VAR Review: Why Lukaku goal was ruled out for Openda handball

We’re analysing every VAR decision made throughout all 51 games at Euro 2024. On Monday, Belgium thought they had scored a crucial equaliser against Slovakia in the 86th minute, but the VAR had other ideas.

After each game, we take a look at the major incidents to examine and explain the process in terms of VAR protocol and the Laws of the Game.


Possible handball: Openda in buildup to Lukaku goal

What happened: Romelu Lukaku bagged an 86th-minute equaliser when he swept home a shot after good work by Loïs Openda, who cut the ball back for the striker to score. As soon as the ball hit the back of the net Slovakia defender Denis Vavro appealed for handball, and as the Belgium players raced away to celebrate, the VAR, Bastian Dankert of Germany, began a check.

VAR decision: Goal disallowed.

VAR review: It’s the kind of handball in the buildup to a goal which you may not see in the Premier League, but is always likely to be penalised in UEFA competition which has a much stricter interpretation.

As Openda wasn’t the goal scorer, the VAR and the referee, Turkey’s Halil Umut Meler, have to judge it to be a deliberate act.

Openda was attempting to hold off Vavro and his fingers brushed the ball as his hand came down. Some will feel the movement of the arm is deliberate, but many others will believe it was the natural movement of his body and should never result in a VAR review.

It’s not the kind of decision anyone really expected VAR to be making when it was introduced, but UEFA will insist on its guidelines being applied in these cases. But it does leave a bad taste.

UEFA also got the chance to show its new “snicko” feature for the first time, which uses a “heartbeat” line to prove the ball, which has a chip inside it, has been touched by the hand. It was expected this would be used for a player who had scored a goal, rather than a possible deliberate handball in the buildup. If you need “snicko” to prove the handball, is it really that consequential to the goal?

Possible offside: Lukaku when scoring

What happened: Belgium scored in the 56th minute when Lukaku tapped home from close range after Amadou Onana headed back across goal. While Belgium celebrated it was clear that the VAR would need to complete an offside check.

VAR decision: Goal disallowed.

VAR review: The handball wasn’t the first heartbreak for Lukaku in this game, with the striker having two goals ruled out by the VAR.

For this earlier incident, half of his body was in front of the ball as it was headed by Onana.

While Lukaku was in front of the last defender, the goal would have counted if he had been behind the ball.