‘It’s not working’ - VAR off to rocky start in FIFA World Cup 2018
Late drama in simultaneous Group B games on Monday evening resurfaced a debate on the use of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR). Technology had a role in both the late equalisers Spain and Iran earned.
While Iago Aspas’ late goal for Spain, initially ruled out for offside, was cleared by VAR, Iran were handed a late penalty for a handball by Cedric even after replays failed to prove beyond considerable doubt if it was deliberate.
In Portugal’s game, Ronaldo was given a yellow card after a VAR referral following an off-the-ball incident with Iran’s Morteza Pouraliganji. The latter had gone down clutching his face after an elbow from Ronaldo. It was the biggest talking point as many felt the Real Madrid star should have been sent off.
Going by FIFA’s rulebook, Ronaldo should have received a red card if the referee determined that he had deliberately elbowed Pouraliganji. If Ronaldo’s elbow was deemed inadvertent, then he shouldn’t have been booked at all. Portugal were awarded a penalty following a referral, an opportunity Ronaldo failed to convert.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz wasn’t impressed. “You stop the game for VAR; there is an elbow. An elbow is a red card; the rules don’t say if it’s Messi or Ronaldo,” he said. “This game belongs to the people not to a couple of guys behind the scenes. My suggestion, Mr. Infantino, (is that) they have to put up their hand and say: ‘Sorry, VAR is not working so we have to stop it,’ or the communication must be clear like in rugby, where everybody knows what is going on,” he said.
Morocco’s Nordin Amrabat was seen cursing at the camera at the end of the game: “VAR? It’s bulls**t!” Amrabat’s coach Herve Renard decided to steer clear of controversy saying ‘it’s difficult to be a referee’.
Queiroz’s complaints about VAR, however, reflect the fact that the laws of the game can be interpreted in different ways by a referee. It is, in fact, the referee who still holds the rights to make the final decision. The VAR remains simply a tool.
The fact that it has helped identify clear fouls and led to a rise in penalties, barring the odd contentious one, is evidence that VAR can work if used well.