Penalty or Not: Nicola Rizzoli and Spain v. Netherlands

First of all, let me start off by saying I’m partial to this referee. And not just because he’s a hottie. I’ve watched him in Serie A and Europe for literally years, and I love his style.

So there’s that.

I also thought he pretty much kicked ass in this game; his demeanor, his utter lack of patience (he really doesn’t have much of that, on the best of days) and his assistants’ active involvement actually kept this match from descending into the violence we all remember from 2010.

And that penalty call was incredibly brave, considering what happened in the opener. The man truly has no fear.

But was he correct?

I believe he was (and most pundits agree with me), but considering my own bias, we’ll do Penalty or Not in a slightly different way, with the arguments for or against.

First of all, here is a view of the penalty on Spain’s Diego Costa from my new Twitter friend @unparteiisch:

View this post on Instagram

@PTABlog have a look! #wm2014 #wc2014

A post shared by Philipp Hormel (@unparteiisch) on

Here’s another look from Business Insider. (It should be noted that no referee – center or assistant – would have had this angle.)

diego penalty

In Favor: Stefan de Vrij slides in late and hooks his leg behind him, appearing to make contact with Costa. Even if Costa reaches out behind him with the leg, it’s not his responsibility to get out of the way. And the Law is pretty clear that a dramatic fall isn’t the same as simulation. De Vrij should not have gone to ground that way and he knew it. Penalty

Against: Diego Costa reached out behind him and if there was contact, he initiated it. He lifted his foot up and reached out for the Dutch player. If you look at the second gif, there may not have even been contact. Not a penalty

Update: This was such a great comment by Will (below) that I wanted to move it up so you got a chance to see it. This breaks down what happens in a call like this brilliantly:

“There’s no question in my mind that the referee was well positioned to see the incident , which he saw while running and decided instantly.

Speaking as a referee, and I am trying to give insight into the thought process without worrying about frame-by-frame factual analysis, here’s what I think influenced his decision: the defender shifted his left leg towards the attacker while the ball was not in playing distance. The whistle went to his mouth.

The left feet touched, and the attacker lost advantage. Whistle sounds. There’s only one restart. At that point it’s in the hands of the soccer gods.

De Vrij made a careless slide, and it got punished. Teams are already starting to clean up play in the Penalty Area, on corners and so on.”


What do you think? Penalty or not? Let us know below.


  • Penalty. Costa might have accepted contact, but de Vrij clearly started to “drag” Costa foot with him on the challenge, which led to the fall.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Not a penalty in my view. Diego Costa clearly tries to initiate the contact and fells.

    However i cannot blame Rizzoli since the whole incident is quite difficult to see.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Even if he tries to initiate contact, if de Vrij’s leg isn’t trailing he doesn’t succeed. Right?


      • And what should the defender do? Cut off his feet?


        • It’s the age old issue: He’s beaten, so his choice is to either go to ground and risk a pen or leave it up to his GK. Never a good choice.


          • Respectfully I disagree.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Not a penalty, yes de Vrij foot hit him, but that was because Costa put his foot on de Vrij’s leg. De Vrij made no attempt to hit Costa, so the whole “he is beaten and should leave it to the GK” argument clearly shows you mis the point of what happend. If de Vrij would really stretch his leg to try and clip him, then it would be a penalty but de Vrij just went straight and could not turn and it took a lot of effort from Costa to hit the sliding leg, he was on top of de Vrij and the only reason Costa fel was because the leg he was standing on was moving. Try standing on a running treathmill with one leg, you would fall also.

            That to me is a clear wrong penalty but i can understand it to be given cause for some stupid reason the fifa still wont allow a referee behind a camera with a rewind function to make the call. A ref has to make the call based on what he sees and even their the brain will play tricks on a referee.


  • Pingback: Thoughts on the Referees: Day Two | PLAY THE ADVANTAGE

  • This one was a very tricky call. I’m veering towards thinking that it was simply very clever ‘simulation’ by Costa. He does look to step on to the Dutch defenders ankle, making it seem like he had his legs taken from under him. However, that would have been nearly impossible to pick up live for Rizzoli and I had no doubt in my mind when I fist saw it.

