It comes as no surprise that a lot of the talk about World Cup 2018 so far, apart from the enthralling games, brilliant goals and surprise results, is VAR – the use of a Video Assistant Referee.
Statistics compiled by UK newspaper, The Times, following the group stages of the World Cup has revealed some interesting findings and shows the impact the introduction of VAR has had on world football’s biggest tournament. This includes the fact there have been longer games, teams have committed fewer fouls and players are taking less shots.
VAR has often been the main topic of discussion amongst pundits and fans alike before and after games; none more so than following the 1-1 draw between Iran and Portugal when the VAR system was used an incredible four times.
Even Morocco’s Nordin Amrabat brandished the system “b******t” live on TV after his side where denied a win against Spain, after an Iago Aspas’s goal was awarded on review to snatch a 2-2 for the Spanish in their final group game.
When we look at the stats from the 48 group games, it appears that VAR is having a real impact on the game that many fans thought it would. Not all of it is negative though, with just three red cards handed out in the group stages, which is down from the average of 13 from previous tournaments and nowhere near the shocking 18 given out during the 2006 group stages.
Fouls were also down by 17 per cent, however, when fouls are committed, teams are making the most of the situation, with 43 per cent of the group stage goals coming from set pieces. Twenty-four penalties were also awarded, which comfortably beat the 2002 record of 18, with ten needing the assistance of VAR to be given.
The average length of the games was 97 minutes and 16 seconds, compared to those in the previous five tournaments where an average game lasted 95 minutes and 13 seconds. The time being added on for VAR reviews is also being used by teams to their advantage, with 20 group stage goals being scored in injury time, compared to an average of six in the previous five World Cups.
The number of shots is markedly down too, as games saw 24.4 shots on average, down around three per game on previous tournaments. Teams are waiting longer during their build-up play before having a shot at goal, with 58 per cent of efforts being taken from inside the 18-yard box, which compares to an average of 49 per cent previously.
The reduction of shots has inevitably meant there have been fewer goals, with 122 scored in 48 games compared to a record 136 four years ago in Brazil.
Pierluigi Collina, who is now FIFA’s referee committee chairman, revealed that conversations between referees during reviews could be broadcast live. He also said that they were happy that 99.3 per cent of the 335 decisions reviewed using VAR had produced the correct decision, despite protests from both the Brazilian and Moroccan FAs about using the system at the World Cup.
Collina said that before running you have to walk. VAR does not stand for perfection, there will still be mistakes, but 99 per cent is very close to perfection.
Love it or hate it, VAR looks like it is here to stay for the foreseeable future, but obviously still needs a bit of refinement. It has certainly added a sense of drama to many of the games and it has felt like there has been a lot less controversial decisions.