Commentary

VAR totally fails to seize its chance for glory

If ever there was a tricky soccer situation that was waiting to be solved by VAR, surely it was the problem of goalkeeper movement at penalty kicks.

Rule 14 is sharp and clear and brooks no misunderstanding: “The defending goalkeeper must remain on the goal line, facing the kicker, between the goal posts until the ball has been kicked.” The goalkeeper must stay on the goal line. He is not allowed to move forward (though he can dance along the goal line if he wants to) until after the kick has been made.

The difficulty with that is that it requires one person -- the rules give the job to the assistant referee -- to be aware of two actions taking place 12 yards apart at the same instant. Already a difficult assignment, the rules then make it virtually impossible by positioning the AR on the goal line, where -- by looking straight ahead of him he has a clear view of goalkeeper movement, but at best only a slight marginal view, at the fringe of his field of vision, of the penalty kick taker.

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The AR is being asked to do the impossible. So a compromise has been adopted by the referee and his AR. The goalkeeper is allowed to take one step forward without being penalized -- simply because the AR -- with probably only one second at his disposal -- cannot hope to judge whether that step forward was made after the kick was taken, as it was taken, or before it was taken.

Like any compromise, it is far from perfect, but it has one over-riding advantage: it is practical, it works. And like all compromises it is open to abuse. Once goalkeepers know they will not be penalized for that first step, their instincts tell them to make the step as early as possible. This they have done, and by and large they get away with it. No call. (No special shame attaches to goalkeepers over this -- it is, I think, part of every player’s nature to push the rules to the limit, and beyond, to find out just how far they can go).

Three major European titles have been won in the past decades by flagrantly illegal goalkeeper movement during shootouts. Not even the defeated teams have protested. The compromise has evolved into a conspiracy of silence.

What was once acceptable has become objectionable. A compromise to make the rules work is now a subterfuge to undermine those rules.

Now arrives VAR, with everything necessary to set things aright. An immediate review of replays showing both kicker and keeper at the exact crucial moment. One can say, with total truth, that for this situation, VAR has rendered the AR totally irrelevant. His viewpoint is not needed now, VAR can quickly do everything.

During the Croatia-Denmark game, it had the perfect opportunity to do just that. It failed calamitously. So atrociously comprehensive was its failure that I can’t even say it made a mess of things. Its failure was simply that, given the perfect opportunity to prove its value, it failed to do anything at all.

The game had been a rather grim, frustrating affair. Croatia, capable no doubt of playing the better soccer, rarely managed to do so. Denmark played the spoiler role to perfection and obviously rattled the Croatians. The game lumbered into overtime and with just four minutes left, referee Nestor Pitana of Argentina awarded Croatia a penalty.

Luka Modric stepped up to take the kick -- and Denmark’s goalkeeper, Kasper Schmeichel moved early. But this was too early, too noticeable. Sitting here in New York I was immediately sure this was excessive. Not just me -- I have checked with journalist colleagues watching in England, in Italy, and the USA -- all three tell me that their immediate reaction was the same as mine: Schmeichel had moved way too early.

Schmeichel made the save and was duly praised for being “brilliant.” Neither referee Pitana nor his AR saw anything wrong. No appeal was made to VAR.

The official FIFA “VAR Handbook” specifically refers to “Penalty Kicks and Kicks from the Mark,” stating that “The Referee can initiate a review for an offense by the goalkeeper or kicker which directly affects the outcome of the penalty kick and thus whether a goal is scored. If an offense is clearly identified, the necessary discipline action must also be taken.”

The failure of the VAR to get involved here defies belief. Schmeichel’s movement was so blatant (I’m using that word from the rulebook, which says that the AR must wave his flag “if the goalkeeper blatantly moves off his line before the ball is kicked”) that it didn’t really need any technology to spot it. For once the human eye served very well. (Incidentally, I suspect that the number of people, never mind goalkeepers, who have actually seen a VAR wave his flag on these occasions is minuscule -- I have never seen it, and I watch out for such events).

My feeling that I had seen things correctly from merely watching the live action was confirmed by repeated viewings of the replays -- see below -- which show Schmeichel with both feet off the goal line, his left foot about a yard forward as Modric is about to kick the ball.

Thus Schmeichel went unpunished -- a “clear and obvious error” by the referee and his AR -- precisely the type of situation that VAR is designed, and is fully equipped, to recognize and to correct. VAR should have been immediately involved here. The penalty kick should have been retaken. Schmeichel, as stipulated in Rule 14, should have been yellow-carded.

