Keith Hackett

During my era, neither of Liverpool’s goals would have stood but Damir Skomina was spot on with both his major decisions in Madrid – Keith Hackett

This was a match that underlined how refereeing has evolved and the transformation in how certain rules are interpreted. During the era in which I refereed, which spanned from the 1970s until the mid 1990s, neither of Liverpool’s goals would ultimately have stood and yet Damir Skomina was spot on with both his major decisions on Saturday night.

As a referee, you know that the players will be especially nervous at the start of a match of this importance but Skomina was ready and immediately got himself in an ideal position for Liverpool’s opening attack. Some people will view his award of a penalty as harsh – and it would certainly not have been given several decades ago when we concentrated on whether handballs were deliberate – but it was absolutely the correct decision according to the guidance today.

The key was how Moussa Sissoko used his outstretched arm to effectively make himself much wider. He was so wide that the ball could not pass. His arm was hanging far away from his body. It came down towards the ball and there was contact.

Roberto Rossetti, the Head of Uefa Referees, had specifically instructed his officials in January that he wanted handball offences of this type to be penalised. He was very clear in saying that, “if the defender is making the body bigger in order to block the ball it is not fair”. Skomina had an ideal view and he was really left with no option.

This guidance will be formalised ahead of next season and this change of emphasis will present a significant challenge for coaches and players. It was simpler in many ways for officials of my generation when we were just looking for intent.

Now it is very clear that defenders will be penalised if their arm is above horizontal. They were often clever previously in the way they positioned their arms to widen their bodies but they will not get away with it any more. For the attackers, it has also been made clear that no goal can be scored off an arm whether it is accidental or not.

Liverpool’s penalty was also an example of how the Video Assistant Referee can work efficiently and more quickly than people often think. The decision was made by Skomina and was then checked by VAR, but this was not a clear and obvious error and so we did not have to go through a lot of replays or have the referee look at it again. It was the right decision and the time between Sadio Mane’s cross striking Sissoko and the ball hitting the back of the net was less than two minutes.

There will be some controversy over the decision but that is largely because people are still adjusting to how the handball rule is now interpreted. That will change as people get used to this sort of evolution in the Laws of the Game and we saw that with Liverpool’s second.

Nobody queried Divock Origi’s goal at all, even though there was another Liverpool player in a clearly offside position. He was yards offside but not interfering with play.

The audience could see that and there was no debate at all, even though that goal would also not have stood during the era in which I officiated.

You could also see Skomina’s calmness, experience and natural authority in how the decisions were received. The players did not overreact and, while it is rare to get such a massive call to make so early in a match, Skomina was right on the job and reinforced his reputation as one of the best referees around.

He also completed a full set of major European finals after he took charge previously of the Europa League final between Ajax and Manchester United in 2017, and then the Super Cup back in 2012 when Chelsea were beaten by Atletico Madrid.

Article Keith Hackett Wrote for the Daily Telegraph