England might have lost the FIFA Women’s World Cup final to Spain, but for the last half-hour the Lionesses remained alive thanks to an outstanding penalty save from goalkeeper Mary Earps.
Yet a debate emerged over whether the spot kick should have been retaken after a potentially illegal move appeared to go unnoticed by all referees.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: England goalkeeper Mary Earps pulls off stunning penalty save.
The penalty was awarded in the 66th minute after a Keira Walsh handball in the box prompted a lengthy deliberation first by the VAR and then referee Tori Penso.
Whether the delay ruined her routine or she simply fluffed the kick, Spain’s Jenni Hermoso missed badly with a low shot to her right that never looked like beating Earps.
And didn’t the goalkeeper enjoy it?
Spain defeat England to win maiden FIFA Women’s World Cup
Earps celebrates the save that kept England in the final. Credit: Maddie Meyer/FIFA via Getty Images
Several ‘f*** off’ screams followed as teammates rushed to celebrate, and England resumed their push for an equaliser with a pep in their step.
It could have been so different, though, with viewers – including Socceroos great John Aloisi – rushing to claim Earps had broken a key rule as she began to dive left to save Hermoso’s penalty.
Goalkeepers distracting penalty-takers or leaving their line have long been bones of contention but both acts now go against the laws of the game.
Part of Law 14 states: “When the ball is kicked, the defending goalkeeper must have at least part of one foot touching, in line with, or behind, the goal line.”
Earps actually started with both feet behind the line but launched herself forward as she picked her side.
The live view and replays both suggested the England star’s right foot had narrowly lifted off the line at the moment Hermoso kicked the ball.
“I’m surprised that (Spain) didn’t get to retake this,” Aloisi said in Channel 7’s post-game show, 15 minutes after the game ended.
“It looked like both her feet had gone over the line before (the kick) and you’re not allowed to move off the line before. She moved really early, that’s why she was able to save it.”
FIFA put the issue to bed 15 minutes later – or 30 minutes after the full-time whistle – when it confirmed the broadcast footage was an optical illusion.
The governing body shared a side-on view that proved the studs of Earps’s boot remained over the line – and that’s good enough.
“As with all penalties, the Video Assistant Referee checked Spain’s penalty for encroachment by the goalkeeper and determined that Mary Earps’ back foot was in line with the goal line,” FIFA said.
The explanation did not satisfy every fan but it was a credit to Earps that she read Hermoso’s run-up and chose the correct side to make the save without breaching the rules, even if only by millimetres.
Earps would not have been the first goalkeeper to be pulled up for crossing the goal-line during a penalty at the tournament.
Matildas star Mackenzie Arnold was found by VAR to have overstepped when she produced a monumental save in the penalty shootout to beat France in the quarter-finals.
Arnold remarkably saved the re-do as the Aussies marched towards victory.
In the final on Sunday night, Earps well and truly got away with one but England failed to take full advantage.
The 30-year-old achieved a bittersweet personal milestone after the defeat to Spain when she was awarded the Golden Glove as the best goalkeeper of the tournament.