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VAR prompts World Cup rule change: No yellow for goalkeeper encroachment on penalties

Nigeria goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie, left, is shown a yellow card by referee Melissa Borjas of Honduras during the Women's World Cup Group A soccer match between Nigeria and France at the Roazhon Park in Rennes, France, Monday, June 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Michel)

ON A BUS IN NORTHERN FRANCE — The strict enforcement of goalkeeper encroachment during the 2019 Women’s World Cup has prompted a mid-tournament rule change. 

The International Football Association Board approved a request from FIFA to temporarily stop giving yellow cards to goalkeepers who take their foot off the goal line prior to a penalty kick during a shootout to determine the winner of a match. 

The use of Video Assistant Referees (VARs) for the first time in the Women’s World Cup has led to controversial penalty kick retakes that have changed the outcomes of games.

Law 10 of the game states that “if the goalkeeper commits an offense and, as a result, the kick is retaken, the goalkeeper must be cautioned.”

That would pose significant problems for teams as the World Cup progresses through the knockout stage, which uses penalty kicks to determine the winner of a tied match, because two yellow cards in a game result in a red card and ejection. 

IFAB said the purpose of the caution is to deter goalkeepers from breaking the rules, but it now believes VAR is enough of a deterrent. Yellow cards will continue to be given for encroachment during “normal time” of matches, and previous yellow cards given to goalkeepers during the group stage will stand.

Another reasons IFAB agreed to the temporary suspension of yellow cards for encroachment is because no substitutions are allowed during penalty shootouts, therefore an outfield player would be forced to take over for a goalkeeper in the event of an ejection. That would “unfairly distort” the penalty kicks, according to IFAB.

Three goalkeepers were booked for encroachment during the group stage, most notably the keepers for Scotland and Nigeria. Scotland keeper Lee Alexander saved an Argentina penalty kick before VAR prompted a retake that went in for a 3-3 result that ended Scotland’s World Cup journey. And France completely missed a PK that was then retaken, handing the host country a narrow 1-0 victory over Nigeria.

After those results, the English Premier League announced it will not use VAR during the 2019-20 season to review goalkeeper encroachment on penalties. 

“Penalties are finally being taken in a correct way because, in the past, goalkeepers often saved them by being off the goal line,” Pierluigi Collina, chairman of FIFA’s refereeing committee, said in a statement released by FIFA. 

IFAB also noted the current rule that goalkeepers must keep one foot on the line before a penalty kick is more lenient than the previous rule of keeping both feet on the line.

Some of the criticism after the matches mentioned above was that goalkeepers barely stepped off their lines so did not gain an unfair advantage. To that, Collina said “the number of centimetres doesn’t matter.”

“If a ball is over the goal line by few centimetres, a goal must be still awarded,” he said. “And if a foul is committed within the penalty area by few centimetres, a penalty kick must be given. It is the same for offside as there is not a ‘small’ or a ‘big’ offside — there is simply an offside.”

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