It's not a World Cup without the odd refereeing controversy, is it?
The Women's World Cup – now more than halfway through after Monday evening's slate of games – has had more than its share already.
Scotland have been on the receiving end of a few of them, a couple of handball decisions (one given, one not) against England and another not given against Japan. They stung the Scots, who still have a chance of making it to the last 16 with a win over Argentina on Wednesday, but the handball debate isn't new; see Manchester United against Paris Saint-Germain, Danny Rose against Manchester City, etc.
What is new is what we're going to call 'the goalkeeper penalty off the line clusterwhatsit debate'.
If you've only been watching England and the USA's games in the World Cup so far, you might've missed this. It first popped up in Italy's 5-0 win over Jamaica, Cristiana Girelli seeing her first-half penalty saved by Sydney Schneider only to get a second bite at the cherry when the referee ordered a re-take.
Schneider got a booking in the bargain – having come off her line before Girelli struck the ball. Y'know, like every goalkeeper has since the beginning of time, for every penalty, ever. Girelli scored with her second attempt.
Individual goals in 5-0 thrashings don't often make headlines, so the decision just looked like one officiating crew being a little pernickety and was forgotten pretty quickly.
I blame all you nerds for this. This is the future you wanted. Justice for Nigeria!— Zito (@_Zeets) June 17, 2019
Fast forward 72 hours, and the same thing happened again in France's final group game, against Nigeria. Except this time it mattered. It might matter a lot. Nigeria's Super Falcons have only made it out of the group stage in one World Cup, 20 years ago.
Beating South Korea in their second match in France meant that a point against the hosts would see them through as one of the best third-placed teams, and things were going to plan heading into the last 15 minutes.
Then Ngozi Ebere got sent off, France were given a penalty, and Wendie Renard...hooked it wide.
Nigeria breathed a sigh of relief, until the referee signalled a big rectangle with her hands and pointed back to the spot. Chiamaka Nnadozie had been inches – and barely inches – off her line when Renard struck the ball. The spot kick was retaken, Renard scored, Nigeria lost. They face an anxious wait for the next three nights to see if they can make it through.
The decision, coming in such a big game and one featuring the hosts, caused shockwaves. This just isn't how penalties are refereed, not even in competitions with VAR. Hugo Lloris' save from Sergio Aguero in the Champions League quarter-final was brought up – the penalty was given after a VAR review, and his save was upheld despite him being off his line.
So...why the disparity? Are they favouring European teams on 'home' soil? Are they incompetent? No and no. Obviously.
No, the key is in the annual tweaks to the laws of the game. They came in on 1 June, so you can throw out the idea of using any Champions League games as 'precedent'.
"The goalkeeper must have at least part of one foot on/in line with the goal line when the kick is taken; cannot stand behind the line."
That's it. It's clear as day, in black and white. It's a newly worded law, so referees are going to be keen to enforce it – as they are with the new law about attacking players being at least a metre away from a defensive wall at free kicks. For the record, encroachment rules are only enforced if the encroaching player is involved with a rebound, so France's foray into the box? Fine.
It's so easy to enforce with VAR that there's absolutely no reason not to. Complain all you like about the spirit of the law vs the word of the law, but the teams have been informed about these changes. Hell, Nigeria got a warning from the Jamaica game. The fault lies solely with the players who don't pay attention.
And yes, this still stands in cases of missed penalties, like in France/Nigeria. The likelihood that a slightly early jump forward put Renard off her penalty is tiny, but it's plausible. That's what the rules are there for, and that's why you follow them.
Or, y'know, you can not follow them and get knocked out of the World Cup instead. Your choice.