France became the first nation in history to win the World Cup, the European Championship and the UEFA Nations League by winning Sunday’s final 2-1 against Spain courtesy of Kylian Mbappe‘s winning goal (stream the replay on ESPN+ in the U.S.).
Les Bleus were forced to come from behind after Mikel Oyarzabal put Spain ahead shortly after the hour mark at the San Siro in Milan. The lead lasted all of two minutes before Karim Benzema equalised for France with an outstanding effort from range, floating a deft 20-yard strike over Unai Simon and into the far corner.
That’s the way things stood until the 80th minute, when Mbappe broke behind the Spanish defence to slide a low finish past Simon and scored what proved to be the winner.
The goal proved controversial, as Mbappe appeared to be offside by a couple of paces when Theo Hernandez played him through on goal. However, after the goal was reviewed by VAR, referee Anthony Taylor’s decision to allow it stood, sparking animated protests from Spain.
Taylor deemed that Spain defender Eric Garcia had extended a leg to deliberately touch the ball on its way through to Mbappe, thus rendering everything after that point a new phase of play. In short, Mbappe was onside and the goal was perfectly legitimate.
This didn’t stop viewers from calling out the play on social media, with many unable to understand quite how the Paris Saint-Germain star had gotten away with it.
How will I tell my kids Mane was ruled offside but Mbappe was ruled onside? pic.twitter.com/P48NSwK0NU
— Daniel van Buyten (@DanielVanBuytem) October 10, 2021
VAR checking whether Mbappe’s goal was offside pic.twitter.com/dLorkCVVkh
— CaughtOffside (@caughtoffside) October 10, 2021
So how on earth was Mbappe judged to be onside? When Hernandez played the ball through to Mbappe, the striker was definitely offside, in front of Spain centre-back Garcia. However, the offside law sets the position of players only relative to one another when Hernandez passed the ball. Mbappe becomes active for offside only when he becomes involved in the play or challenges an opponent.
Garcia stretched for the ball in a desperate attempt to stop it getting through to Mbappe. That’s classed as a deliberate play of the ball, and it resets the offside phase and plays Mbappe onside. Because Mbappe wasn’t close to Garcia, and as such had no direct influence on the defender’s failed interception, he is not considered to be challenging the defender.
The quirk is that if Garcia had completely missed the ball, Mbappe would be offside. But Garcia did make contact, so the PSG striker is onside and he did the rest.
French sport newspaper L’Equipe chose not to mention the VAR incident at all on its front page, instead heralding the national team and their continued success.
However, the Spanish media went into overdrive with Diario Sport using its headline to decry the “Injustice” of it all.
There were similar scenes over at Marca, which splashed an image of Mbappe’s position across the front page while exclaiming: “They’re ruining football.”
Mundo Deportivo called for VAR to “beat it” while also drawing attention to the daylight between Mbappe and Garcia at the moment the decisive pass was played.
COPE radio presenter Manolo Lama was one of many Spanish media personalities who voiced their disgust at the incident.
“According to the referee Taylor, Eric García tried to play the ball,” Lama tweeted. “Conclusion: the referee has NO BLOODY IDEA ABOUT FOOTBALL.”
Según el árbitro Taylor dice que Eric García trata de jugará el balón.
Conclusión el árbitro no tiene NI PUÑETERA IDEA DE FÚTBOL pic.twitter.com/HfAHuBLib2
— Manolo Lama (@lamacope) October 10, 2021
As you might imagine, the “El Chiringuito” studio exploded into a vigorous and enthusiastic debate about VAR and whether or not the system’s implementation is “anti-football.”
A quick check in to see how El Chiringuito is coping with the Mbappé offside decision…
— El Chiringuito in English (@ElChiringuitoEN) October 10, 2021
“El Chiringuito” presenter Josep Pedrerol also tweeted his personal thoughts on the matter: “Injustice, period.”
Injusticia y punto
— Josep Pedrerol (@jpedrerol) October 10, 2021
Onda Cero radio was positively trembling with anger in the wake of the final, with journalist and contributor Cayetano Ros ranting that Mbappe’s goal “goes against the essence of football.” Ros also branded the result of the 2021 Nations League final as “the biggest scandal in the history of football since the 1966 World Cup.”
Furthermore, Onda Cero presenter Eduardo García added that Mbappe’s goal was “one of VAR’s most shameful moments. It’s the most colossal error since VAR was brought in.”
Elsewhere, Diario AS decided to draw a veil over the manner of Spain’s defeat and instead focus on the promising performances of Luis Enrique’s youthful side during the Nations League, stating on its front page: “No title but a bright future.”
AS columnist Tomas Roncero didn’t quite follow suit, writing: “We’re left without the Nations League because of an absurd decision, an absurd VAR. Don’t talk to me about Eric García touching the ball or not. Mbappe is offside. It’s an invalid goal.
“We’re back in the days when Spain was treated as a joke. It’s inexplicable that with VAR, you win a trophy with an offside, even if my beloved Mbappe scored. They’ve swindled Spain out of the Nations League.”
For what it’s worth, Spain captain Sergio Busquets was slightly more magnanimous in defeat, praising France for their display and congratulating Didier Deschamps’ team on their victory after the final whistle. However, the Barcelona veteran still openly questioned the decision to let Mbappe’s winning goal stand.
“It’s a shame,” Busquets said. “I think we did enough not to lose, but in two similar moves we conceded, although the goals were different. The second one, for us on the pitch, looked like offside.
“Mbappe was in an offside position, the referee said that Eric goes to play the ball, and that means it’s not offside. That doesn’t make sense to us. You have to try to play the ball, Eric tried to cut out the pass like any defender would, he didn’t miscontrol.”
He’s certainly got a point, but unfortunately for Busquets and the rest of the wider Spanish football community, the letter of the law holds firm.