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England penalty controversy: Did Sterling dive? Why no VAR? Laser pointer on Schmeichel?

England probably deserved its semifinal win on the balance of play, but the way the English advanced isn’t sitting well with some fans.

A penalty kick called by Dutch referee Danny Makkelie in the 104th minute of stoppage time ultimately proved the difference in a 2-1 England victory over Denmark at Wembley Stadium. He judged Raheem Sterling to have been fouled in the box by Denmark’s Joakim Maehle, but there were a few issues with the play (cued up in the video below).

Did Raheem Sterling dive?

Sterling was the most dangerous England player on the field, but on this incursion into the penalty area, it looked like he may have embellished a little bit to draw the penalty.

MORE: Euro 2021 top goal scorer: Updated rankings in the Golden Boot race

After the match Sterling was asked whether it was a “generous penalty” or a “definite penalty.” Here’s what he had to say:

”Yeah, I went into the box and he stuck his right leg out and I … and he touched my leg so it’s a clear penalty,” Sterling said.

Bit of a hesitation midway, but we’ll go with it. And he’s right that there was contact between Maehle’s leg and his own leg, but probably not to cause the tumble in the manner that it happened.

Getty Images

What the experts said about the penalty

Several authoritative opinions did not side with the referee in this case, beginning with former English Premier League and FIFA referee Mark Clattenburg.

”It’s one of those penalties where as a referee do you really want to settle a match on this type of decision?” Clattenburg asked on ESPN. “Would I want to give it in such a big match? I’m not sure. I think: Would you want to settle this in such an important game? Especially when we see an earlier penalty on Harry Kane which was possibly more of a penalty … that was more of a penalty than the Raheem Sterling one.”

And Clattenburg doesn’t understand why the referee couldn’t have merely opted to stop play without calling the penalty and then leaving it to the video assistant referee to check if the play deserved a second look from him at the monitor. But once Makkelie called the penalty, only the absence of contact would have allowed it to be overturned as a clear and obvious error.

”I can understand why it’s called, but I would rather it’s not given,” Clattenburg continued. “And therefore the VAR, especially when it’s so soft, the VAR can then recommend he go to the review area, see it for the second time and then make your decision. Once the referee’s given it, there’s going to be absolutely no way this is a clear and obvious error because there is contact.”

Long-time manager Jose Mourinho had a clear opinion on the matter:

”Never a penalty. The best team won. England deserved to win, but for me it’s never a penalty,” Mourinho said. “I think at this level, especially at this level in a semifinal of the Euro, I don’t understand really the referee’s decision. … So as a football man I’m very happy that England won, don’t get me wrong. And I think they deserved to win. But as a football man I am disappointed that penalty was given.”

”No penalty,” said legendary ex-Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. “It’s important that the referee is absolutely convinced that it’s a penalty and it wasn’t clear enough to say that yes, it is. At least he should have had a look at the screen.”

In the end it’s a decision that will be fodder for England’s rivals and critics. One Scottish tabloid jumped at the opportunity:

Laser pointed at Denmark goalkeeper

After the match, video and images surfaced of a laser pointed at Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel during the penalty attempt. Schmeichel seemed to be momentarily distracted by it, but he saved the shot, giving up a rebound that was ultimately put home by Kane on the second attempt.

It’s not clear whether the penalty could have been retaken if the VAR would have spotted the laser pointer on the replay. But FIFA does have disciplinary protocols in place for teams that don’t take proper steps to prevent these instances.

Two balls on the field

Then there’s a not-so-minor detail that could have potentially prevented the entire penalty sequence from occurring in the first place.

Before Sterling took a tumble in the area, play could have been whistled dead for the presence of a second ball on the field. The referee seemed to be looking in the direction of the second ball and if he in fact saw it and didn’t whistle play dead, he must have deemed that it was not interfering with play.

The Laws of the Game (page 62) state that, if “an extra ball … enters the field of play during the match, the referee must stop play (and restart with a dropped ball) only if it interferes with play.” It goes on to say that the referee should “allow play to continue if it does not interfere with play.”

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