VAR, a squiggly line and the search for the impossible

VAR has hit England, and controversy has followed.

The video assistant referee system isn't being used in the Premier League but it was introduced this winter in the FA Cup.

VAR came under the microscope when a Juan Mata goal was disallowed for offside during Manchester United's 2-0 win over Huddersfield Town in the round of 16. The decision did not decide the game -- Romelu Lukaku scored twice for United -- but it generated enormous commentary.

The first issue is the spectacle itself of a goal celebration being cut short by VAR. On this point, there was agreement from both sides.

"I did what I had to do which was to score and celebrated," Mata said. "Then after I saw the referee speaking to someone and you look silly when the goal is denied."

German-American David Wagner, who manages Huddersfield Town, says he opposes VAR for the very point Mata raised.

"Yes, the decision went in our favor," he said, "but this VAR for me kills the emotion of the game."

The problem more generally wasn't that the goal was disallowed for offside. The decision by referee Kevin Friend was correct.

The problem was that the image BT Sport was provided by Hawk-Eye and containing a squiggly line appeared to show Mata was onside when Ashley Young's centering pass was hit.

Hawk-Eye, which provides VAR technology to the FA and video to other sports, issued an apology that a "technical error led to an incorrect graphic being provided. To confirm, the VAR saw the correct image with the correct lines to make the decision. This was a case of the wrong image being provided to the broadcaster and we apologize.”

The decision did not affect the outcome of the game, but Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho could not resist the chance to weigh it.

"I'm familiar with what VAR is bringing that's good and bad," he said. "I think it's an experimental period. They have to get rid of the bad and make it perfect."

The problem is no one has ever suggested that VAR will be perfect.

VAR went relatively smoothly in MLS, which spent several years working on the project before its introduction in August 2017. But its use for league matches has been much more controversial in countries like Germany and Italy, where soccer is much more popular and every incident is scrutinized closely.

In a recent study of 804 competitive games in which VAR was used, the accuracy of decisions in the four reviewable categories went up from 93 percent to  98.9 percent. In only one in 20 matches was a clear and obvious mistake -- the standard for overturning a match-changing incident -- not detected since the introduction of VAR.

IFAB, soccer's rule-making body, is expected to approve the VAR system for the 2018 World Cup at its annual meeting of representatives from FIFA and the four British associations on March 2.

The test at the World Cup won't just be for the VAR crews to get calls right, but for those operating the world television feed to be provided the correct images upon which decisions are made.

What the World Cup can't afford is an errant squiggly line serving as fake news on a game-changing decision.

7 comments about "VAR, a squiggly line and the search for the impossible".
  1. Randy Vogt, February 19, 2018 at 6:38 a.m.

    I watched the game live and thought the play was just onside. I then saw the replay which confirmed the call in my opinion. I was very surprised that the goal was disallowed, especially since a clear and obvious error was not made in awarding the goal. If we let goals to be disallowed for offside by taking the rules quite literally, such as a player being in an offside position by a silly millimeter through his head or knee, then more goals like this will be disallowed and scoring will decrease. Plus games will have more stoppages. Is that what we want?

  2. Ric Fonseca replied, February 19, 2018 at 10:34 p.m.

    Jeepers, this reminds me of the recent Super Bowl on the winning TD, when it was debated whether the player was felled by a defensive player or if the player with the ball purposedly lunged forward in order to break the plane od the toiuchdown lane.  About five or six minutes were spent going over and over and over, until it was finally decided that the player had indeed fallen forward and indeed broke the place (the very tip of the football) of the goal for a TD.  Ooops, wait a minuted it was that game wasn't?  Or was it during a basketball game, dange it, I've now forgotten....  Oh, wait a minute, are you now saying that they're gonna introdsuce instant replay to they can then declare:  "Upon further review, the play....."

  3. Richard T. Lynch, February 19, 2018 at 6:59 a.m.

    Randy, I have my own 40 years in the game, and I reached the exact same conclusions, and questions, as you.  It should have been a goal.  The AR, with likely several thousand games under his belt, saw it "right"; it was too close to over turn.

  4. Wooden Ships, February 19, 2018 at 8:03 a.m.

    I’m not in favor of any of it (VAR), receiving unjust calls is part of living. 

  5. Bob Ashpole, February 19, 2018 at 9:57 a.m.

    The problem is created by TV broadcasts using instant replay to second guess the referees. I would rather watch soccer than watch commentators criticize the officials. While fans may want perfection, participants expect competence and fairness, not perfection.

  6. frank schoon, February 19, 2018 at 10:13 a.m.

    Get rid of VAR. This sport is played by humans and there will always be questionable 'foibles" which makes the sport exciting. It is a waste of time for there will never be perfection so just deal with it.
    We still talk about the goal scored by England against Germany in the WC'66, or the 'hand of God', and other questionable calls in the history of soccer which makes the game exciting. That's soccer discussions are never boring in pubs....

  7. I w Nowozeniuk, February 19, 2018 at 11:19 a.m.

    VAR more often questions the official's interprestation than not. Therefore, LOTG should be more specific and restrict a referee's "subjective" judgment. Years ago tackles from the rear were cardable offenses, and evolved to the discretion of the official even though the rule is black & white. Off the ball deliberate fouls, usually on counters, were once cardable and now mostly disregarded. Unless the LOTG become more statutory, VAR will be a drag on the game. Why FIFA has VAR review by the referee on the pitch invites a longer stoppage and arguably a subjective decision. FIFA can and must do better with the VAR process and its rule interpretation.

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