Russia 2018 has not ceased to amaze so far in the opening stages. Goals galore, big names heading for an early exit and underdogs roaring loudly making a big statement of intent, their dreams living on and hope in their hearts alive as well. With the beautiful game this tournament has come with new technology- Video Assistant Referee, or more commonly known as VAR. It was spoken of by each commentator in all 48 group stages games and has, above many under performers such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and other teams alike, been the star of the show, for both good and bad.
VAR was introduced and has been used to review possible red card scenarios as well as penalty decisions. Throughout the group stages and so far, the round of 16, VAR has been called upon to either award goals, reaffirm or dismiss penalty decisions.
It was also used for example, to assess whether superstar Ronaldo was deserving of a red card in Portugal’s encounter with Iran, where Ronaldo was seen deliberately elbowing an Iranian defender in a poor attempt to regain possession. That 1-1 draw saw VAR used an astonishing four times throughout the game. Games heave certainly lasted longer, from extra time added from reviews referees on-field have had to take.
With people worrying about VAR taking passion out of the game and slowing things down, the new technology instilled in this World Cup has brought about the question of how many potential penalties were missed in previous World Cup competitions, given the magnitude of penalties given away this tournament so far.
Many decisions have been made last minute and have determined the game. France vs Australia saw three goals, two of which were determined by VAR and where penalties were awarded and converted. VAR was in favor of an original goal and then dismissed offside for Spain against Morocco as well as players such as Neymar for Brazil and Sadio Màne for Senegal thinking they won penalties, which were later overturned and cancelled out by the on-field referee’s review. Was it a handball? VAR reviewed and indeed it was. Whistle goes and the referee points to the spot.
Criticism has also been fired VAR’s way when, for example, Harry Kane was held in the box and no penalty was given and no potential penalty was even reviewed, although England ran away 2-1 victors over Tunisia.
One of the biggest points about VAR in question was the referee’s decision to award Iran with penalty against Portugal which ended in a 1-1 draw. Many analysts and commentators pointed not to VAR as the mistake but the referee’s decision to point straight to the spot with the handball, without consulting VAR, which was evidently a continuation of his bad night.
So far, 27 penalties have been awarded this World Cup up until July 1st, with 10 being completely up to VAR reviewing, whilst others have been confirmed from reviewing.
The number of penalties conceded and awarded as well as the number of goals scored this World Cup makes fans across the world aware of the fact that in previous tournaments, so many more goals in various circumstances could have been awarded but were not. VAR could further prove to be a useful tool in determining important decisions being made in even more important games as we go deeper into the tournament.
Toward the end of the group stages, Korea Republic were pressing World Champions Germany who were fighting for their lives and knowing a draw wouldn’t be sufficient to progress. And so, when Korea scored, and the decision was reviewed, to check whether it was offside or not, hearts were in mouths of all in the stadium. The referee blew to confirm the goal and it was announced that Germany would be heading home. Such technology will have such a massive influence as we head into the business end of the tournament, especially at the business end of all games going forward and will most likely be at the center of any controversy.