Soccer-Handball or not? Inevitable controversy raises its head at Euro 2024


Soccer Football - Euro 2024 - Group E - Belgium v Slovakia - Frankfurt Arena, Frankfurt, Germany - June 17, 2024 Belgium's Romelu Lukaku reacts after the match REUTERS/Lee Smith

HAMBURG, Germany (Reuters) - Belgium will have no complaints about the first VAR decision to disallow a goal but cancelling out a second strike from Romelu Lukaku, which denied them a late equaliser against Slovakia at Euro 2024 on Monday, is the tournament’s first controversy.

The much-fancied Belgians lost their opening Group E game 1-0 to Slovakia at the Frankfurt Arena, giving up an early goal and then being held at bay by some dogged defending.

But they twice had the ball in the net. First some 10 minutes into the second half when Lukaku tucked away a header from a ball played into him by Amadou Onana.

That clearly was offside and, although Turkish referee Halil Umut Meler awarded it at first, a goal check quickly ruled out the strike and preserved Slovakia's advantage.

The second effort, with minutes remaining, was disallowed after the referee was sent to the touchline screen to judge a handball from Lois Openda in the build-up to the goal.

The Belgian substitute did make contact with his hand – the new ‘snicko’ technology was used to show there was a touch.

But Openda was in full motion trying to get round defender Denis Vavro to deliver the ball back for Lukaku and the decision struck many as harsh.

"It feels wrong. It feels so, so wrong. He's battling with a 6ft 3in defender," said English radio analyst Dean Ashton.

“I don't really think it's hands, because it has no influence on the chance. It is very painful and a shame for us,” added Belgian-born Rangers forward Cyriel Dessers on Belgian television.

Belgium coach Domenic Tedesco avoided comment. “Now that we lost I want to be a fair loser and stay away from this subject,” he told the post-match press conference.

The Laws of the Game on handball say that if the ball strikes an attacking player’s arm while in the midst of a goalscoring move, regardless of arm position, intent, or any other qualifiers, a goal shall be chalked off.

But UEFA last year said it wished to relax the whistling of handball offences with regard to deflections, and a long ball towards Openda looked to touch the player before bouncing onto his hand, although none of the TV replays show it clearly.

Openda was also held down by Vavro as the ball arrived, offering further mitigation.

The handball rule remains a major bone of contention for fans, most of them confused by the inevitable inconsistency of it being open to interpretation.

Even UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has said that "nobody in the world understands when there's handball or not".

(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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