'Ludicrous' penalty reignites major furore at Women's World Cup

The ongoing controversy surrounding the handball rule at the Women's World Cup continued as the Netherlands were awarded a contentious late penalty to beat Japan and secure the final spot in the quarter-finals.

Lieke Martens scored her second goal of the game to secure a 2-1 victory over the 2015 runners-up after it was adjudged that Japan captain Saki Kumagai had blocked a shot with her arm.

With two minutes remaining, a shot hit Kumagai on the arm, which was down by her side, and referee Melissa Borjas pointed to the spot.

"It was a penalty, it struck my hand. Of course it is very hard to accept. I am sad but I know that that's football," a tearful Kumagai admitted after the game.

The referee spotted the handball and awarded the penalty. Pic: Getty

Martens kept her composure to convert from 12 yards, later accepting the penalty award at the end had been harsh on Japan.

"It's not our decision, we are really happy with that and sometimes you need a bit of luck,” she said.

While the Netherlands will take the win, the penalty reignited a fiery debate about the handball rule that has seemingly punished defenders to a new degree.

The Dutch advanced to the last eight and a meeting with Italy, who earlier on Tuesday eased past China 2-0 in Montpellier.

Yui Hasegawa had pulled Japan level on 43 minutes with a neat clipped finish after Martens' opener on 17 minutes, her clever back-heel flick from a corner finding a way into the corner of the goal after a deflection.

Both sides created further chances in the second half at Roazhon Park as an even contest appeared set for extra-time.

It was Japan who looked like finishing the game stronger, Hasegawa firing inches wide, Mana Iwabuchi hitting the side-netting and Hina Sugita hitting the crossbar.

Even after the penalty Japan pushed for a second equaliser as a goalmouth scramble was cleared by the Dutch, who held on to progress.

Kumagai, in tears after the game, was comforted by Netherlands rival Shanice van de Sanden.

Italy sealed their first appearance in the quarter-finals since 1991 courtesy of goals from Valentina Giacinti and Aurora Galli.

AC Milan forward Giacinti already had an effort chalked out for offside before she scored the opener on 15 minutes when pouncing on a rebound after China goalkeeper Peng Shimeng did well to deny Elisa Bartoli.

China went close to an equaliser when Li Ying's header hit the woodwork before halftime.

But substitute Galli, who came on in the 39th minute, struck four minutes after the break when she drove a low shot home from 25 metres out.

with agencies