New focus for the offense (and for the referees)

During many years, one of the more difficult and controversial aspects of the game has been the struggle between the pivot and the defender(s) on the 6-meter line.  The difficulties partly result from the fact that much of the struggle occurs long before the ball gets anywhere near the pivot. The pivot tries to get into a good position to receive a pass, or at least wants to disrupt the defense to make it easier for the teammates to shoot from the backcourt.  But the reliance on the this approach depends on the availability of a strong but agile pivot.

All of us can think of many such specialists over the years, but in this World Championship I was surprised to observe that very few teams really had a first-rate and effective pivot. Yes, Gille and Vori were as difficult as always to get a grip on, but Denmark, Sweden, Spain and Iceland all suffered a bit from not having outstanding pivots this time.  Among the other teams, Myrholt from Norway may have been one of the few to give his team an edge.  So this may explainwhy there were not so many scenes where the players were seen wrestling or falling to to the floor at the 6-meter line, without a clear indication of who really initiated the battle.  I am sure that the ones who were particularly greatful for this were the referees, who had been prepared to have to focus a lot on this situation.

By contrast, it seems that several teams had instead concentrated on developing a more effective attack from the wings.  I saw several absolutely superb players with very elegant and surprising moves.  Especially Denmark impressed, with at least two or three such specialists, even if none of them got on the All-Star team.  The attacks from the wing were typically facilitated by unsually fast ball movement, which caused the defense to have to move laterally and then often helped an attacker to get an amazing amount of space and a very good angle for a shot.  But many of the wing players were also real acrobats, who needed very little space to have room for a quick and surprising move from the corner.

It also seems that both the attackers and the defenders have become considerably more sophisticated in executing the wing play and the defense against it.  In the old days, the attacker wanted to get away from the defender, avoiding contact.  Now it is common that the attacker seeks a slight and quick body contact, just enough to gain some extra momentum for a spin move.  Similarly, the defenders are aware that taking a big step into the attacker, using legs or arms will always be too obvious, creating a risk for a 7-meter throw and/or a personal punishment.

But this means that the referees have a new area of difficulty.  If both players are moving towards each other for what could be seen as a ’50-50′ contact, there may be no reason for action.  But just how much body contact should the attacker be allowed to iniate without being seen as guilty of an offensive foul?  Surely it should not be allowed to make the defender lose his balance and prevent him from blocking the shot or to force him to step into the goal-area.  And the defender who now uses ‘small’ methods to have an impact on the shooter!?  A last-second minor hip movement/tackle, where arms and legs are kept demonstratively still, will have the necessary (illegal) effect, but it is awfully difficult to observe.  (Do you remember the situation where Dalibor Doder got injured against Spain.  There was no 7-meter or 2-minute suspension against , but in some strange kind of justice Doder incurred an injury…).