Nigeria were not eliminated from the World Cup on Monday afternoon, but their hopes of advancing to the knockout stages took a hit when, after a pair of VAR reviews, Wendie Renard knocked home a Penalty Kick in the 79th minute to break a scoreless draw and give France a 1-0 win.
The messiness began in the 73rd minute with a foul in the box by Nigeria’s Ngozi Ebere, which, after a delay for the VAR review, was called (probably rightfully) as a penalty.
When Renard stepped up to try and break the tie, she smacked it off the post, which kept Nigeria’s hopes of a draw alive. The reason she got to try it again was that Nigeria goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie stepped just a few inches off her line before the shot. After another review, that led to a retake.
Renard didn’t screw up the retake, which meant that six minutes after the original foul was whistled, her goal went in and held up as the winner.
As with most VAR calls, the specific call made is technically correct—Nnadozie broke the rules and got the appropriate punishment for it, even though she didn’t save the kick in question. But, much like the struggles that baserunners had staying on the bag 100 percent of the time when MLB implemented their own replay review, the expectation that goaltenders stay flawlessly on their line during the run-up for a PK contradicts decades of tradition. This is a longstanding rule, and the call has been made in the past, but only when the infraction is obvious to the naked eye in real time. Here as elsewhere, video review doesn’t result in more “correct” calls so much as it causes a fundamental shift in how we perceive the game.
Anyway, if there’s going to be a newfound focus on enforcing all of the rules perfectly, why not this one too?
Thanks to an infraction of few inches called in one spot of the pitch, and another infraction of few inches not called elsewhere, Nigeria are now in for a very nervy next few days scoreboard-watching Argentina, Cameroon, and Chile. Just because it’s all technically correct doesn’t mean it feels right.