VAR was given a wonderful opportunity to shine, to bring long-needed clarity to a murky area. It failed -- abysmally -- to seize the moment.

33 comments about "VAR totally fails to seize its chance for glory".
  1. uffe gustafsson, July 2, 2018 at 9:56 p.m.

    You been against VAR and know you want it.
    referee have the say not VAR if referee wanted a second look he could have asked for it.
    though none of us know if VAR was telling the ref to take a look. So don’t blame VAR it’s the refs decision to take a second look.
    have every goalie moved early yes, but the PK taker also doing their studder step to make goalie move early, I say it’s both doing their thing.
    not a big deal to me.
    but use VAR to stop the wrestling match in the box that destroys the game more then anything else.
    add in the shirt pulling as well.
    its unsportsmanlike and need to stop.

  2. Ginger Peeler, July 2, 2018 at 10:01 p.m.

    I wondered about that when Schmeichel moved.  But I haven’t seen it called in a game since watching a high school game back in the 90s. I’ve also noticed how most people taking throw-ins cheat up the field...sometimes by a lot. I don’t remember seeing it called in any of the world cups since 1994. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see some people actually taking a throw-in from the proper spot in some of these 2018 games. I don’t think VAR works with throw-ins.  

  3. beautiful game, July 2, 2018 at 10:39 p.m.

    Affe; you better check the weed your smoking. Your argument is hollow. When have the refs done a good and consistent job? You want these lap dogs of FIFA to be the center piece of the game? They should be invisible when they do a good job.VAR has exposed the deliquencies of referees. It hasn't been refined and the corrupt FIFA prematurely pushed it unto the world stage. It's a joke, just like the referees waisting time on every free kick patomining at the players. Their too often of swallowing the whistle when players play the man is a continuing saga of FIFA's deriliction to the LOTG it is supposed to enforce. Paul is right, the AR on PKs are either blind or are instructed not to interfere when a keeper is off the line in violation the rule. VAR expose them along with FIFA hunchos.

  4. Americans '75, July 2, 2018 at 10:41 p.m.

    I am an active referee, high school and youth, since 1996. The problem is with the referees who will not use the VAR. In this WC I like the 4th sub when there is an extra 30 minutes time. I like the VAR and it should be used properly. Why do they appoint referees who cannot accept progress? Mr. Gardner's observation is something, but he should focus on the non-use of VAR by some refs who are living in the past. VAR with so many cameras can also be used to "see" and  bring punishment to some of the off-ball unsporting crap by so many teams. I also like the Fair Play tie breaker which can also help restore The Beautiful Game. Jim

  5. beautiful game, July 2, 2018 at 10:42 p.m.

    P.S. uffe; the wrestling matches in the box have been going on for 4 years with refs in a comatose state of mind. So you think VAR is the answer(?) in the box; they were instructed not to call anything, that's why the mayhem grew out of control.

  6. uffe gustafsson, July 2, 2018 at 11:45 p.m.

    It’s uffe not affe.
    and yes I smoked a cigar as in Sweden win tomorrow.
    not sure what’s hollow, the ref is the one who makes final decisions and can ignore the VAR.
    whats so hard to understand that.
    do any of you know if VAR communicated with the ref.
    dont think so, so let the ref be the one who made that decision. 

  7. uffe gustafsson, July 2, 2018 at 11:54 p.m.

    Beutiful game.
    yes that’s true but I wrote a comment that Ref can come back and use the unsportsmanlike conduct and give both players a yellow card. And no foul have to be issued since both are doing it and impossible to figure who started it. Believe it’s section 12 rule.
    that should put a damper on it.

  8. Bob Ashpole, July 3, 2018 at 12:01 a.m.

    I am not a referee, but Paul's interpretation of the Law seems to be adding something to the language. And it's that additional something that is not being enforced by referees.

    First the language does not forbid keeper movement "until after" the ball is kicked. "Until" means "not before". "Until" does not mean "after".

    Second the Law doesn't say what on the line means. The way the law is enforced seems to only require part of 1 foot to remain on the line and not prohibit movement forward. Moving forward and remaining on the line are not mutually exclusive until the second step.

      

  9. R2 Dad, July 3, 2018 at 12:14 a.m.

    I don't have a problem with the 1 step, agree w Uffe on the stutter-stepping taker of the PK. twinkle-toes, twinkle-toes, slow step, slow step--this is not a run-up, it's waiting for the keeper to commit and is unsporting. Is Schmeichel's step unsporting? In the relative scheme of things, I think this is a lesser-of-evils type of infringement.

