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What’s the verdict on VAR?


Connor James Ibbetson, Editor-at-large

This year’s world cup is the first ever to feature digital VAR technology to assist the traditional referee.

What is VAR?

The Video Assisted Referee system, or VAR, is a hot topic for any football-heads right now who are following the 2018 World Cup – hosted by Russia. This isn’t the first time VAR has been used in a major tournament, being trialled at the FA cup last season, as well as some european leagues in Germany and Italy.

While Goal line technology was used in the 2014 Brazilian world cup, but this year is the first time the VAR system has been used in a world cup, following a unanimous vote from the International Football Association Board in march of this year. The system has already been used multiple times in the group stages of the tournament.

A VAR system is essentially another team of referees, who may be on site or at another location, who watch the progress of the game from video monitors and many different camera angles. They can then, at the request of the on-pitch referee, advise him or her about what has happened if the referee was not able to fully see an incident.

The on-pitch referee can also signal to view a monitor for a reply themselves to inform a judgement call, known as an ‘on-field review’.

Its important to remember, the VAR referees are there to advise, only the on-pitch referee can make the decision.

When can it used during a match?

There are no strict timelines as to when the VAR system can be used following specific plays. However, the system cannot be used once play has restarted following an incident.

For example, if there was a foul during an attempt on goal, and the referee awarded a free kick instead of a penalty, and the kick is taken, it is too late to employ VAR.

What does VAR look for?

There are again no strict guidelines on what the VAR referees are looking for, and they will only intervene following a ‘clear and obvious error’ from the on-pitch referee. The main areas the VAR system is used for is of course first and foremost, goals.

The VAR system is excellent for determining if an attacking player is onside or offside, but the VAR can also be used to check for incidents of aggressive contact, shirt pulling and other fouls leading up to a goal to determine if the point is legitimate.

VAR can also be used to determine if a penalty is to be awarded, should the referee need additional information on the play.

The giving of red cards can also be supported by VAR, to ensure the player being penalised is deserving of being sent off.

VAR Examples so far in the World Cup

Diego Costa’s Jaw dropping moment in Spain v Portugal

In the buildup to Diego Costa’s 24th-minute goal to equalise, he went to challenge Pepe for the ball, leaving the Portuguese defender on the floor, dramatically clutching his jaw.

In reality: No foul, the goal should have stood, and it did.

VAR verdict: Good call!

Griezmann falls into a penalty during Australia v France

An infamous penalty for France that will be a takeaway moment of VAR in the Group stages. Australian defender Josh Risdon went in and tripped Antoine Griezmann, who was just inside the box. The referee initially called the challenge as good. However, a relay from the VAR room led to an on pitch review, and an award of a penalty to France.

In reality: A borderline call, did the defender make enough ball contact to have the challenge declared legitimate or not? The jury is still out on this one, and no one can seem to make their mind up, apart from the referee apparently.

VAR verdict: Touch and go, likely a bad call.

Harry Kane tackles the issue of VAR in the box in England v Tunisa

Harry Kane of England was virtually tackled to the ground by Yassine Meriah of Tunisia during England’s opening. An offense that should have been a clear cut penalty and and easy decision for the VAR team to relay to the referee.

In reality: Kane and the England team were left empty handed.

VAR verdict: A missed opportunity for VAR to prove itself, and a missed penalty for England.

Premature celebration for Ezatolahi during Iran v Spain

An unexpected equaliser scored by Saeid Ezatolahi against spanish keeper De Gea sent the Iranian team into celebration overdrive.

In reality: While the referee and the linesmen had already caught it, analysis from VAR showed Ezatolahi to be just offside, and his much celebrated goal was disallowed.

VAR verdict: A good call, but maybe not entirely needed in this case.

Has VAR worked?

VAR is a dividing factor among football fans, some say the system is clunky, interrupts play, and leads to more instances of diving in the hopes of gaining a free kick or other concession from a VAR replay. Proponents of the system say it will help to tackle cheating, give the referee the power to make better informed decisions and make for a fairer beautiful game.

Looking at what has gone down so far, VAR has helped make some excellent calls, but missed absolutely blindingly obvious other incidents. So it is fair to say there are improvements to be made. Having said that, VAR is still in its early days and the World Cup is still in the group stages.

When we reach the knockout stages and the finals, when decisions can make or break a nations world cup dreams, I think we will see much heavier use of the VAR tech.

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