VAR Review: Why was Andersen a handball and Cucurella not?

On Friday, Spain beat Germany 2-1 in the Euro 2024 quarterfinals, but should the hosts have had a penalty in extra time?

Jamal Musiala attempted a shot on goal from outside the area, which was blocked by Marc Cucurella‘s hand.

So, why was a penalty not given by the VAR?


Spain 2-1 Germany

Possible handball: Cucurella stops Musiala’s shot

What happened: Musiala attempted a shot on goal in extra time, in the 105th minute, from outside the area, which was blocked by Cucurella. Germany’s players appealed for a penalty for handball, but referee Anthony Taylor waved away the appeals. The VAR, Stuart Attwell, checked for a possible spot kick.

VAR decision: No penalty.

VAR Review: It’s where we’ve got to in the modern game. When is the ball hitting the arm “handball,” and when isn’t it?

This situation presents two situations in successive games with Germany, both which had Attwell as the VAR. One resulted in a penalty, the other didn’t. So what’s the difference, and why?

Let’s cover the first one in the round of 16, when Denmark’s Joachim Andersen gave away a penalty when the ball touched him arm from a David Raum cross.

UEFA says that if the arm is in a raised position (or horizontal) creating a barrier to stop the ball, that’s not explainable by body position, then the referee and/or VAR should advise a spot kick. If UEFA didn’t believe that was a correct decision, Attwell wouldn’t be in the video chair for this game.

In the pre-tournament briefing, Roberto Rosetti, UEFA’s head of referees, gave specific examples of handball penalties. Rosetti showed a clip of the ball hitting a defender’s arm which was in a vertical position, close to the body. He said this should not be a penalty and if the arm is close to the body, and not extended to create what could be deemed a barrier, this should not be punished.

It was very close to the Cucurella incident. While handball in UEFA competitions remains more strict, it has tried to give at least some more leeway to defenders so they don’t need to have their hand behind their back.

So a defender in a standing position when the ball hits their arm at or close to their side, in position vertically and/or with the arm behind the line of the body should not be punished.

The problem? The ball hitting the arm of Andersen from fairly close range, with minimal contact, when in a running motion, seems less acceptable that giving a penalty against Cucurella for stopping a shot on goal.

But, like it or not, in both instances the decision has been given as UEFA expects.