A lucky escape for Cristiano Ronaldo, a dubious penalty for Saudi Arabia and a correct decision in favour of Spain highlighted all spectrums of the video assistant referee (VAR) system at the World Cup on Monday.
Even though the Spanish goal for a 2-2 draw with Morocco was correctly ruled not offside, the technology has come under serious fire over recent days – after an initially successful and smooth start on its World Cup debut.
Ronaldo was lucky not to have been sent off for a flying elbow late in Portugal’s 1-1 draw with Iran in Saransk that was punished after review by VAR.
He got a yellow card in an incident where many pundits felt either a red or no sanction would have been the only appropriate measures.
“An elbow means red,” Iran coach Carlos Queiroz fumed.
“That’s what the rules say. They’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars [on the technology]. Five people are sitting there together and they don’t see the elbow. Ah, leave me in peace.
“It’s not important whether it was Ronaldo or [Argentina’s Lionel] Messi – it’s in the rules.”
Paraguay referee Enrique Caceres struggled in the game and made his way to the pitch-side monitor three times, prompting former Germany goalkeeper and TV pundit Oliver Kahn to speak of a “video evidence orgy.”
Iran’s stoppage-time spot kick arguably should not have been awarded, with the ball clearly striking the man when Sardar Azmoun’s close-range knock-down hit Cedric Soares’ arm.
A few hours earlier Colombian referee Wilmar Roldan also raised eyebrows after reviewing but still awarding Saudi Arabia a second spot kick in the game with Egypt for what appeared very little contact between Egypt’s Ali Gabr and Saudi Fahad Almuwallad.
The incidents followed several other debatable calls after the system had enjoyed a solid start, leading to praise from players and coaches including Belgium’s Roberto Martinez, who said “it helps fair play and teams who try to score goals.”
VAR is one reason why the tournament in Russia has already seen a World Cup record 20 penalties even before the end of the group stage. It also managed to identify play-acting such as in the case of Brazil’s Neymar.
However, there have also been cases when scenes were strangely not reviewed at all, such as Germany defender Jorome Boateng on Sweden forward Marcus Berg or Swiss defenders Stephan Lichtsteiner and Fabian Schaer on Serbia’s Aleksandar Mitrovic.
“They started well but now there have been some hiccups, and important scenes where video evidence wasn’t used. It has become arbitrary,” former FIFA referee Urs Meier of Switzerland said.
Sweden coach Janne Andersson also expressed surprise that the incident in his team’s game wasn’t reviewed, saying: “I hope there is a clear course when video evidence is to be used.”
Introduced to spot only major mistakes concerning goals, penalties, offsides and red cards, it now appears as if referees with less VAR experience than others are having more problems now that there is more at stake in games.
But some also had reason to praise VAR, such as Spain, when the technology correctly overturned an offside call on Iago Aspas’ stoppage time 2-2 equalizer against Morocco in Kaliningrad with which they won their group.
“Viva el VAR [long live VAR],” titled the Marca sports daily, and AS said “God save video evidence.”
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