England’s goalkeeper Karen Bardsley has expressed misgivings about the use of VAR to judge the movement of goalkeepers, saying it seems cruel and pedantic.
Scotland’s hopes of making the last 16 of the World Cup disappeared when Argentina retook and scored an injury-time penalty that had been saved by Lee Alexander after the goalkeeper was seen to have moved off her line too soon. It followed similar VAR-driven retakes by France and Italy against Nigeria and Jamaica respectively, both of which were also converted at the second attempt.
“For something so new to be introduced on such a big stage, it’s hard to get your head around it in terms of changing habits,” said Bardsley.
The Manchester City player, speaking after England’s 2-0 win over Japan, added: “We were briefed by the referees and they did mention that if we do move off the line. But if it’s a toenail … Fingers crossed, fortunately nothing has really happened to us, but it just seems cruel. And so pedantic.”
Bardsley said she did not pay attention to the precise position of her feet when facing a penalty. “I don’t think people are thinking about it in the moment. We’ve always been able to move laterally but it’s strange to crack down on it.”
The Premier League will not use VAR to judge goalkeepers’ movements at penalties next season, leaving those decisions to on-field officials, although it will review its approach during the campaign.
Bardsley, appearing at her third World Cup, has been hugely impressed with the quality on display from her fellow goalkeepers. “It’s like everyone has been bagging on us for so long that we’re just like: ‘We will show you,’” she said. “It just goes to show how much the women’s game has improved over the years. Outstanding goalkeepers, fantastic reaction saves. The Argentina keeper was absolutely outstanding [against England] – you’ve got to give credit where it’s due. She made phenomenal saves.”
Bardsley says she cannot judge whether an improvement in the quality of goalkeeper coaching has led to an overall rise in standards, but believes she has benefited in that regard at City. “My coach certainly helped my game evolve from a relatively old-school style to a more modern style of goalkeeping,” she said.
Pressed on what old school means, she said: “When you’re constantly jumping over cones or it looks like they can land aeroplanes where you’re training, or jumping over hurdles.
“There’s a time and a place for it, don’t get me wrong, but you’re really starting to incorporate different techniques from handball and futsal. It’s about timing more than anything else. Those little intricacies are slowly being picked up in the women’s game and it’s going unnoticed.”
If the introduction of a goalkeeper accolade at the Fifa Best awards has buoyed performances, that does not apply to Bardsley, who had not noticed its existence. “That’s cool,” she said. “It’s just a popularity contest at the end of the day. That’s what it seems like. I’m not fussed about awards, I just want to win a medal and a trophy.”
Bardsley was back in the team, having started against Scotland in England’s Group D opener, as one of eight changes to the side that played against Argentina. Two others to come in, Rachel Daly and Georgia Stanway, impressed on their World Cup debuts.
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind,” said Daly, who is at her first World Cup at the age of 27, having been told at youth level she would never be good enough for England. “You don’t actually realise what it feels like till you get out there on the pitch. Off the pitch things are still wild – you’ve seen the fanzones – but once you cross that white line it really kicks in that you’re at a World Cup.”
Daly, having been used as backup to Lucy Bronze at right-back, was given a chance in a preferred forward position alongside the goalscorer Ellen White. “I’m naturally a more attacking player so it’s good for me to be up there,” she said. “Phil [Neville, the manager] gives me the freedom to express myself; he doesn’t criticise forwards for taking chances.”
Daly uses anger to fire herself up: “I play better when I’m angry. I wind myself up.”
Stanway, who plays as a forward for Manchester City, was used in midfield, where Neville had experimented with her pre-tournament. She provided an assist and, like Daly, is happy to be contributing to a selection headache for Neville in the knockout phase.
“Pretty much everybody has had the chance to get on the pitch,” Stanway said. “There’s a few that have not made that yet, but I’m almost certain that they’ll get their opportunity at some point.
“You can see that whenever someone scores the whole bench are up and everybody is trying to celebrate together because we’re one. Whether you’re playing, whether you’re not, everyone is just supporting each other.”
The Lionesses are the first England team to win all their group games since 1982 and Stanway thinks that has sent out a message. “We’d hope that they fear us. We’d hope that nobody wants to play England. We’re just excited to showcase what we can do.
“We’ve got the confidence to do it. We’ve got the freedom to do it. We’re just going to go out there and showcase our creativity.”