FIFA World Cup 2018: Spike in goals from set-pieces as VAR debuts in Russia
Move over Iceland and Harry Kane, Video Assistant Referee (VAR) is the most talked-about debutant in this World Cup.
The system was called into action on the second day of the competition and has been a constant fixture since.
The most apparent result of the technology can be seen in the number of goals that have come from the set-piece movements. According to the Washington Post, out of the 38 goals scored in the first round of the group stages, seven were from penalties, six from corner-kicks, four directly from a free-kick and three following free-kicks.
That means 20 goals, or 53% of all goals came from restart moves. In the 2014 edition, goals scored from set-pieces stood at 43 out of 171 while the 2010 edition had 34 of the 143 goals, or a mere 24%, coming from set-pieces.
The VAR works in two ways; the referee can request a review after making a decision or the VAR team in Moscow can recommend one. If the VAR team thinks that there has been a clear error, they can notify the on-field referee and the official will have three options: he can overturn the call, review the incident on a monitor on the touchline or stick to his original decision. This helps referees review decisions and avoid embarrassment.
On the other hand, it is not quite good news for the defenders. It is common for defenders to be physically intimidating inside the box during set-pieces. But with the all-seeing VAR at work, any rash altercation can result in a penalty and the number of penalties conceded in the first round matches have been higher than the last few editions.
In the first round matches, the referees gave nine penalties – the highest at this stage of the tournament since 1966 – and three of them stemmed from VAR. In the past, there were a number of tackles inside the box which escaped notice but that is now a thing of the past.
The VAR monitors every move of the game and the three penalty referrals till now is a clear indication that match officials have no issue in consulting the technology at critical junctures. In all fairness, when it comes to goals scored from set-pieces, there are many factors at play like the quality of the ball, errors committed by the defenders or even individual brilliance of the scorer.
However, VAR has provided referees with the power to review any moment of the match and, as the growing number of penalties suggest, the officials are taking complete advantage of it to make sure that no foul goes unpunished inside the box.
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