Mistakes Happen but Blunders from VAR Must not Spoil a Brilliant World Cup
It’s been a World Cup of high drama, and things got really controversial on Monday to the extent that VAR has had its first true negative impact on the tournament.
The final round of games in Group B took place, as Spain drew 2-2 with Morocco and Portugal finished 1-1 against Iran.
Both games had their share of VAR controversy, but it was in the Portugal against Iran contest that things got extremely spicy.
Midway through the second half, Portugal were leading 1-0 thanks to Ricardo Quaresma’s brilliant goal – a goal that was somewhat lost in the fog of VAR – and seemingly cruising through as group winners on account of Spain trailing 2-1 to Morocco.
But as Iran chased the game and got more and more niggly, the Portuguese lost their cool. Quaresma was lucky to escape with only a booking after a wild hack, admittedly after three Iran players had all had a nibble at him. If their aim was to get a reaction it worked.
It was a similar story with Cristiano Ronaldo. He had a rare off night, missed a penalty and got himself embroiled in a barging match that saw him brush Morteza Pouraliganji with his arm.
Pouraliganji went down as if hit by a sledgehammer and after a delay, referee Enrique Caceres was summoned to his review booth by VAR. The on-screen caption said it was reviewing a potential red card. After a lengthy delay, Caceres emerged to show Ronaldo a yellow card. There was a look of bewilderment and relief on Ronaldo’s face and although it did not merit a red card, from the moment Caceres was summoned to the touchline there was always the chance it could have been brandished.
Sadly, that was not the end of the controversy as in injury time, Iran were awarded a penalty – once again after Caceres had been summoned to his review booth.
The official initially waved away Iranian appeals for a handball against Portugal defender Cedric Soares. VAR took a look, which it is meant to do, and summoned Caceres to the sidelines to review it. That was the first mistake.
VAR is there to request the referee takes a second look at something that is a clear and obvious error. With Cedric a matter of inches from his marker, there was no way a penalty should have been awarded in the first place – so the error was not clear and obvious. But VAR made the call to review it and to the bewilderment of the vast majority, he awarded a penalty.
Karim Ansarifard kept his cool to slot home the penalty to snatch a draw for Iran, and it also ensured Spain took top spot in the group – with Portugal qualifying in second.
Both Spain and Portugal qualified, but they now have different paths through the knockout stages. Spain will face hosts Russia in the last 16, while Portugal will take on Uruguay – a Uruguay side who made a slow start to the tournament but hammered Russia 3-0 earlier on Monday.
If given the choice of facing Russia or Uruguay, the sensible one would be to take on the former who made a flying start to the World Cup but were exposed by a quality opponent.
A blunder by the VAR team was compounded by the man on the field and resulted in Portugal being handed a far more difficult path than should have been the case.
The World Cup has been hugely exciting and far more entertaining than some harbingers of doom had been predicting, but officials have to put up their hands and ensure that the football, the atmosphere and the spectacle are not overshadowed by inept pieces of officiating – both on the field and in a cupboard in Moscow.
VAR has a place in football, the game cannot stand still in the face of change, but the technology has to be used to eliminate mistakes not cause them.
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