In last night’s Old Firm match, Celtic were denied a clear goal when Carlos Cuellar blocked a Shunsuke Nakamura shot with his hand right on the goal-line.  There was no way the shot was going to miss without his intervention and he was rightly redcarded and his team were reduced to ten men.

Celtic were then awarded a penalty, which they contrived to miss.

Is the sending off of one player and the award of a penalty punishment enough to a team in Rangers position?

I’m not a fan of either Rangers or Celtic so I’m not trying to argue the case either way simply because I support one team or the other, in fact it could have been any two teams playing, it’s just that this thought occcured to me after seeing the highlights of this particular match.

In this instance, Celtic had broken up the park and Nakamura managed to rifle in a shot which had beaten the keeper, but Cuellar was on the line and looked like he could block it.  However, the shot was heading past him and into the top corner so the Rangers defender was left with a choice, he could either let it go and ensure his team retained all eleven men on the pitch but go a goal down, or he could stop it going in with his hand which would result in him being sent off and Celtic being awarded a penalty kick - which there’s a chance they will miss.

At times like these, especially when you know your goalkeeper is on top form, we see defenders going for the handball option.  They are assured of being sent off, but ultimately there’s still a chance that the opposition won’t score the penalty - if they leave the ball alone then their opponents will definitely be taking the lead.  The game all boils down to scoring goals so any course of action that stops your opponent from doing so is often deemed to be the best option.

Of course, had Cuellar been sent off and Celtic scored the resultant penalty then things may have been different but at the moment he is seen to have done the best thing for the team even if it wasn’t the best thing for him personally.

What if the rules were changed slightly, what would he have done then?

In rugby, referees are allowed to award penalty tries if someone is fouled in the act of scoring - if this were to be transferred to football we would have seen Cuellar sent off, but no penalty awarded.  Instead Celtic would have been awarded the goal, which is obviously a much harsher punishment.  While the majority of penalties are converted, there are a proportion which are saved - and I’m sure had Celtic been offered the choice last night between either being given the goal or having Cuellar sent off they would have taken the goal every time.

Of course, not every foul in the penalty box would result in a goal being given, in other cases it would carry on as it is with a penalty kick being awarded.  Only cases such as last night would definitely see a penalty goal being given - the Celtic player was a certainty to score when the foul was committed, there was no doubt about it.

Had this rule been in force last night, it may be that Cuellar would have had it at the back of his mind and he would have just let the ball go in - after all he wouldn’t have anything to gain by blocking it as the goal would stand and he would still be sent off.

Despite the sense this seems to make to me at least, I doubt anyone would ever put such a proposal forward never mind it ever being implemented.