Handball Debate Emerges at Euro 2024: Controversy Looms

Handball Debate Emerges at Euro 2024: Controversy Looms
By: Gordon from statstriker.com

Belgium will have no complaints about the first VAR decision to disallow a goal, but canceling out a second strike from Romelu Lukaku, which denied them a late equalizer 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, conceding an early goal and then being held at bay by some dogged defending.

However, they twice had the ball in the net. The first instance occurred about 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 initially awarded it, 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 around 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 state that if the ball strikes an attacking player’s arm during a goal-scoring move, regardless of arm position, intent, or any other qualifiers, a goal shall be disallowed.

However, UEFA last year expressed a desire to relax the interpretation of handball offenses regarding deflections, and a long ball toward Openda seemed 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 in its interpretation.

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