France successfully bounced back from their shock Friday defeat against Sweden by defeating England 3-2 at the Stade de France.
The biggest talking point, though, was the circumstances that saw the home side left down to 10 men early in the second half, when Raphael Varane was controversially dismissed for a foul on Dele Alli.
At the time, Didier Deschamps’ side were leading 2-1, with goals from Samuel Umtiti and Djibril Sidibe responding to an early effort from Harry Kane. England, though, gained the momentum when the Spurs midfielder broke onto his own header and was tripped in the box by Varane.
It was assumed that when the video assistant referee (VAR) was called for, that Davide Massa was checking there had been contact. There was general astonishment, therefore, when he waved a red card in the bemused defender’s direction.
Law 12 states: “A direct free kick is awarded if a player commits any of the following offences against an opponent in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force … trips or attempts to trip.”
Now, there is no doubt that Varane tripped Alli, and as a consequence by the exact letter of the law, the VAR was correct in his decision, but there is a danger of breeding a set of robotic officials unable to use a common-sense approach to the match.
It was equally evident from the video replay that Varane showed no ill-intent when he brought down the Englishman. His ‘challenge’ could at the worst be branded clumsy – but clumsiness should be no grounds for a red card, particularly in an era where the ‘double jeopardy’ punishment has gone.
Ironically, if Varane had put in a challenge designed to bring down Alli but close enough to claim he was going for the ball, he would only have been booked. That situation can’t be right.
Tuesday’s friendly was by no means the first blow for VAR in the last month. A huge amount of controversy was caused by their use in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, most notably when Italy defender Giuseppe Pezzella was dismissed for a virtually non-existent push on a Zambian opponent.
Criticism was also levelled at the use of the technology prior to penalties, which delayed the kicks and actually penalised the takers as the greater delay led to a build up in pressure. This was perhaps most evident in the final, when Adalberto Penaranda was denied by Freddie Woodman.
In Paris, though, Kane was not fazed.
England boss Southgate may be glad of the VAR controversy in the wake of another disappointing performance, in which his side turned in an uninspired display against an ebullient France outfit that impressively shook off the questions that had mounted on them.
Deschamps use of Kylian Mbappe, who is still waiting for his first international goal, and Ousmane Dembele will certainly be praised, with the latter getting the winner in what was an exciting encounter, while Paul Pogba turned in one of his best displays in a France shirt. Impressively, even when they were down to 10, France still sought to win the game. So much for the coach who was criticised for being negative after Friday's loss.
Unlike his English counterpart, he will hope that his team get the credit they deserve in the wake of the officiating mess.