Nigeria can count itself extremely hard done by to have lost this game, 1-0. A twice-taken penalty on the word of the VAR was about the only way a very poor France team was going to score tonight. Wendie Renard put her first effort wide to the right of Chiamake Nnadozie’s goal, brushing the post. VAR Danny Makkelie, no doubt with the aid of a precision computer, then ajudged that Nnandozie had left her line a fraction of a second too early. Nnandozie was booked for this infringement. After some justified Nigerian protest, Renard tried again and this time her penalty went in. It was one of only four French efforts out of 22 shots that were on target.
Nigeria’s coach Thomas Dennerby was not in the mood to chat after the game. Asked for his opinion on the penalty kick, and the re-take, he said abruptly, “It is better I don’t say anything than I give my honest opinion.” What else was worth talking about? “My girls are heroes,” he added. “Of course, I am disappointed with the result. The girls followed the match plan."
That plan was to hold out and take a point. Without the VAR’s double intervention, that plan would have been well fulfilled thanks to the collective effort of his robust backline. While Nigeria did nothing to deserve victory in this game (no efforts on target, and just two shots all night), it did not deserve to lose the way it did. The VAR as applied at this World Cup is rapidly alienating fans and players alike, as well as turning soccer into a drawn-out farce with pernickety and frequently unjust interventions.
Enough of that for a couple of paragraphs. What about this much-lauded French team, who came into the tournament firing on all four cylinders by beating South Korea, then edged past Norway in a game it perhaps only deserved to draw? This is the team that could very well face the USA in a quarterfinal in Paris on June 28. Tonight Les Bleues were roared on by 28,000 loud and enthusiastic home fans. Expectations are high, trending upwards.
France dominated the first half, but it didn’t exactly boss it. Nigeria was capable of winning the ball in midfield and initiating its own attacks, and the West Africans broke away a couple of times with speed and purpose. Sadly, the final pass was missing every time and they created no clear-cut opportunities.
The host team’s chances were more realized, but only halfway so. The closest they came to the Nigerian goal was a couple of yards – shots went wide, and headers went over. In truth, the forwards rotated in by French coach Corinne Diacre, Valerie Gauvin and Viviane Asseyi, were missing more than just the goal – they also lacked presence, first touch, penetration and speed. Meanwhile, the home crowd was missing the rested Eugenie Le Sommer and Kadidiatou Diani.
Le Sommer and Diani were duly introduced after an hour for Gauvin and Delphine Cascarino, but made little difference. The lightweight and ineffective Asseyi stayed on, and it was the French No. 18 who went down under Ebere’s challenge in the 73rd. minute. Referee Melissa Borjas initially turned the penalty appeal down. Then the VAR invited her to take another look. She took several looks, as did everyone else. A close call. A very difficult call, in fact. Was Asseyi pushed, or did she fly? The kind of call you can’t even make for sure after 15 replays. The kind of call that even VAR can’t cure.
Borjas finally pointed to the spot, then dismissed Ebere for her second bookable offense, and who’s to say she was wrong? That Makkelie felt obliged to direct a re-take, however, should have outraged more than just Ennerby and his players. It should move anyone who loves this game to protest at this reprehensible trend for micro-refereeing.
Because on top of that you can add
more protests to the wafer-thin offside decisions and the ludicrous handball calls that the VARs are ordering down to field level. This is not what the Laws of the Game were written for. It’s
not how soccer should be officiated. This experiment’s a failure that needs a fundamental re-think by a panel of people who are familiar with the idea of common sense.
Or it needs to be scrapped for good and we all go back to accepting the truth that in life, love and sport, nothing can ever be perfect.