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France-Nigeria Controversy shows once again how we miss the point about rules

France 1-0 Nigeria

It looked like Nigeria would get away with it. The Super Falcons had spent most of their third group game at this World Cup against France on the back foot, withstanding whatever was thrown at them and fending off French attack after French attack. It was a backs-to-the-wall display from Thomas Dennerby’s side, who were more than happy to sit back and withstand a barrage, proof of which was in the fact they give the ball away 47 times in the first 20 minutes of the game.

But it looked like they would get away with it and get a point in Rennes after all, even after France were awarded a penalty and Nigeria’s Ngozi Ebere was sent off. Wendie Renard rolled the resulting spot-kick wide via the base of the post, and Nigeria survived. Except they didn’t, as referee Melissa Borjas got a notification that Nigerian goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie had stepped off her line by a bit. The new FIFA rules would step in. The penalty was re-taken, Renard wouldn’t miss this time, and France finally made the breakthrough.

France 1-0 Nigeria Wendie Renard
Wendie Renard goes to celebrate after giving France the lead

Hence the uproar, not least from Nigerians. A burning sense of injustice followed – which led to typically absurd abuse being meted out at the referee (and, for some reason, at FIFA’s match commentator). Nigeria had been cheated, was the cry. The debate about the penalty incident continues to rage on and differ, unsurprisingly so. And while opinions about this new rule will differ, yesterday’s incident was another reminder of how we’ve seemed to miss the point about football laws.

The rationale behind this encroachment law is to eliminate unfair advantages, just like the offside rule. But, like the offside rule, another game showcased that we don’t get the point behind these rules. Nnadozie absolutely gained no advantage from the fact that one of her feet was half an inch off the goal-line. The fact Renard rolled the penalty wide and made Nnadozie’s movement inconsequential is beside the point. Her movement really shouldn’t have mattered, as it played no part in Renard’s miss – even if she had actually saved it, that wouldn’t have been because she benefitted from her foot being half an inch away from the goal-line.

This also relates to offside situations, in which a player being ‘offside’ by a toe (check Leon Goretzka for Bayern Munich against Leipzig last season) is flagged. Are those situations unfair advantages? Hardly.

Then again, this isn’t to say Borjas should shoulder any blame, or be seen in bad light. Were the rules harsh and bothering on absurd? Yes. Could she have interpreted them differently? Perhaps. Did she do anything wrong? Definitely not. This isn’t about refereeing. This is about how many of us have lost sight of what these rules actually imply.

Plus, football in this era has become so product-oriented, where one gender playing the game is seen as an ‘inferior product’, where matches are dubbed ‘the 170-million- pound game’, where good matches are described as ‘great advert for League XYZ’. It is the product-centric view on the game that means we have to police every single thing about it, why there are Video Assistant Referees, and a referee must act on every decision, however miniscule. We’ve missed the point about the beautiful game, and in the case of its laws, it’s no different.

Kunle Ajao63 Posts

Kunle Ajao is a football writer and columnist for spotkick. Having made a toss of himself trying to actually play the game, he knew better and got a pen instead of boots. Spends a bit of his time with the game, and thinks he's a bit like Sid Lowe. He's not

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