    I don’t think that it will be labelled a ‘mistake’ by FIFA, and would be surprised if his appointments were affected by this incident.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That would indeed need to be very “clever.”

      For my part, I think Diego Costa is many things…and none of them are clever. 😉


      • He might not be clever but it is clearly visible that his leg is not hooked by de Vrij but it is actually on top of de Vrij’s leg. He planted his spikes on a players leg and because the leg was moving lost all support from it and fell.

        That the ref would not see it right is no shame 99 out of a 100 refs would probably get it wrong until they are allowed proper replays to make good calls. It would improve the game extremely.

        It is not common for something like this to happen and your brain plays trick on you, not just for the Ref but also the defender. He felt the contact and saw the player go down, based on his experience his body will tell his brains he hooked him with his leg, but that information is false


        • I won’t approve most of your responses because they’re not respectful. I really dislike men telling me I “just don’t understand the game”. Sorry, I actually really do.

          In this case, you clearly are not aware of the Law and are basing your comment on emotions. If de Vrij hadn’t mistimed his tackle in the box, Costa wouldn’t have been able to stomp on his foot. He did not have to have intent, it’s still a penalty, as most pundits agree, and the reason the Netherlands team themselves did not argue.

          Again, I’m happy to approve your posts as long as you’re respectful.


          • By the rules of the game Costa could also be send of with a red card for stepping on a players leg like that, rule 12 fouls and misconducts can clearly be used to send Costa off with a red card. he could have injured de Vrij with his panic action. It is all a matter of what you see. We need a camera so that the ref can give the correct judgement after a quick replay.

            The fact that the dutch did not heavily protested can not be held against them, it is not prove of guilt, it is called respecting the referee’s decision even if it is wrong since they will never change their decision anyway and all other teams should follow such examples.

            And while it is true that it does not matter if de Vrij had intent or not, it was NOT de Vrij who touched Costa but Costa who hit de Vrij when he did not need to, he lost the ball already so all he could do was look for a contact, I am sure he would have felt even if he missed de Vrij’s leg. Most people I hear about feel it was NOT a penalty and so most pundits disagree with you, not agree with you as you believe. If most pundits would feel it was a penalty it would not been a controversy, The dutch just saved the ref by instead of arguing put their energy in their play.


            • I’m sorry, but you’re reacting purely on emotion. Please watch the video above againCosta is controlling the ball and his body is always moving forward. To say that that was a red card by the Laws of the Game is pure emotion. It’s not real and isn’t really adding much to the conversation.


              • Please watch the video above and tell me, who is hitting who?

                I find it insulting to say that I am reacting on emotion when I take the time and effort to justify my case. I am using pure reason and watched the video maybe more intensively then you did, and read the rules. You want me to be respectful then please do not insult me by saying I react in emotion and would therefor not contribute to the conversation?

                Costa planted his foot on a player who is on the ground, by the rules that is a red card. That is not reacting by emotion but by the rules. Unlike what you say you are NOT allowed to step on a player who is on the ground, most referees will let it go by if it is clearly unintentionally and can not always be avoided, look at Costa’s leg and how much it is stretch he has before the contact, that is too much for a player wishing to turn. If he would have planted his leg on the ground it would have prevented him from using it to move forward making him too slow to reach the ball which was already out of his reach.

                If you would really read my responses you would know and understand I do not blame the referee for using the wrong rule here cause It was the most logical choice, and If I was the referee I would have made the same mistake, maybe I would not have given the penalty as Costa lost the ball already and was not robbed of a scoring change. I respect the referee to take this choice as right or wrong it influences the game big time.


  • Diego Costa is planting his foot to turn. As de Vrij is sliding past, he hooks his left leg out from under his body (an attempt to trip?), and their feet touch as Costa switches his momentum. It wouldn’t take much force to take away the attacker’s advantage; traction is lost as he is shifting direction at speed.

    The reason we are having this conversation is that the restart from the location of the foul is a penalty kick. Thirty-five yards out, on a counterattack, this foul is easy to call. Rizzoli had the courage to make the decision in spite of the pressure.

