Obstruction, handball and indirect free kicks in FIFA 13

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.

Yes, this is probably a foul, not obstruction... it was really hard to find a good photo of obstruction.

Yes, this is probably a foul, not obstruction… it was really hard to find a good photo of obstruction.

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.

Come on ref! Handballs are hard enough to call in real life...

Come on ref! Handballs are hard enough to call in real life…

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…

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10 thoughts on “Obstruction, handball and indirect free kicks in FIFA 13

    • Thanks for the compliment SudoOne. You’re right that the term “Obstruction” no longer exists in official FIFA use, however, the spirit of the rule is still the same: obstructing/impeding the progress of an opponent results in an indirect free kick.
      I still prefer to use “Obstruction” because it’s the term I grew up using 🙂

  1. I’ve got to completely agree with you.. There have been countless times where me a defender are going after a 50/50 ball and out of nowhere the defender will shove me completely out of my path when the ball is 10 yards away.. he is nowhere near his running lane and makes no attempt to play the ball. I’m a referee and this is usually called at least 4/5 times, but never called in FIFA 13.. The handballs are also another huge problem I have with the game. I actually prefer FIFA 11’s handball management.. At least it was consistent.. Now it is sooooo inconsistent like for example: I played an airball behind the defense for my forward to get it and he chests the ball and as it’s falling down, his running motion causes his hand to hit the ball straight into the air killing the play altogether… Yet EA’s president/CEO calls this game a stunning achievement… What achievement? They still can’t fix an issue that is 2 years old..

    • I also prefer FIFA11’s handball management. Being called for a handball against is always irritating, but when the other team blocks a chance with a hand and it’s not called, it’s even more infuriating.

  2. Good points. On more than one occasion i’ve more or less given up on fifa due to the officiating which often ruins the game for me. I’ll regularly go 3-4 games in a row without earning a single foul call, despite the CPU’s constant shirt pulls, off the ball blocks, and body checks.. Regarding handballs though…. I’ve observed a number of occasions where the CPU appears to intentionally handle but it will go uncalled. For example, i’ll attempt a cross and the CPU defender will stick out his arm to block it… I’m talking full arm extension. On replay it will look like completely intentional. Then there are the times when a sliding defender blocks my shot, generally in the box, with both arms out, making himself big much like a keeper would. Generally the shot will be blocked and not hit hit the defender’s outstretched arms, but even when it does it is not called a handball.

    • Great points. I agree there are too many blocked shots (from close to the shooter). This doesn’t happen in real football. If you throw your body at the shooter or in front of the ball, it’ll hit your hands/arms sometimes and that’s always a handball. Usually when players try to block a shot they’re a little further away from the ball so that they can get their body position set (and avoid it hitting a hand or arm).

  3. Obstruction affects my game very often. One problem which comes up alot is that when I’m playing someone online some people make thier off the ball players run straight into my off the ball player making a run thus preventing them making a run to collect a through ball , it’s a good tactic which I use but often looks ridiculous because it looks like a rugby tackle totaly taking you out and you would definetly get a red card for this in a real game this needs fixing on 14 because it looks very silly

    • I hope they’re working on this for FIFA14, although I haven’t heard anything officially. Thanks for the comment, Kyle.

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