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By ESPN Staff

Refs' brains can't deal with offside - Doc

LONDON, Dec 17 (Reuters) - A Spanish doctor believes he has discovered why offside decisions in football matches are often so controversial.

Francisco Belda Maruenda, a family doctor in Murcia, said in order for the offside rule to be applied correctly referees and linesmen must keep at least five moving objects in their visual fields at the same time - two attacking players, two defenders and the ball.

But the human eye and brain cannot process all the necessary information to do it, and then make an instant, correct decision.

'This is beyond the capacity of the human eye, which may explain why so many offside decisions are controversial,' Maruenda said in a report in the British Medical Journal.

The offside rule, part of the laws since 1866 three years after the sport was first codified in 1863, underwent its last significant change in 1925 and is the most complicated of the 17 statutes that govern the game.

In essence though, it states that an attacking active player is offside 'if he is nearer to his opponents' goalline than the second-last opponent' when the ball is passed to him by a team mate. The last opponent is considered to be the opposing goalkeeper.

In other words, there has to be at least one defender, as well as the goalkeeper, in front of the attacker at the moment that the ball is played forwards to him.

It was introduced to stop teams leaving an attacker standing next to the goalkeeper, waiting for a pass, while the other 20 players were all up at the other end of the pitch.

Maruenda analysed the eye to assess its capability in judging an offside position. To do it the eye must detect the five objects, four players and a ball, and determine their position relative to each other.

'By reviewing the physiology of the eye movements likely to be involved in assessing an offside position, I have shown that the relative position of the four players and the ball cannot be assessed simultaneously by a referee, and unavoidable errors will be made in the attempt,' Maruenda explained, adding that freeze-frame television could limit the amount of errors.

Coincidentally on Thursday, UEFA, European soccer's governing body said it intended to start investigations to see whether new technology might help referees to make some decisions in the game.

However UEFA's chief executive Lars-Christer Olsson added: 'It could be to see whether a ball has crossed the goalline or not, but I have difficulties seeing the use of new technology in offside.'