Vienna:Ruud van Nistelrooy's opening goal in the Netherlands' 3-0 win over Italy at the European Championship was correctly awarded by the referee, UEFA said on Tuesday.
Van Nistelrooy was at least a meter (yard) closer to goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon than any Italy defender on the field when he deflected teammate Giovanni van Bronckhorst's shot into the net in the 26th minute of Monday's Group C match in Bern, Switzerland.
However, Italy defender Christian Panucci had earlier collided with Buffon and lay outside the field next to the goal when Van Nistelrooy scored.
"The goal was not offside because in addition to the Italian goalkeeper, there was another Italian player in front of the goal scorer. And even though that player at the time had actually fallen off the pitch, his position was still relevant for the purposes of the offside law," said UEFA general secretary David Taylor, quoting Law 11 in football's rule book to justify referee Peter Frojdfeldt's decision to award the goal.
"This is a widely known interpretation of the offside law among referees, but it's not generally known among the wider football public."
Taylor said the law has to be applied this way otherwise teams could intentionally leave the field to catch opposing attackers offside.
"If you didn't have this interpretation then what could happen is the defending team could use the tactic of stepping off the pitch deliberately to play players offside, and that clearly is unacceptable," he said.
Taylor said a similar incident occurred in a Swiss league match between Sion and FC Basel last season, causing the Swiss media to quickly realise that Monday's incident was a valid goal.
"They understood the situation entirely clearly because they had this discussion about a month or two ago," Taylor said. "So, the Swiss media was very quickly onto this and said, 'No, no, this goal was entirely, correctly, and validly awarded."'
Italy striker Luca Toni received a yellow card from Frojdfeldt for complaining about the goal. Taylor said the player's caution would not be rescinded, and that high-profile examples of the offside law like this will serve to educate the ignorant.
"This goal was controversial because most people are not aware of the law and I would extend that to many people in the football world, including players but there is no real debate here," Taylor said. "The goal was valid, the dissent was not."
Wesley Sneijder and Van Bronckhort added other goals on Monday at Stade de Suisse, also known as the Wankdorf, to inflict the World Cup champions' worst defeat in a quarter century.
It was Italy's biggest loss since October 15, 1983, when the team was beaten 3-0 by Sweden in Naples in a European Championship qualifier. Italy's biggest loss at the final tournament came in the 1988 semi-finals when the Soviet Union won 2-0.