Why did England get a free kick inside the penalty box against Cameroon at World Cup?

It was a strange first 15 minutes for England and Cameroon, and it ended with one of the most rare rulings in the sport.

In the 14th minute of England’s Round of 16 game against Cameroon in the 2019 Women’s World Cup, a Cameroon defender passed the ball back to the goalkeeper and Anette Ndo Ndom scooped up the ball with her hands.

The call: a handball on an intentional backpass. The ruling: an indirect free kick from six yards away where Ndo Ndom picked up the ball.

Cameroon countered in the only way which made sense: sticking every single player along the goal line to try to prevent the point-blank shot. Inevitably, it didn’t work. A teammate tapped the ball to Steph Houghton and the center back hammered home the opening goal to give England an early one-goal lead in Valenciennes, France, on the way to a 3-0 win.

The ruling made Sunday is one of the strangest in the sport. Typically, a handball in the box — or any sort of foul — results in a penalty kick.

The indirect free kick inside the box only results from a less serious infraction. Many of these less serious infractions involve the goalkeeper, as it did at Stade du Hainaut. Some examples, according to the FIFA rule book:

“An indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a goalkeeper, inside her own penalty area, commits any of the following four offenses:

controls the ball with her hands for more than six seconds before releasing it from her possession

touches the ball again with her hands after he has released it from her possession and before it has touched another player

touches the ball with her hands after it has been deliberately kicked to her by a teammate

touches the ball with her hands after he has received it directly from a throw-in taken by a teammate.”

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