By Reece Chambers
As the referee’s watch struck the 91st minute in the Kazan Arena, South Korea’s Kim Young-gwon poked the ball past Manuel Neuer from close range to eliminate world champions Germany from the World Cup. Whilst the linesman’s flag temporarily delayed Korean celebrations, the official Video Assistant Review reminded us of technology’s importance to football’s future.
For all of VAR’s trials and tribulations, it’s worth to many fans around the world increased by ten-fold when it ensured Germany’s elimination from the World Cup group stages – for the first time since 1938 – and see them finish bottom of Group F.
True, introducing such a radical change to the way football is officiated may not be best trialled in the World Cup. However, such implementation shows commitment from FIFA to continue the modernisation of football.
Furthermore, the announcement that VAR would be used in the 2018 World Cup was met with a variety of opinions. Traditional football fans could not bear the thought of technology in football, whilst more liberal footballing brains saw the clear benefits of a review system.
Whether you are for or against VAR, the 2018 World Cup tournament could just be acting as a watershed moment in modern football.
In practice, VAR is able to fundamentally change games even though such decisions are limited to goals, penalties, red cards and mistaken identity.
South Korea’s injury time goal that eliminated Germany was an excellent example of VAR working to its full potential. Similarly, Spain were awarded a VAR-assisted goal in the 91st minute of their match versus Morocco. Iago Aspas’ equaliser in the 91st minute ensured Spain finished top of Group B, ahead of rivals Portugal.
In a dramatic final matchday in Group B, VAR was at the centre of attention. Whilst Spain were the beneficiaries of the new system, Portugal were quite the opposite. When, after an official review, Cedric was adjudged to have handled the ball in his own penalty area, Iran were awarded a penalty – which Karim Ansarifard dispatched in the 93rd minute.
As the Portuguese players surrounded the referee to contest his decision, we were starkly reminded that VAR cannot solve all of football’s grey areas.
After the match, Portuguese defender Jose Fonte was quick to criticise VAR.
“We are not happy with the situation, the constant stopping the game, the controversy all the time.
“To end the game like that is just not fair. This VAR system is not my thing. Cedric is furious. In our opinion, he is not even looking at the ball.”
Such comments from international players do not bode well for the development of VAR. However, if the system can be refined to allow players the opportunity to refer decisions, they may begin to support the system.
What has been made abundantly clear throughout the World Cup is that there is no room to completely discard VAR after the tournament. With the financial stakes growing higher and higher, match officials deserve the best technology in order to assist their decision making.
In IFAB’s 2017/18 laws of the game, referees are expected to implement 17 sub-sections into practice on matchday. However, such rules do not account for an individual referee’s interpretation of situations.
Therefore, whilst VAR aims to draw a definitive line between legal play and foul play, it could well be impossible to achieve. VAR’s introduction can be viewed as a system that aims to support the on-field match officials whilst also adding an alternative sense of drama to the footballing spectacle for fans.
Why has it not been introduced in Premier League?
It was announced in April that Premier League clubs had voted against the use of VAR for the 2018/19 season.
Not one of the 112 officials (36 referees, 63 assistant referees and 13 video assistant referees) selected for the World Cup currently officiate in the Premier League. With the standard of British match officials clearly lower than their international counterparts, this must be a serious concern for Premier League clubs who depend on high quality officiating.
Whilst there appears to be a reluctance on behalf of the Premier League to implement VAR, Arsène Wenger has shown his apprehension about delaying its introduction – labelling it ‘a very, very bad decision.’
“The Premier League has been created with people who had a progressive mind.
“Overall, I believe that with that decision we are behind the rest of the world.”
In sum, the introduction of VAR in the World Cup leaves the Premier League and FA with little choice but to eventually implement the system. If the system is being used on the biggest stage of all, the Football Association needs to pave the way for an effective and inclusive VAR system.
VAR’s full-time introduction to British shores would be an almighty progressive for modern football. However, if the 2018 World Cup is anything to go by, it would most certainly improve decision making whilst still maintaining – if not increasing – a superb level of entertainment for fans.