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Fran Kirby hopes opponents will not try to deliberately win penalties for handball


Fran Kirby believes it is possible the new handball law could prompt some players to aim the ball at an opponent’s arm in a bid to win a penalty.

However, the Chelsea forward hopes that will not be the intention and they are more focused on finding a team-mate.

England were awarded a spot-kick in Sunday’s 2-1 Women’s World Cup win over Scotland in Nice following a VAR review after Kirby’s cross struck Nicola Docherty on the arm.

Nikita Parris converts from the spot after Nicola Docherty was penalised (Richard Sellers/PA)

The handball law was adjusted in changes that came into force on June 1, with the International FA Board saying players would be penalised in situations, “even if accidental”, when the ball touches a “hand/arm that has made their body unnaturally bigger.”

Asked if she felt there was now a danger players could look to fire the ball at an opponent’s arm, forward Kirby said: “Possibly, possibly. I’d like to think it wouldn’t happen.

“But I don’t feel in that moment you are thinking ‘I’m going to cross it and hit her hand.’

“For me running down that line, I’m crossing it thinking ‘Lucy Bronze is in the box, I want to get the ball on her head.’

“My cross was intended to get on the head of one of my players so we could score. It wasn’t a case of ‘if I hit this it might hit her hand.’

“I’d like to think players wouldn’t do that.”

Kirby says she was convinced as soon as the ball hit Docherty that the penalty – converted by Nikita Parris to put England 1-0 up in the 14th minute – would be given.

“We had a meeting before the game and the referees were very clear that if your arms are not basically near your body, or in a natural position, then it’s going to be given as a penalty,” Kirby said.

England v Scotland – FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 – Group D – Stade de Nice
England celebrate after Parris’ goal (Richard Sellers/PA)

“We had a VAR meeting with FIFA. They came in and explained everything to every team, and basically just explained how the rules were going to go.

“I knew as soon as the ball went into the box and hit her that it was going to be given as a penalty because of the conversation we had had previously.”

VAR is being used at a Women’s World Cup for the first time, having made its debut in the men’s tournament last summer in Russia.

Kirby was asked if the use of the system had affected her enjoyment on the pitch, and the 25-year-old said: “It’s not something we’ve really been worried about.

“We understand that this is the way that the game is going and we just need to focus on ourselves, and on being in the right frame of mind if that decision comes.

“Straight away, when I saw the ref was going to VAR, I went straight up to Nikita and said ‘it’s going to be a penalty, make sure you’re ready.’

“I could go to her and get her ready, knowing she has to step up and take this penalty. I think a few of the girls didn’t really know what was going on, but I could go over and say, ‘look, be ready’, so she could then focus on getting composed.

“We just come together and talk about what’s going wrong in the game, what’s going right, what we continue to do.

England v Scotland – FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 – Group D – Stade de Nice
Fran Kirby (right) is coming to terms with VAR (John Walton/PA)

“I think we use it more as kind of a tactical break, just to see how we’re all doing. So maybe it’s a positive in that kind of way.

“But it’s eliminating mistakes and that’s what you want. So many people before would moan at an assistant if they got an offside wrong or whatever.

“It’s just the way the game is going, and we are all understanding of it.”

England’s second game in Group D sees them face Argentina in Le Havre on Friday.

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