Technology is put on the line for first time

Systems compete at Club World Cup. All they need now is a disputed goal

Click to follow
The Independent Football

The head of the company behind Hawk-Eye – one of two goal-line technology systems being used at the Club World Cup in Japan – was eagerly anticipating it being put to its long-awaited first football test this morning. But, he added, if not, "it would be nice to have a phantom goal at some point in the tournament so we can prove how well our product works".

Hawk-Eye's managing director, Stephen Carter, was fielding questions ahead of the tournament's second match, between Monterrey of Mexico and the South Korean champions Ulsan Hyundai, when his system will make its tournament debut. He may not have been aware that 6,000 miles away the player whose misfortune cost England so dearly in Bloemfontein two-and-a-half years ago and triggered the belated introduction of the technology had just been declared fit to play in Japan.

And what symmetry it would be should Chelsea's Frank Lampard, arguably the game's highest-profile casualty of an official's blind spot about whether a ball crossed the line, become the first player to benefit from equipment designed to eradicate such expensive errors.

Fifa decided to introduce both Hawk-Eye and GoalRef after they won "unanimous" support from the International Football Association Board panel. The Fifa president and long-time sceptic, Sepp Blatter, had changed his stance when he saw England denied Lampard's clear goal at the 2010 World Cup.

Two days after Fabio Capello's side headed for home, Blatter said Fifa must reopen the debate, though insisted it must involve only goal-line decisions. Video replay remains off-limits for judgement calls, such as penalties or offside.

The first game of the ninth instalment of the Club World Cup passed off without the need for the referral system – GoalRef was deployed at Yokohama as the J-League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima saw off Auckland City 1-0 on Thursday.

The data from Japan – such as it might be – will be used to help Fifa decide by the end of March which system they will employ for the six venues at the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil. Not that technology is what floats the boats of Japanese football fans. Ten years after co-hosting the World Cup, and staging this annual event for the sixth time, football is beginning to take root in a country where baseball used to be the leading sport. Football now has top spot in terms of participation among youngsters and the J-League, who finished their 20th season last weekend, can boast the sixth-best club attendance figures in the world.

Following today's quarter-finals in Nagoya – Hiroshima face Egyptians Al Ahly in the later game – all eyes will be on the Manchester derby, in which, this nation hopes and prays, Shinji Kagawa will make his return from injury for United.

Kagawa's success, and that of a crop of other Japanese players – most of the national team now play in Europe, most notably Yuto Nagatomo at Inter Milan – has moved many observers to predict an era of unprecedented success in this part of the world.

Tom Byer has played an unlikely role in the revolution. A native New Yorker, he picked out a 10-year-old Kagawa at one of his soccer schools after finishing his own playing career in Japan.

"He was one of hundreds of kids but he was the one I selected," said Byer, before adding that it was Kagawa, not himself, who had recalled the experience.

At a tournament last month to decide the best under-12 team in the Kansai region – won by Kagawa's old club, Cerezo Osaka – Byer, who was recently appointed the head technical advisor for the Chinese School Football Programme, was looking for the next generation of stars as he gave a coaching session to a group whose touch and awareness were striking.

"So much has happened in Japan in the last 25 years," he said afterwards. "There could be another Kagawa in that session today, but there are kids half the age of this group who are learning skills and technique that will stand Japan in great stead. Kids have been empowered to practise on their own now, and doing tricks and skills with the ball is seen as cool."

Kagawa won't be here this year but the arrival of the tournament's heavyweights – Chelsea and the Brazilian side Corinthians – this week should be enough to satisfy the demanding Japanese public.

Six of the world's best in Japan opponents

Chelsea, England Uefa Champions' League winners.

Corinthians, Brazil Five-time Brazilian title winners.

CF Monterrey, Mexico Last year, lost on penalties in first game.

Al Ahly, Egypt Their fourth CWC but progress hampered by cancellation of Egyptian season after Port Said Stadium disaster, when 72 fans died.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Japan Won first J-League title two weeks ago.

Ulsan Hyundai, South Korea Won maiden Asian Champions League title this season.

Jim Foulerton