Explained: How Sunil Chhetri’s quick free-kick goal against Kerala Blasters was within the rules

Sunil Chhetri’s quick free-kick goal did not go down well with Kerala Blasters. Image: Twitter/@bengalurufc

Bengaluru FC made it to the semi-finals of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 season on Friday as Kerala Blasters FC forfeited the playoff game at the Sri Kanteerava Stadium in protest of a Sunil Chhetri goal.

Kerala Blasters wanted referee Crystal John to cancel the free-kick goal that put Bengaluru ahead, but after a massive argument and failing to make the referee agree with their demand, the Kerala side walked off the pitch and forfeited the match.

We take a detailed look at the whole incident and explain the reason why the Chhetri goal was legitimate.

What resulted in Blasters’ walk off?

In the playoff game between Bengaluru FC and Kerala Blasters, The Blues took the lead through a Chhetri free-kick in the seventh minute of extra-time after the game had remained goalless after 90 minutes.

In the sixth minute of extra-time, a foul on Chhetri by Vibin Mohanan earned Bengaluru a free-kick just outside the penalty area. The referee sprayed the spot for free-kick but did not spray the line marking the 10 yards distance for the ball.

Meanwhile, Chhetri stepped up and took a quick free-kick, having informed the referee about his decision. The little chip found the back of the net with the ball flying over goalkeeper Prabhsukhan Gill despite Adrian Luna trying to block his attempt from close as Blasters were organising their defensive wall.

Blasters felt the goal should not have stood as it was illegal, but as Bengaluru celebrated, a furious Ivan Vukomanovic, Kerala Blasters manager, ordered his side to leave the field in protest.

What does the law say?

Law 13.3 of the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the body that determines the laws of the game, on the aspect of quick free-kicks says: “If, when a free kick is taken, an opponent is closer to the ball than the required distance, the kick is retaken unless the advantage can be applied; but if a player takes a free kick quickly and an opponent who is less than 9.15 m (10 yds) from the ball intercepts it, the referee allows play to continue. However, an opponent who deliberately prevents a free kick being taken quickly must be cautioned for delaying the restart of play.”

How Chhetri reacted to Blasters’ walk off?

India captain Sunil Chhetri was surprised by Blasters’ reaction to his goal and said that the opponent team should not have walked off.

“I’ve never seen this in my 22-year career. This is not the right way to do it,” Chhetri told Star Sports. “I always ask the referee (if I can take a free-kick) because if he does not allow, it wouldn’t happen. It was a bittersweet moment. First, we thought if the match would happen or not. But I’m happy that we are through to the semi-finals. Can’t wait to take on Mumbai.”

“The referee asked me if I wanted the wall or the whistle. They always do it. I said that I don’t want the whistle as well as the wall.”

Has this happened before?

In 2004, Arsenal striker Thierry Henry scored a quick free-kick against Chelsea in a Premier League match. The goal was given and later the referee Graham Poll gave a justification for doing so.

“First you have to deal with the principle of a free-kick. If the attacking team are fouled then it is they who hold the advantage. With a free-kick around the penalty area, we always ask the players whether they want it quick or slow,” he told BBC.

“This is their window of opportunity to surprise the defence. If they want it quick, then they have given up the right to re-take it, no matter if it hits a defender who’s three yards away.

“The same goes if they kick it over the bar. They only get one chance. The flip side is if they want it slow, they can’t then take it while I count out the ten yards for the wall.

“They must wait for my whistle. There is nothing in the laws of the game that say we have to indicate for the free-kick to be taken. It’s just like when someone wants to take a free-kick anywhere else on the field. As long as the ball is stationary and in the right place then the attacking team can take it as quickly as they like.”

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