The Super Eagles of Nigeria lost by 2 goals to 1 to Argentina, crashing out of the 2018 World Cup in a match that saw an early goal against the Eagles replied with a penalty which brought both teams to a draw that would have favoured the Nigerians. But a handball situation which would have afforded the Eagles another penalty did not, as the referee looked at the VAR and decided against a penalty using a complicated handball rule.

Lionel Messi’s 13 minutes in goal in the first half went without reply until 5 minutes into the second half when Victor Moses cleverly nets a penalty caused when Javier Mascherano pulled down Leone Balogun in the penalty area.

The game dragged on for the 24 minutes with the Eagles better motivated while the Argentines press for more goals seeing that a draw will almost certainly mean a trip back home.

A 74th minute cross from Ahmed Musa took a deflection but was still heading towards Odion Ighalo. Marcos Rojo tries to stop the cross with a header but just after brushing his head, the ball hits his hand and allows Ighalo take a shot which he misses.

Spanish referee Antonio Mateu, not sure of the circumstances and with pressure from Iighalo and Captain Mikel Obi decides to consult the VAR and returns with a verdict that it was not a penalty. Rojo force in a goal about 10 minutes after, bringing the Nigerians home.

What a Handball is

The topic of handball is repeated a contentious issue in football. Handball covers from the tip of the player’s finger to his shoulder and it is flagged down on a number of conditions.

The FIFA rule book (Laws of the Game 2014/2015) defines it as:

“Handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with his hand or arm. The referee must take the following into consideration:

• the movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)

• the distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball)

• the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement

• touching the ball with an object held in the hand (clothing, shinguard, etc.) counts as an infringement

• hitting the ball with a thrown object (boot, shinguard, etc.) counts as an infringement”

The operative word is DELIBERATELY and this is known by a number of factors including the direction of the ball upon contact and the proximity of the opponent. So if the ball hits the player’s hand without clear signs of him moving his hand towards the ball, it is considered to be unintentional. Also, if the opponent is very close when he shots the ball, there is the possibility that the player did not expect the ball or had no time to form an intention to block with the hand.

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Also, that the player is stretching out his hand does not necessarily mean he intends to block. Rojo, for example, jumped to head the ball, it would follow that his hands while stretch out as he takes off and wrestled with gravity.

Why was Iran Vs. Portugal different

A seemingly similar situation played out in the Iranian match against Portugal which ended in a 1-1 draw. Portuguese defender Cédric Soares contested a cross with Iranian Sardar Azmoun. Azmoun get’s the upper hand, nodding the ball which hits Soares’ arm and with the help of the VAR, the referee ruled that it was a penalty. It ended up a successful one.

This incident has been described as one of the worse VAR decisions in the Russia 2018 World Cup as it appears to violate all rules.

For starters, Azmoun had the last touch and he was man to man close to Soares. He practically nodded the ball into Soares’ arms in a fraction of a second. There was apparently no time to form an intention to handle and Soares was high up there and his hands were in natural position considering his height. The ball also clearly went for his hand, not the other way round as he was too low to as much as seeing the ball.

Portugal defender Jose Fonte faulted the VAR more than he did the Paraguayan referee Enrique Caceres, as Fonte says

“To end the game like that is just not fair. This VAR system is not my thing. Cedric is furious. In our opinion, he is not even looking at the ball. It is impossible to not have your arms raised in that position. How can you jump with both arms next to your body? It is impossible. The ball did not even change trajectory.

“In the end, we could have almost lost the game – VAR is unacceptable.”

But the Referee on the match between Nigeria and Argentina appears to take a different decision for the same scenario. A decision closer to the rules.

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Maradona’s Nuisance

Diego Armando Maradona, who in 1986 scored with his hand against England in a move notoriously nicknamed Hand of God, was in the stadium as Nigeria lost to Argentina. After the second goal, Maradona is seen giving both his middle fingers to the crowd.

In earlier games, Maradona was pictured breaking the rules and smoking in the Stadium and he was also accused of making a racist statement against Asians. He dismissed the allegation in a reply that sounded more unstable than the statement he was refuting.

Maradona’s 1986 goal was a textbook case of fraud in football as he cleverly pushed in the ball leaving a referee and his assistant confused. It was until hours later when pictures and videos came out that both men realized they had been duped.

Ali Bin Nasser from Tunisia, the referee, and Bogdan Dotchev from Bulgaria, one of his assistants looked to each other for help but no one was ready to take responsibility for what they were unsure of and there was not VAR to assist neither were there proper playbacks and quality pictures only emerge after hours.

“I was waiting for Dotchev to give me a hint of what exactly happened but he didn’t signal for a handball. And the instructions Fifa gave us before the game were clear – if a colleague was in a better position than mine, I should respect his view,” Bin Nasser explained many years later.

But his Assistant Dotchev fires back with a racial slur

“Although I felt immediately there was something irregular, back in that time Fifa didn’t allow the assistants to discuss the decisions with the referee. If Fifa had put a referee from Europe in charge of such an important game, the first goal of Maradona would have been disallowed,”

As Maradona pushed out his two middle fingers, commenter Gary Lineker describes the situation as thus

“There’s Diego Maradona celebrating. I think he might make the papers for a different kind of celebration, there’s a danger he’s becoming a laughing stock I’m afraid.”

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