Obstruction is an issue that has come up for me from time to time in the FIFA series. I know it’s something that can be improved as I’ve had issues with it in gameplay. I’ve been frustrated when on a through ball, my speedy attacker sticks to a bigger, stronger defender’s back like glue, unable to break away and get to the ball first, even though my attacker is much faster and more agile and has enough time and space to beat the defender. It’s especially frustrating when both players are far from the ball, or when it seems like the defender is slowing down to impede my forward.
After reflecting on the issue of obstruction a little further, I decided I don’t think I’ve ever seen (or heard of) this call being made in FIFA 13. I’ve seen a foul called when a player blocked or bumped another, but I don’t think I’ve seen a ref with his arm up (signalling “indirect”) and I have seen obstruction go uncalled way too many times. I often wondered why my attacker would seem to be attracted to the defenders’ rear end like a magnet, unable to curve his run a little and get around him. I chalked it up to my own lack of skill… then this happened to me (pardon the poor video quality):
Last night, in a seasons match (that’s Aston Villa and Olympiakos if you’re wondering), a blatant example of obstruction went uncalled and I had a realization which has turned into this post. In the video you’ll notice that after I pressed left on the right stick, the Olympiakos defender clearly jumps in front of my Villa attacker and obstructs him from chasing the ball. Clear obstruction. It should also be noted that the referee in this match was particularly (card) strict (already gave out a straight red card for a tackle–not last man, and a yellow for encroachment of a wall–no previous warning) so I knew this really should have been called, 100%. After some quick research I’ve realized I’m not the first one to notice this issue with the game, as there have been a few rumblings on the EA Forums and on YouTube. Here are a few more examples:
Granted obstruction is not something that is called frequently at the professional soccer level, however, in my experience it happens a little more often in youth and recreational levels. The following is taken from the official FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association, not the EA Sports game!) rules, Law 12 – 29:
Impeding the progress of an opponent means moving into the path of the opponent to obstruct, block, slow down or force a change of direction by an opponent when the ball is not within playing distance of either player.
All players have a right to their position on the field play, being in the way of an opponent is not the same as moving into the way of an opponent.
This kind of violation results in an indirect free kick… but why aren’t indirect free kicks ever given in FIFA 13? I reckon it’s because they’re difficult to identify and call, and program into the game. Indirect free kicks are not awarded when a goalkeeper handles (picks up or touches) the ball with his hand(s) after he has already held it and released it from his possession; received it from a throw in from a teammate; or after it has been deliberately kicked to him by a teammate. Now this happens very infrequently in real matches, but it does happen (usually when a player has a mental lapse). Why isn’t this real drama reflected in the game?
What about dangerous play? High boots, reckless studs up challenges (that miss) or dangerous kicks near an opponents face are whistled and play is restarted with–you guessed it–an indirect free kick.
Moreover, indirect free kicks provide a little extra variety to the game. It’s rare to get an indirect free kick, especially in a dangerous area of the pitch (in goal-scoring range), and the sight of three or four players gathered around the ball, chatting, whispering, deciding on how exactly to execute the dead-ball, or which set-play to use, is very dramatic.
I expect that the physics-engine would be very challenging to program for breaking down and determining fouls vs. obstruction and incidental (unintentional) contact vs. “moving into the way of an opponent”. It would be very tricky to determine whether there’s a foul when two opponents are challenging for a high 50/50 ball: one with his head, the other with his foot. Furthermore, the same reasoning for omitting handballs from the game (hand balls are OFF by default in FIFA 13) are probably taken into account. Although handball is a very real part of football–it happens at least once in almost every game, it can be extremely frustrating both in real life and (more so) in a video game.
In earlier editions (FIFA 11 comes to mind), it was possible to often create a handball infraction on purpose, usually by running down the wing and crossing/shooting the ball into a defenders hand from close range. The biggest problem with handball is that it’s extremely difficult (can I say impossible?) to program common-sense into a computer-referee. How can anyone make a computer-referee judge whether a computer-player “intentionally” played the ball with his hand? It’s hard enough to make the call in real life! From an AI (Artificial Intelligence) point of view, how difficult must it be to make the computer-players understand the handball rule and behave accordingly to react and pull their hands/arms away from the approaching ball when need be.
Looks like there’s room for improvement here as EA continues to fine-tune its game and include the intricacies and uncommon situations. At least they’ve got the fouls and direct free kicks right…