Goalkeepers’ union in uproar over new penalty rule at World Cup

In the upset of the moment and the agony of the immediate aftermath, emotions were high and the muck was flying.

Scotland keeper Lee Alexander makes a heroic block to keep out Florencia Bonsegundos attempt on the rebound but it was in vain as the original penalty was ordered to be retaken after a VAR review. Picture: AFP/Getty

Scotland failed to get the victory they needed to keep their hopes of progressing to the knockout stage of the World Cup alive and, with everyone looking for someone to blame, the players and manager pointed the finger at the referee, others took to social media to castigate VAR, and the rest said the responsibility belonged to the players who let Argentina erode their 3-0 lead in a disastrous final 16 minutes.

But it was not so black and white. Scotland should have had the nous to see out such a comfortable lead. But, perhaps, they would have held on had the referee been stronger in officiating an Argentina team that, from the outset, fouled and feigned. Perhaps the decisive penalty incident would not have materialised had the referee waited until Scotland had completed a substitution instead of permitting a free-kick to be taken while Scotland technically had 12 players on the pitch, albeit only ten were involved in the unfolding drama that ended in a lunging challenge by Sophie Howard and the controversial spot kick (well, the first 
of them).

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That takes us to VAR and the interminable time it took the VAR officials and then the referee herself to watch replay after replay. In the end they probably called it right. VAR was brought in to remove uncertainty and end debate but decisions are only as sound as the human beings making them. That is an issue at this World Cup where referees have replaced goalkeepers as the perceived weakest link in the women’s game.

Choosing the World Cup as the first place to roll out VAR, without trials at a lower level, simply piled more pressure on officials, many of whom have been poor this tournament.

The law, though, is the law. Even if it is an ass. As we have seen with the high-profile handball decisions of late, some of football’s newly-introduced rules will never be popular. The one that denied Lee Alexander her moment of glory is likely to be one of the most unpopular yet.

If jumping for a header is tough with arms pressed at the side, diving for a save is almost impossible without some kind of forward momentum. Goalkeepers do not simply topple like a felled log along the goal line and straight into the post. It is contrary to every bit of coaching they will have had from the very first day they put on those giant gloves.

No wonder the goalies’ union was in uproar as they shared in Alexander’s disgust.

“Spent all my career being told to and telling goalies to dive forward,” tweeted St 
Mirren goalkeeping coach Jamie Langfield. “Now it seems I need to change all that and tell them to dive back the way with these new penalty rules. Absolute shambles!”

“That is honestly the worst decision I’ve ever seen in my life. She needs to dive forward you absolute fools,” added Liam Kelly. Queens Park Rangers’ Scottish keeper.

And many, many more shared their informed view.

The new rule which came into force at the beginning of this month states that a goalkeeper must have “at least part of one foot on/in line with the goal line when the kick is 
taken”. They may as well offer an open goal and wave goodbye to the drama as keepers have no chance

Some footage shows Alexander could have encroached prematurely but, as she was jumping to dive that perception could be skewed. Arguments are still raging about whether her feet were still in line with the goalline, or if it was even the exact moment the attacker made contact with the ball or a nanosecond later. All of which is pertinent, especially when compared with stills from other angles which seem to suggest the Scottish stopper had strayed by a mere fraction, if at all.

But even a mere fraction would necessitate a retake according to the strict letter of the law, which is why there has to be scope for common sense.

How many of us would like to return to a parking ticket because the wheel of our car is a few centimetres over the line? Technically it is an infringement, but it blocks nothing and does no-one any harm. Surely, in those circumstances, only the worst kind of jobsworth would punish it. And where does it end?

By the strict letter of the law, every single time a ball is played into the box, the jostling in there would herald a freekick one way or another. And what about the centimetres or often metres stolen at throw-ins and set pieces? Without an element of leeway being given, the game would become ridiculous, the game wouldn’t flow and football would stop being fun for anyone other than the very worse sticklers.

Common sense still has to prevail when it comes to the application of the laws. Without that, where is the human side of the game.