and then off the Honduras goalkeeper's hand, well, Holzmuller's words were backed up.
Initial TV replays suggested the ball did not cross the line before Valladares' chucked it back out. Only referee Sandro Ricci knows whether he would have given the goal, but thanks to Goal Control, he didn't need to make that decision. The technology flashed "goal."
TV viewers were less than convinced, but then pictures started appearing on social media -- still photos from better angles. And they left no doubt: the ball was across the line. The TV replays came from an angle that skewed the perspective.
Any way you slice it, the incident was a win for proponents of goal-line technology. Until now, it felt as if FIFA was shoving it down our throats, flashing Goal Control's verdicts even after shots that bulged the back of the net. But this was the perfect example. It was contentious, it was hard to call with the naked eye, and if anything, replay showed the opposite of what actually happened.
Goal Control works, thanks to the seven high-speed cameras arrayed around each goal that take no fewer than 500 pictures per second. According to Holzmuller, they cover the goalmouth entirely and can even take into account things such as the ball's spherical shape being deformed by a hard shot or clearance.
Is the system quite as foolproof as he suggests?
Probably not. You can imagine some kind of goalmouth scramble in which there are enough bodies in the way of the ball that cameras are obstructed and the photos don't show the ball, but rather players' body parts. However, Holzmuller insists that in their testing, even with three of the seven cameras obstructed, they still got reliable results.
Opponents of goal-line technology use the "slippery slope" argument. They say it paves the way for instant replay, which they abhor, and cite slowed games and diminished referee authority. Well, that horse has now bolted.
Goal-line technology is here, and it has proven its worth. It doesn't mean instant replay necessarily has to follow. But it does show how, in certain circumstances, certain technologies -- when used the right way -- can make an important contribution. And that's already a blow to the luddites.
Sepp Blatter's passing reference to replays and challenges at the FIFA congress might have been nothing more than pandering or testing the waters. He knows full well that at the pace FIFA works, they need to first put it on the agenda, then convene a study group, then get it past the International Football Association Board, then test it, then have another study, then kick it back to IFAB. We'll be well into the next decade before anything happens, if it happens at all.
But the debate is open. And it won't go away.
Gabriele Marcotti is a Senior Writer for ESPN FC, The Times and Corriere dello Sport. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.