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Laser beam zaps Russia out of World Cup

Laser beam zaps Russia out of World Cup


Goalkeeper distracted by dangerous green light fired from crowd

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This year's soccer World Cup has already shown what the march of technology can do to the world's favorite sport. Yesterday Luis Suarez's lawyer claimed the tooth marks left in the shoulder of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini by his Uruguayan client were enhanced with Photoshop; today the Russian national team's manager, Fabio Capello, blamed a green laser for his team's exit from the tournament.

Capello said that the Russian goalkeeper, Igor Akinfeev, had been "blinded" with a green laser shone from the crowd in the seconds before Algeria scored its only goal of the match. Russia drew 1-1 with its groupmates, a result that saw the North African nation progress to the competition's next stage, and the Russians knocked out. Russia were leading 1-0 until the 60th minute, when an Algerian player met a crossed free kick with his head, putting it past an airborne Akinfeev to level the score.


Videos and pictures of the incident appear to show a green laser beamed toward the goalkeeper. The light tracks across his body and face as he waits for the free kick to be taken, seemingly causing him to call out and gesture in annoyance. Akinfeev looks to be hit near the eye again as the cross comes in, before he misjudges a leap toward the ball, leaving his goal exposed.


It's difficult to tell quite how much Akinfeev was affected by the beam — the Russian doesn't blink or wince as it rakes across his face — but green laser pointers such as the one apparently used yesterday can be particularly dangerous for human vision. Green lasers are created using infrared light invisible to the human eye. Many pointers use filters to stop this light from reaching us and damaging our vision, but some cheaper devices have no such filter. One study from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Maryland showed that one $15 pointer kicked out 10 times more IR light than green light — enough to damage the eye before a blink response.

Green laser pointers are considered so dangerous to vision that Coast Guard pilots are forced to land and have their eyes checked when targeted with one, and people across the world have been arrested and sentenced to years in prison for shining such beams at pilots and others on the ground. Soccer governing body FIFA has banned laser pointers from stadiums, but such devices have still been used to target players in Europe. Both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo came under laser bombardment last year during a match between Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Fortunately Igor Akinfeev appears to have avoided long-term eye damage. Indeed, after an inexplicable error against South Korea, the Russian keeper may have found himself wishing he had lasers to blame more often for his blunders.