VAR official removed from Champions League game after Mbappé's late penalty

AP , Wednesday 29 Nov 2023

A video review official has been removed from his Champions League game on Wednesday, one day after having a key role in a disputed decision to award Paris Saint-Germain a stoppage-time penalty for handball against Newcastle which contradicted UEFA’s own advice to referees.

Mbappe
Paris Saint-Germain s French forward #07 Kylian Mbappe reacts during the UEFA Champions League 1st round, day 5, Group F football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Newcastle United on November 28, 2023 at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. AFP

The VAR specialist from Poland, Tomasz Kwiatkowski, is no longer listed to work at the Real Sociedad-Salzburg game and has been replaced by a German match official.

In Paris on Tuesday, Kylian Mbappé scored in the eighth minute of stoppage time to salvage a 1-1 draw after a ball struck Newcastle defender Tino Livramento in the chest and then deflected off his arm, and a penalty was awarded by Polish referee Szymon Marciniak following a VAR review.

Marciniak refereed the Champions League final last season and the 2022 World Cup final with Kwiatkowski in his team. Marciniak initially allowed play to continue Tuesday but awarded the penalty after he was advised by his video assistant to review the incident on the pitchside monitor.

However, a UEFA panel of storied coaches and former players said in April that “no handball offense should be called on a player if the ball is previously deflected from his own body, and, in particular, when the ball does not go towards the goal.”

The advice to be given to match officials this season was detailed by the panel, chaired by UEFA Chief of Football Zvonimir Boban, in an April 25 statement headlined “UEFA Football Board urges more clarity on handball rule.”

“The handball rule, for example, will always be disputed, but we can make it more consistent and aligned with the game’s true nature,” Boban, the former Croatia and AC Milan great, said in April.

UEFA declined to comment Wednesday, in line with a policy not to discuss field of play decisions.

The current laws of the game allow for handballs to be penalized even if the contact was not intentional and after a deflection if a defender’s arm is judged to be in an unnatural position.

“But his hand is not in an unnatural position,” Newcastle manager Eddie Howe said after the game, “(his hands) are down by his side, but he is in a running motion.”

The cross from Ousmane Dembélé that struck Livramento was also going backward — and not towards goal.

The penalty decision in the PSG game directly affected the standings in the tightly fought Group F, as it kept PSG two points clear of Newcastle in the second qualifying place for the round of 16 behind group leader Borussia Dortmund.

“I feel it is a poor decision and it’s hugely frustrating for us as you know how little time there is left in the game,” Howe said. “There is nothing we can do about it now.”

Newcastle must now win its home game against last-place AC Milan on Dec. 13 and hope PSG fails to win at Dortmund. The second-place team advances to the Champions League round of 16 and the third-place team goes to the Europa League knockout playoffs.

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