The 2018 World Cup will be remembered for three letters; V A R.
Love it or hate it, it appears to be here to stay and is certainly what everyone has been talking about. It was predicted in the run up to the tournament to be a controversial tool. So, less than a week into the competition, it came as no surprise that FIFA announced they would analyse the use of VAR in the wake of the Harry Kane penalty controversy following England’s World Cup win over Tunisia.
Football’s governing body said they would look into how the technology had been used after the way it was utilised during England’s opening victory with many camera angles showing Harry Kane being dragged to the ground twice in the penalty area by Tunisian defender Ferjani Sassi.
Kane and England were denied two clear penalty decisions by Colombian referee, Wilmar Roldan, who took no action and neither did the four VAR officials, sat fully kitted up, in their studio back in Moscow. It left many English fans confused and unhappy, before that late winner from Kane. Justice was done.
Even the England players, including Kyle Walker, who conceded the controversial penalty against Tunisia, made claims that they have been left puzzled about VAR and how it is meant to work. The players had received a briefing before the game but were left not knowing what’s correct and what’s not after the debacle in Volgograd.
When do you ask for it? If you crowd the referee and say ‘VAR’, do you get a yellow card? Surely referees have got a tough enough job as it is without causing any more confusion for them, players and spectators? However, Marcus Rashford believes bringing VAR into the game is a good thing and will improve with time. We will see.
Brazil had also complained to FIFA saying they were denied two key decisions in their 1-1 draw with Switzerland. Brazilian football’s governing body, the CBF, asked to know from FIFA the reason that the technology was not used for the incidents during that game. Denmark can feel hard done by after suffering from two penalty decisions being awarded against them through VAR; two decisions that wouldn’t have been awarded without the use of the technology.
VAR is in danger of becoming the predicted farce and overshadowing the World Cup, which despite fears of crowd violence and racism, seems to be ticking along nicely. However, back in England, the Football Association have said they will now watch with interest to see what action FIFA will take to clean up the mess, confusion and controversy caused by VAR. Premier League chiefs decided in April to postpone the introduction of the technology for at least another year following an experiment in the domestic cups, which was judged to have not been good enough last season.
It is likely that FIFA will hold their own referees’ meeting before the end of the World Cup and before they explain publicly the decision behind introducing VAR at the competition. It is the first time it has been used at any major tournament, so to debut it at the World Cup seemed like a very big gamble.
FIFA have looked to give some clarity by saying that VAR will only be used to “correct clear and obvious errors and missed incidents in clearly defined match-changing decisions”. Yet the latest penalty to be awarded against Denmark fits none of that criteria.
It is far from perfect and has not wiped out the controversial decisions that FIFA officials hoped it would. There is still a lot of football to be played at this World Cup and as we get to the later stages, the VAR decisions will take on much bigger significance. FIFA’s gamble is all set to backfire big style.