    Could it be that FIFA has directed referees to apply the Laws the same, with less weight to context? An alternative would be to permit trips and holds and pushes until a player goes down, whether advantage goes away or not. Am I being too philosophical?

    Jenna, I am enjoying your commentary.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is an excellent point.

      One thing we often forget in international appointments is the direction the referees received from the governing body. Often, a referee officiates differently than we’re used to, and it’s because of those very directives.

      We’re now hearing that FIFA warned players that tugging and shirt pulling would be harshly dealt with in the box…even sending referees to the team’s hotels before the game to explain it to them. Puts the Nishimura thing in a new light…

      And yes, Rizzoli was very brave.


  • No penalty. None, what so-ever. If you really think De Vrij’s leg is going the way it is, planned by the defender in an attempt to trip Costa; you’re not looking at it from a neutral stand. Nonetheless, difficult to see and a brave decision.


    • The defender’s intent has nothing to do with it. Referees don’t take intent into it (despite what you’re told by the announcers). Even if the defender didn’t “plan” to reach back and trip the player, he did. You will get get called for that. Every time, and De Vrij knew it. That’s the Law, not emotion.


  • First of all, I can’t believe that there is a website like this in existence. I was once told that refereeing is a small job done by a small man, and over the years while both playing and watching, I have found one to break the theory. Having said that, This is well done, so my hat’s off to you.

    Second of all, this “I’m partial to this referee” in reference to Rizzoli indicates to me that you must be partial to Milan. The man is notorious for his favoritism and has actually been banned from adjudicating Inter’s (Milan’s cross town rival) games because of his bias.

    Secondly, this is not a penalty. Sliding in the box is risky behavior, but it isn’t punishable by penalty alone. The only thing that makes this a penalty is that Rizzoli sees this completely wrong. Contact is initiated by the forward, by stepping on the defender’s foot. And that’s really the end of all the arguments, Sadly in some cases, being stepped on isn’t a foul at midfield, neither is missing a slide tackle. Rizzoli is fooled by the Spanish diver, and really it’s not the first time that’s happened to a ref, so shame on him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Actually, I just like the ref. 🙂 I have no horse in the Serie A race; I live in America, with family ties to Switzerland and support the Swiss national team and Tottenham Hotspur in the EPL (all biases about which I’ve been quite up front). I’m not sure I agree with you on Rizzoli’s supposed Milanese bias, but I’m neutral on the teams. (See what I did there? Switzerland…neutral…)

      I see your point on the penalty, but as you said, it’s risky behavior. A referee doesn’t have to give a penalty, of course, but trailing a leg does open you up to it.


  • Just a reminder to read the ground rules before posting your comments. Comments that contain insults towards me, personal attacks on the referees, or which refer to my gender, followed by “you don’t understand the game” will probably not be approved. Healthy debate is great, but let’s stay respectful.


    • Since this partly aimed at me, I do like to emphasize I do care about your gender when it comes understanding of the rules, I hope that you did not read any of that in my responses even though you quote a part which I said.


  • Thanks for sharing I love Spain I am a Spain fan

    Liked by 1 person

  • I can not believe some of you guys are actually supporting Rizzoli in granting this penalty. If u look at the replay, you can see De Vrij sliding past Costa. As costa’s foot is coming down, he places it on the sliding leg of De Vrij and trips. How in the world is this a foul by De Vrij? Only a Spaniard would call this a legit Penalty.


    • Not sure what you’re basing your decision on. Reread Law 12. A penalty can be given for “tripping or attempting to trip a player.” Opening up and hooking your leg behind you in the box while sliding passed a player who is controlling the ball opens you up for interpretation as “attempting to trip”.

      As for this bit about Costa lifting his leg and all that, I just don’t see it, and Im not “a Spaniard”, whatever the hell that means. Relook at the video. Costa is controlling the ball, he moves the ball forward, takes a step to follow it and steps on the player.You know guys, you’re kind of allowed to do that. If De Vrij hadn’t gone to ground WAY early while Costa was still controlling the ball, he wouldn’t have gotten stepped on. Thus the penalty.

