Soccer-VAR causes handball confusion in Nations Cup

VAR has only been used since the quarter-finals of the competition

Referee Jiyed Redouane awards a goal to South Africa after a VAR review

Reuters | Brian Homewood

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The introduction of the VAR has brought confusion to the Africa Cup of Nations with Algeria's coach saying he cannot understand what constitutes accidental or intentional handball after three contentious incidents in the semi-finals.

Leer en español: El VAR causa confusión en la Copa Africana de Naciones

Algeria's 2-1 win over Nigeria and Senegal's 1-0 extra-time victory over Tunisia both featured handball incidents, one of which has led to Senegal defender Kalidou Koulibaly — one of Africa's top players — missing Friday's final through suspension.

VAR has only been used since the quarter-finals of the competition and the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has brought in two European referees to support the system based on their experience with it.

"We had a meeting before the tournament with the referees and they explained to us more or less how it works. I still don't understand the decisions….handball, whether it's voluntary or not voluntary, this is what I don't understand today," Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi said.

Algeria was leading Nigeria 1-0 when Oghenekaro Etebo's shot struck Aissa Mandi's arm.

Play continued for nearly one minute before there was a break, the incident was reviewed and Nigeria were awarded a penalty which Odion Ighalo converted nearly four minutes after the offence took place.

Mandi did not seem to move his arm and may have been unsighted as he was standing behind Ighalo who ducked at the last minute.

Meanwhile, Tunisia had one penalty awarded and one revoked for handball against Senegal, who was also given a penalty for a foul. Both spot-kicks were missed.

In the first incident, Ferjani Sassi's shot was blocked by Koulibaly who turned his back as he slid into the path of the shot which struck his elbow.

The referee awarded a penalty and booked the Napoli center back who will miss the final through the accumulation of yellow cards.

Also read: Little playing time, legal issues and career uncertainty summarize Neymar's year 

However, when a Senegal player's headed clearance ricocheted off Idrissa Gueye's elbow in extra-time, the referee initially gave Tunisia another penalty before overturning his decision after reviewing video footage.

"I didn't see the action in our match, but I saw the action Tunisia against Senegal and I say it's about the interpretation and the rules," Belmadi said.

In contrast to the semi-finals, the 36 group stage and eight round of 16 matches, where VAR was not used, did not feature a single penalty awarded for handball.

Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr has seen it from both sides. Although his side benefited on Sunday, they were on the wrong end in their quarter-final when a South Africa goal, initially disallowed for offside, was awarded following a VAR review.

"The other day it was against us, in the game against South Africa we waited long minutes to finally concede a goal," said Rohr. "I think the interpretation of VAR is not easy…..but I think it's a step for more justice in football." 

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