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Apr 13, 2013

Hawk-Eye taking away the what-ifs

LONDON -- Rio Ferdinand, the veteran Manchester United defender, delivered this tweet after the Premier League announced Hawk-Eye would be used next season to show whether balls crossed the goal line.

"Goal line technology given green light, what will we do without all the media/pub/friends etc debates? will we miss it?"

Don't worry, Rio, with all the contentious penalty and offside decisions, questionable tackles -- and actual good football -- there will continue to be more than enough to talk about while sipping a few beers. Or, in your case, mineral water and Lucozade.

- England duo back goal-line technology

We might even discuss a player getting into a referee's face and sarcastically applauding after a game or someone who bypassed representing England because he didn’t want to mess up his fitness regime.

Who would do such a silly thing?

No, the Premier League's decision -- the world's most-watched soccer league will become the first in the soccer world to use goal-line technology -- was certainly the correct one. And it just had to be England, which has seen its fair share of goal-line controversies internationally: the 1966 World Cup final, 2010 World Cup and last year's Euros, to name a few.

That the Premier League chose British-based Hawk-Eye over GoalControl wasn't surprising, and it had nothing to do with GoalControl being a German firm. (In football, you see, Germany and England have long been rivals, although one team has been more dominant in their head-to-heads. You know which one.)

Despite GoalControl being picked by FIFA to be used at this summer's Confederations Cup and provisionally at next year's showpiece, the World Cup, both in Brazil, the Premier League had previously used Hawk-Eye in testing.

No system is 100 percent foolproof, but Hawk-Eye claims to be accurate to within a millimetre, which is much better than relying on a linesperson much farther away who, let's be honest, might be guessing half the time and might be swayed by the home fans.

In tennis, for instance, the introduction of Hawk-Eye on line calls has been mostly applauded by players -- although some still place more trust in a ball mark -- and the buildup to showing how far in or out the ball is on a big screen adds to the anticipation. Especially on close calls, the crowd habitually lets out a gasp when seeing the results.

It adds to the show.

Ferdinand makes it sound as if goal-line incidents happen every week, which, of course, isn't true. They're rare. Yet the consequences of making a wrong decision are high; therefore the decisions must be correct first and foremost.

Last week when Southampton visited struggling Reading, Hawk-Eye most certainly would have been called upon. With Southampton leading 2-0, Adam Le Fondre's close-range header was caught without much difficulty by Saints keeper Artur Boruc. Boruc, however, was off balance and moved backwards, behind the goal line. Reading furiously appealed, ultimately unsuccessfully, for a goal to be given. Television replays didn't show conclusively whether the entire ball had crossed the line.

But if it did? The deficit would have been halved, and with Southampton possessing a shaky defense and Reading not averse to comebacks, the Royals getting a leveler or even winning altogether wouldn’t have been overly surprising. Could Reading have then gone on a run and escaped the drop zone?

I'd go with Hawk-Eye rather than the linesperson, and so would Reading.

If Hawk-Eye had showed the ball didn't cross the line, the "what if" is taken out of the equation. Compared with tennis, stoppages will be far less frequent thanks to the dearth of debatable goal-line decisions. In the time a player gets off the ground after feigning injury, the Hawk-Eye ruling would be completed.

By getting such decisions correct, the watercooler chat wouldn't stop, either, Rio.

Let's go back to 2005 and Ferdinand's Old Trafford, when United hosted Tottenham. Somehow the lineperson missed Pedro Mendes' 50-yard effort for Tottenham crossing the line, even though it was over by about a yard.

Even when Hawk-Eye would have confirmed it was a goal, you don't think fans would have been muttering, "How did they miss that one?" The officials themselves back the use of technology to help in goal-line decisions because they know they can't get all the calls right.

It's just a shame technology won't be employed for those important offside judgments. They're more frequent.

It's also a shame that UEFA competitions won't be instituting goal-line technology anytime soon because UEFA boss Michel Platini isn't a fan. UEFA will continue to stick with its extra officials behind the goal, although they have proved to be completely unbeneficial.

Goal-line technology in the Premier League will prove to be beneficial, and even Ferdinand will be convinced, if he is not already.

I say "if he is not already" because, although it seems as if he's 50/50, he might think it's beneficial. I suppose we could also say "Goal-line technology in the Premier League will prove to be beneficial, and even Ferdinand will be entirely convinced."