Commentary

Japan goal controversy adds fuel to video-replay debate

It’s happened in the World Cup and leagues around the world, and it happened again during the last round of World Cup qualifiers.

Video replays clearly revealed that a shot had crossed the goal line, but the match officials didn’t see it. No goal. Sound familiar?

In this case, the goal not scored prevented Japan from tying its qualifying match at Saitama Stadium, a facility built to host 2002 World Cup matches. In the 77th-minute substitute Takuma Asano’s shot from close range floated over the goal line before being swatted back into play by UAE goalie Khalid Eisa.

Qatari referee Abdulrahman Al-Jassim and the other match officials missed the play. Japan lost, 2-1. Had a GLT system been in use, the goal would have been given. Yet as beneficial as it would be for GLT to be adopted on a broader scale, it’s not going to happen.

FIFA took a huge step two years ago by instituting goal-line technology at the World Cup for the first time and has also used it at some of its other competitions, such as the Women’s World Cup and the Confederations Cup. It is used in the English Premier League and German Bundesliga under the governance of those leagues and was in force at the European Championships.

Throughout the long process of testing different systems, however, the governing body cited issues of consistent application as roadblocks to universal usage. A modern facility such as Saitama Stadium meets the criteria of location, configuration, lighting, and technology for a sophisticated imaging system to work properly. But that is not the case in many parts of the world.

Thus FIFA has stopped short of requiring GLT for the hundreds of World Cup qualifiers to be played in the six regional confederations. The cost of installing, testing, and maintaining the equipment is one factor. Just as relevant are questions about fairness and consistency if GLT was used in some games and not others in the same qualifying competition.

The USA recently played a qualifier in a cricket stadium that must be used in the daytime since it doesn’t have lights. Installing and maintaining a GLT system in a stadium primarily used for another sport at considerable cost wouldn’t make much sense, and the St. Vincent & The Grenadines soccer association isn’t the only such body that would suffer if required by FIFA to find and equip a facility to accommodate a GLT system.

However, the inherent problems presented by GLT are not applicable to the use of video replay. For the most part, a televised game using recording and replay equipment is suitably equipped for a video assistant referee (VAR) to assist the match officials, and the International Football Association Board (IFAB) has included all facets of a scoring play among the four categories that can be reviewed.

In its present form, video replay can also be used to determine if: a red card was warranted; a foul or offense resulting in a penalty kick occurred within the penalty area; a case of mistaken identity is present when an individual has been disciplined by the referee.

GLT alerts match officials within seconds as to whether a goal has been scored. The replay system takes some time, and the buildup to a goal -- possible offside situations, a ball rolling out of play during the sequence, etc. -- as well as the scoring shot itself can be reviewed. But the value of using video to clarify situations and possibly rectify officiating errors outweighs the brief delays that might arise.

Extensive experimentation of video replay started only recently, but there’s considerable momentum for its implementation once approved. Officials from the Premier League, Bundesliga and MLS are among its strongest advocates and most likely those leagues would implement it as soon as possible if FIFA approves its use for official competition.

It covers a lot more ground than GLT and costs much less. The systems can be used together and in a perfect world should be, since the definitive camera angle revealing if a goal has been scored could be blocked or obscured. Of course, the same problem can arise regarding a foul committed near the edge of the penalty area. So be it. Video replay is designed as an improvement, not as a guarantee of perfection.

The timetable is probably too tight for FIFA to use video replay officially next summer at the 2017 Confederations Cup, but it can certainly use that competition as part of its testing and experimentation process. The tournament is designed as dry run for the hosting nation as well as the competing teams (assuming they qualify), and a favorable review (pun intended) of video replay at a FIFA event would speed its implementation if not for Russia 2018, shortly thereafter, maybe for the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France.

MLS at first supported the use of GLT but last year its Board of Governors voted against it, citing a hefty cost -- about $250,000 per stadium -- for something that would be used only a few times each season. There won’t be any such objections to video replay.

Unlike many other sports in which dead time and stoppages are common, soccer isn’t conducive to the breaks and delays necessitated by video replay. FIFA is acutely aware of this appealing aspect of the game and has tried to aid the referee and his assistants in recent years by adding a fourth official to help manage substitutions and sideline situations, and goal-line assistants, who can alert the referee to fouls and other offenses in addition to monitoring the goal line.

But glaring mistakes persist, such as the one in the Japan-UAE match and Frank Lampard’s notoriously unseen goal in the 2010 World Cup.

And if you need still need convincing that the time for video replay is nigh, check out this compilation of blown calls.
1 comment about "Japan goal controversy adds fuel to video-replay debate".
  1. I w Nowozeniuk, September 8, 2016 at 9:20 p.m.

    No goal line officials in qualifiers? It's simply delinquent.

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