Crossing the line. Has VAR overstepped the mark on penalty taking?

By Andrew Warshaw

A new rule agreed by football’s lawmakers in the spring which gained little publicity at the time has suddenly burst into controversy within days of taking effect and threatens to cause widespread consternation across the game.

Back in March, the International FA Board ruled that goalkeepers must have at least part of one foot on or in line with the goal line when spot kicks are taken.

The rule was hardly given a second thought but has had a significant effect at the women’s World Cup with three penalties having to be retaken as a result of VAR intervention and, in the case of Scotland – cruelly eliminated from the competition in the dying seconds of their match with Argentina because of a twice-taken spotkick after Lee Alexander saved Florencia Bonsegundo’s first attempt – collective heartbreak.

France benefitted from a similar situation in a group game against Nigeria while Italy’s first goal in their 5-0 win over Jamaica was also by means of a retaken kick.

“It just seems cruel. And so pedantic, you know?” said England keeper Karen Bardsley. “We were briefed by the referees and they did mention that if we do move off the line… but if it’s a toenail?  For something so new to be introduced on such a big stage, it’s kind of hard to get your head around it in terms of changing habits.”

Hope Solo, the former World Cup-winning US keeper who is working for the BBC at the tournament, added: “We need to talk about this rule and the way it’s impacting matches. If a shooter misses, they shouldn’t get a freebie simply because a goalkeeper moved slightly forward.”

Many observers have made the point that VAR was intended to cover clear and obvious mistakes and should not be used to decide whether goalkeepers are inches off their line. Fans everywhere rightly bemoan keepers cheating but there’s a big difference between them narrowing the angle by unfairly coming way off their line and an ever so slight encroachment.

Despite the letter of the law being applied, wheeling it out in a competition of this magnitude has caused considerable concern whilst it has also been pointed out that were this a mens’ tournament the rule would probably not have been applied so rigorously.

The English Premier League has been quick to announce then when VAR is introduced next season, it will not be used against goalkeepers moving off their line, with decisions left to the officials.

Manchester United Women’s keeper Siobhan Chamberlain, who was in the England women’s squads for the 2011 and 2015 World Cups, wrote on Twitter: “From a goalkeeper’s perspective you’re trying to read the players movement, body shape and run up but if you can’t react until after they’ve kicked it, you’re never going to be able to move in time.  A penalty is already massively weighted in favour of the attacker. Do they need more?”

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