      I’m going to call shenanigans here. Remember: Laws…not emotion…


      • Spaniard aka person from Spain… Thats not insulting last time I checked. On the other hand, it might be slightly insulting/embarassing after that 5 – 1 beating. As for law 12; De Vrij neither tripped nor attempted to trip Da Costa. Da Costa stepped on De Vrij’s leg and fell. Just look up the video on Youtube or whatever. Keep playing and pausing it and then you can clearly see De Vrij sliding past Da Costa, not even touching him. Then Da Costa places his foot on the sliding ankle of De Vrij and trips. Definately not a legit penalty.


        • 1.) I’m pretty clear through my posts that I live in America and support Switzerland, so it’s kind of silly to suggest I’m Spanish.

          2.) If you have to, and I quote, “keep playing and pausing” something 100 times that the referee can only see once, I don’t put much stock in that.

          I’m not going to continue to argue with you about this, because you’re clearly emotional about it. I’d ask you to read my ground rules. Please be respectful, and I reserve the right not to continue to publish your comments.


          • I think we got off on the wrong foot here. Im not suggesting you’re Spanish and I’m not trying to insult anyone. I’m just flabbergasted that anyone other than Spanish people would call this penalty legit after seeing the footage. But other than that…I don’t understand anyone else is backing his decision because in my opinion it’s pretty clear that it’s not a foul. Let’s just agree to disagree..

            Penalty for Germany now, time for you to write another article 😉

            Liked by 1 person

            • I think the penalty call was fine, but sure looked like denial of a goal scoring opportunity to me. I’ll have to look at it closer (which, of course, the referee can’t do!).


              • Ps can you explain to me how Costa lost a scoring chance when he lost the ball already before he planted his foot on de Vrij? The ball was at least 3 meters away already, considering that Costa’s legs are not so long and in the wrong direction, he could not have reached the ball before the other defender.


        • There’s no question in my mind that the referee was well positioned to see the incident , which he saw while running and decided instantly.
          Speaking as a referee, and I am trying to give insight into the thought process without worrying about frame-by-frame factual analysis, here’s what I think influenced his decision: the defender shifted his left leg towards the attacker while the ball was not in playing distance. The whistle went to his mouth.
          The left feet touched, and the attacker lost advantage. Whistle sounds. There’s only one restart. At that point it’s in the hands of the soccer gods.
          De Vrij made a careless slide, and it got punished. Teams are already starting to clean up play in the Penalty Area, on corners and so on.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I agree that the ref’s position would not matter, it happens fast and a decision needs to be based on information the ref sees at that moment. Any referee would most likely miss the real foul and instead of sending Costa of or at least giving him a yellow card, they would award the penalty. So I don’t blame the referee, I blame Blatter for not allowing a simple referee behind the camera who can watch instant replays and help make the correct call. We can get a good replay on TV in just a few seconds, we could even remove the line refs, cause with camera’s and computers we can see it much better.

            If we could have a game with close to 100% good referee calls and where we could easily see when a player is faking to be taken down the sport would grow even more, cause a lot of people I know hate that part of the sport and refuse to watch it because of that.


            • Dude, we’ve seen this replay a thousand times and all of us disagree. Vehemently.

              The majority of pundits disagree with you, but you are seeing what you want to in the video because you are basing it on emotion and want your player to be right (understandable, but still).

              Video replay is a fairy tale. The referees still have to use their judgment. This one did, and he disagrees with you. No amount of replay is going to convince you he’s smarter than you. That’s the game. 🙂


  • Footballisaoverratedgame

    this penalty was again a complete fail from the referee. Like Brasil’s penalty, this was not a penalty at all and the attacker should have been given the yellow card for a fake dive.


  • Pingback: Penalty or Not: Proenca and Netherlands v. Mexico | PLAY THE ADVANTAGE

  • Pingback: Referee for 2014 World Cup Final: Nicola Rizzoli | PLAY THE ADVANTAGE

  • Oh my God, were there still people thinking it was a penalty after the replays and all……. That’s pretty sad.


Tell us what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s