Mark Halsey: Why the referee was wrong to award France a World Cup final penalty

Perisic handles Matuidi’s header.
Perisic handles Matuidi’s header.

Former Premier League and FIFA referee Mark Halsey has told Yahoo Sport that Argentine referee Nestor Pitana made the wrong decision when he handed France a controversial penalty in Sunday’s World Cup final against Croatia in Moscow.

After reviewing VAR, Pitana handed France a controversial penalty after Croatia’s Ivan Perisic was adjudged to have handled the ball in the box, yet Halsey suggests the referee should not have been advised to review his initial decision by VAR officials.

Law 12 of the International Football Association Board states that handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with the hand or arm.

The following must be considered:

  • 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 offence

Halsey believes those guidelines were not followed by Pitana, as he offered Yahoo his verdict on the big decision in Sunday’s final.

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“I was perplexed by the penalty decision on a number of levels because VAR should only be used for a clear and obvious error by the on-field officials,” begins Halsey.

“Handling the ball involved a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with the hand or arm and that was not the case in this incident with Perisic.

“You could see he was not sure about the decision. He reviewed it and then went back to the screen for another look before giving the penalty, so there was uncertainty there and in the end he has made the wrong decision.

“I am pleased that France scored a couple more goals after that as that decision did not look quite so significant, but it was still a key moment in the game and Pitana’s decision made a mockery of the VAR system that worked very well for matter of fact at this World Cup.”

Halsey went on to question whether a decision made by Pitana when he took charge of Mexico’s game against Sweden in the group stages of the World Cup may have had an impact on his decision to penalise Perisic for a handball in the final.

“There was an incident with Javier Hernandez possibly handling the ball in the box during the game against Sweden and this same referee decided not to give the penalty after a VAR review,” adds Halsey.

“I wonder whether he was told in his debrief with FIFA that he should have awarded a penalty on that occasion and it may have been playing on his mind when he reviewed the Perisic handball.

“It was a real shame to have an incident like that in the final because many will now overlook the hugely positive impact of VAR are matter of fact decisions over the course of what was a wonderful World Cup tournament.

“VAR will be hugely beneficial for the game moving forward, but we need to improve training and education for those using the technology.”

Mark Halsey is a former Premier League referee and works with The Ref online as senior referee coach