Why Karim Benzema’s goal was offside for Real Madrid in the Champions League final

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Real Madrid edged out Liverpool to win the Champions League on Saturday, with Vinicius Junior’s 59th-minute goal settling the game in Paris.

But earlier there was controversy when Carlo Ancelotti’s team thought they had opened the scoring in the 43rd minute.

VAR’s wildest moments: Alisson’s two red cards in one game

Karim Benzema was put through after a pass over the top, but lost control when goalkeeper Alisson advanced, with the ball rebounding off two Liverpool players after a scramble inside the area before it fell at the striker’s feet again for him to score. The assistant’s flag went up for offside, and after what seemed like an interminable VAR review, that decision stood.

Benzema was in a clear offside position, as there must be two defensive players between himself and the goal. But there was only one, largely because Alisson was in front of the Real Madrid striker.

ESPN’s VAR Review takes a look at why it was the correct decision to disallow the goal.

Why did the VAR review take so long?

Unlike in all domestic leagues, UEFA appoints an assistant VAR purely to work on offside decisions – for the final it was Massimiliano Irrati of Italy – which usually makes the process quicker.

However, even when it is clear that a player is in an offside position, as was the case here, sometimes the decision is not straightforward. It took 3 mins and 20 seconds for the VAR to confirm the on-field decision.

There were five parts to it:
– Was Benzema offside from the first ball over the top?
– Was Benzema offside before scoring?
– Did Federico Valverde touch the ball?
– Was there a “deliberate play” of the ball by a Liverpool defender?
– Check for penalty for a foul by Ibrahima Konate

Working out all five elements takes time, with an extended discussion between the VAR team on the subjective elements about the play of the ball. Incidents such as these, which are multilayered, are a major reason why a time limit is unlikely to be brought into the VAR process.

Did Valverde touch the ball?

As Benzema was onside from the initial ball played over the top, this is what took up much of the time. The offside AVAR has to make sure Valverde did touch the ball. If he did not, Benzema could not be offside and the goal would have been allowed.

The replay from behind the goal showed Valverde did just get to the ball first, before it then deflected off Konate and Fabinho.

So, what is a ‘deliberate play’ of the ball?

It’s impossible to correctly referee a football match purely by reading the laws of the game, and this is a prime example of why. The laws are merely an overarching framework, an overview. Application and interpretation go far deeper, based on guidance issued to referees.

The offside law states: “A player in an offside position receiving the ball from an opponent who deliberately plays the ball, including by deliberate handball, is not considered to have gained an advantage.”

“Deliberate” is then defined as: “An action which the player intended / meant to make; it is not a ‘reflex’ or unintended reaction.”

And this is where breaking down the guidance is important.

Konate was clearly attempting to win the ball when tackling Valverde, but the act of the tackle alone does not make it a “deliberate play.”

The determiner in this specific situation is the short distance the ball has traveled, meaning that while Konate was trying to make the tackle how he made contact with the ball was unintended. In law, as Valverde got to the ball first it cannot be a “deliberate play” by Konate, only a block. There was no time for Konate to react and play the ball in an intended way. Therefore, the offside phase is not reset and Benzema remains active.

(A “deliberate play” only applies to defensive players, and not to Valverde who as an attacking player any touch begins the offside phase.)

But the ball came off two Liverpool players?

In the offside law, this is irrelevant. If Konate isn’t deemed to have made a “deliberate play” of the ball, Fabinho certainly did not. It’s a case of two deflections which took the ball to Benzema.

It does not matter how many players the ball comes off if there is not a “deliberate play.” It could rebound off five players and fall to Benzema, and it would still be offside.

Why does ‘deliberate play’ even exist in the law?

It’s to factor in situations where a defender makes an error in trying to clear the ball. The logic is that a striker should be able to benefit from a clear defensive error.

It’s controversial, as it also means there are situations whereby a striker can be in an offside position and gain an advantage.

Like Mbappe in the UEFA Nations League final?

Exactly, and this is the key difference between a deliberate play and what the law considers to be a block.

The goal proved controversial, as Kylian Mbappe was offside by a couple of paces when France teammate Theo Hernandez played him through on goal. However, Spain defender Eric Garcia had extended a leg and touched the ball, deliberately trying to intercept it on its way through to Mbappe, thus rendering everything after that point a new phase of play.

In this example, the ball traveled a distance which enabled Garcia to react and make a “deliberate play.”

Many people do not like this aspect of the offside law, but it’s the correct interpretation as intended by the IFAB, football’s lawmakers.

Was Real Madrid’s winning goal offside?

There was no question about the goal scorer, Vinicius, being onside, but Benzema was in an offside position when Valverde played the ball across the edge of the 6-yard box.

Had the ball touched Benzema in any way, the goal would have been disallowed. Although it was close to the striker, there was no conclusive proof that it did touch his boot.

But was Benzema interfering from an offside position?

First and foremost, being stood offside does not make you actively offside. The striker must do something to impact or influence the play or an opponent to become active.

If Benzema had jumped over, made an attempt to kick or feinted at the ball, that would be considered becoming active.

And while Konate was standing behind him, the offside law does not consider Benzema to be impacting or challenging him. Had Konate been making an attempt to challenge Benzema, it may have been different. But in this specific situation, Benzema does nothing that makes him active. He must have realized he was just ahead of the last defender as he allowed the ball to pass through.

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