The “Last 30 Seconds” Rule Violation that Ended Spain’s Chances

This grainy screen capture shows the moment the ball contacted Spain’s Ainhoa Hernandez on the goalkeepers throw with 7 seconds left. (Source: Uniformed Handball Hour Tweet: Link)

The Netherlands beat Spain yesterday 30-29 in a compelling match that saw Spain fight it’s way back into the contest in the closing minutes. With 10 seconds left a shot is taken by Alexandrina Cabral and blocked by Dutch keeper Tess Wester. Dutch players streak down to the other end of the court and it appears that a well executed throw from Wester would result in a fast break scoring opportunity. But, Wester’s throw is blocked by Spain’s, Ainhoa Hernandez, and for a moment it appears the game is headed to extra time.

But, only for a moment as Hernandez is shown a red card and a penalty shot is awarded. Lois Abbingh steps up to the 7 m line and calmly scores the game winner as the clock expires.

Video of the final seconds of the match: Link

What exactly was the foul that resulted in the penalty throw? Was it the correct call? And, are the so called “Last 30 Seconds” rules right for the game?

What exactly was the foul that resulted in the penalty throw?

The referee ruled that Hernandez improperly interfered with the goalkeeper’s throw. She did this by touching the ball prior to the ball having left the goalkeeper’s area. Normally, this would be awarded with a 2 minute penalty, but because the infraction occurred in the last 30 seconds of a game a red card and a penalty shot was awarded.

Key passages from the IHF Rules of the Game

Rule 12:2 The goalkeeper throw is considered to have been taken, when the ball thrown by the goalkeeper has completely crossed the goal-area line.
The players of the other team are allowed to be immediately outside the goal-area line, but they are not allowed to touch the ball until it has completely crossed the line (15:4, 15:9, 8:7c).

Rule 6:4 The ball is considered to be ‘out of play’ when the goalkeeper controls the ball in the goal area (12:1). The ball must be put back into play through a goalkeeper throw (12:2).

Rule 8:10 C) if during the last 30 seconds of a game the ball is out of play, and a player or team official prevents or delays the execution of a throw for the opponents, in order to prevent them from being able to take a shot on goal or to obtain a clear scoring chance, the guilty player / official is to be disqualified and a 7m throw is to be granted to the opponents. It applies to any type of interference (e.g., with only limited physical action, interfering with the execution of a throw such as intercepting a pass, interference with the reception of the ball, not releasing the ball).

Was it the correct call?

So, the rules are actually pretty clear. If a player interferes improperly with a goalkeeper’s throw in the last 30 seconds of a match than it’s a red card and a penalty shot.

What’s less clear, though, is whether this is actually what happened. I’ve reviewed this play multiple times and I can’t really tell whether or not the ball was touched by Hernandez inside the 6 meter line or outside the 6 meter line. And, what we are really talking about here is an imaginary plane at the 6 meter line that extends from the floor to the ceiling. Further the ball has to be 100% on the other side of this imaginary plane in order for the ball to be legally touched by a court defender.

Hernandez is fairly close to the line, but she also jumps straight up. It’s only her arms that are swinging forward as they go to block the throw. Are her arms forward enough at the point of impact for it to be a foul? Maybe… Probably? The video’s point of view is center court and it’s really hard to tell from that angle. Whereas the referee (one of the Bonaventura twins) that made the call was actually in a pretty good position to make that call, almost right on the 6 meter line with a perpendicular view.

Based on these circumstances I would go with her call rather than our crappy angle view of a fuzzy video replay. And, if VAR had been available to review this call I can’t imagine a replay official confidently overturning it.

So, the answer is: Yes, it probably was the right call. And, we don’t have sufficient evidence to suggest otherwise.

Are the so called, “Last 30 Seconds” rules right for the game?

This last question is simply opinion, and I’ll make both cases, though I’m really biased in terms of my own view.

Not right for the game: It’s pretty obvious that Fernandez didn’t intentionally interfere with the goalkeeper’s throw. And, this innocent foul resulted in a penalty shot to win the game. Handball is handball and we shouldn’t have different rules at the end of a match. What a horrible way to decide such a tight contest!

Right for the game: Hmm. Looks to me like this foul prevented what would likely have been a fast break goal to win the match. Good thing those last 30 seconds rules are in place. Heck, under those old rules Fernandez could have even entered the goalkeeper’s area and grabbed Wester’s arm to prevent the throw. And, all that would have happened is a red card. Why, some folks would have criticized her for not having done so to ensure the match was won.

As you might guess from my framing of the answers I’m a big proponent of the last 30 seconds rules. And, this advocacy goes back a long ways. At least 10 years. For the whole sordid history check out this podcast on the introduction of the last 30 seconds rules in 2016 with links to earlier articles on the subject.
Podcast: Handball’s New Rules (Part 2): Link

The cliff notes version: 2 minute penalties are just simply an inadequate form of punishment at the end of a match. This is because the benefits of disrupting play and preventing the other team from scoring far outweigh the impact of losing one player for a few seconds. With increasing frequency players were taking advantage of this situation with deliberate fouls at the end of the match. Two minutes, red card, suspension in the next match… whatever dude… we still won the match.

The new last 30 seconds rules have put an end to this mockery of the game. For fans of Spain yesterday, those new rules might seem pretty harsh, but the players and coaches know those rules. There were no complaints at the press conference.

Maybe, one could argue that referees should be given the power to weigh player intent. To assess whether the intent was to illegally disrupt play or just to simply play defense. While Fernandez’s block may be an example of intent simply to play it doesn’t take much imagination to think of other examples where actual intent would be much harder to discern. Hence, I would think long and hard about granting referees such mind reading powers to decide match outcomes.

We’ll see what happens, though. Sometimes consequential calls in big matches like this have a way of changing the rules. But, if I had to bet, I’m thinking the more likely outcome will be this match serving as a lesson and reminder of what not to do in the last 30 seconds of a match.