  10. Kenneth Barr, July 3, 2018 at 1:27 a.m.

    I realize you've been around a long time but this is so incredibly picky even for you.  You want VAR to fix every mistake down to the tiniest.  That is simply not possible.  Keepers have moved early on penalties for time in memorial.  So have players who have enroached into the ten yard area as well.  If we stopped the game and retook everty PK for this we'd be still playing some matches now.  Please, Paul, stop being so pickayune.  VAR was not devised for every minute situation.  Try to enjoy something in life rather than being an excessive fault finder.  

  11. Wallace Wade, July 3, 2018 at 2:23 a.m.

    I’ve been a referee since 1984. There are some rules that for some reason are not being enforced. This is one of them. The referees chosen for this tournament are supposed to be the best in the world, clearly that’s not the case. They must know the right people! 

  12. frank schoon, July 3, 2018 at 4:08 p.m.

    WOW, Even with the VAR we still are arguing..good luck on this. Things have really settled down now we have VAR, LOL...

  13. Wooden Ships replied, July 4, 2018 at 9:20 a.m.

    Frank, don’t you realize with VAR and ear pieces futbal is rapidly approaching nirvana. I’m thrilled beyond words.

  14. frank schoon replied, July 4, 2018 at 9:42 a.m.

    Ships, I have a theory on this. I think those who are really into the VAR stuff , they, themselves, have not had high level playing backround or rather a very, very low level. It is these types who like everything to be controlled and you can imagine how they would be as a coach. Just like referees, those who have not played much or at all, tend to be the ones who spend a lot of time how you look ,the socks, the shirt, etc , they spend a lot of time on the non-essentials of the game for that is what they can control.
    A ref with a real good playing backround are so much looser and accepting of things.

  15. uffe gustafsson, July 3, 2018 at 6:20 p.m.

    Frank only VAR haters are bringing this up.
    the rest of us don’t seem to have an issue w goalie stepping forward.
    VAR is not the end of all just a compliment for refs to be able to see if they missed a crucial indecent.
    so far they done an exemplary job in helping the ref.
    sure you can nick pick but in the end it’s been a great help for the refs. 

  16. beautiful game replied, July 3, 2018 at 8:54 p.m.

    Uffe, when was the last time a referee cautioned a player who committed an off the ball foul on a counter-attack. It has happened quite a few times at WC 2018, and refs swallow the whistle as they always do. VAR for them is insighnificant. They'll enforce what they are instructed to enforce and will continue to undertime LOTG. As for off-sides, FIFA could have altered the rule to have daylight between opposing field players, instead FIFA launches VAR to the world when it has has not been refined except to waste time and stall the game with pantomine squares. Any and all deficiencies that referees exhibit is the result of FIFA's non-compliance with the rules that it has written while its hubris and greed supercedes everything else.

  17. Wooden Ships, July 3, 2018 at 10:36 p.m.

    Man, I hope some of you are enjoying the games. The most wide open World Cup in my lifetime. I bet a bunch of you play golf too and try to enjoy it.

  18. Bob Ashpole replied, July 4, 2018 at 1:31 a.m.

    I enjoyed the Mexico match against Germany and the first half against Brazil.  I taped today's England-Colombia match, but have only watched the first half so far. I wasn't all that impressed by England. I don't think they played that well. In fact I thought Mexico played better, at least at times.

    Do you recommend any particular group stage matches?

  19. frank schoon replied, July 4, 2018 at 9:29 a.m.

    Ships ,It is so widen open that if  Brazil and France had failed to qualify as well than I would say the US ,if they were in it, might even have a chance to win it. I'd stay on the golf course for you haven't missed much..
    Bob, I ,likewise, was not impressed with England, although I do think England in ,this game, deserved the win. English have difficulty playing in the opponent's third for the players are unable to play in small spaces. They just lack the finesse for short give and go's along quick ballhandling skills. They are much better when running is a big factor. Sterling is just a fast runner, Kane relies on crosses or headballs. I definitely was not impressed with England but because of injuries on the Columbian team , I rooted for England to win. Besides ,I want to see how they will fare against stronger teams..

  20. Wooden Ships replied, July 4, 2018 at 9:29 a.m.

    Bob, I’d have to look back at the groups and try to remember. I think I’ve missed maybe 30 minutes combined of all the matches. I’m more impressed with the Latin (central and south) American style of play overall. England was fortunate to get by Colombia, as was Belgium with Japan. I’m thinking France-Croatia in the final. 

  21. Wooden Ships replied, July 4, 2018 at 9:40 a.m.

    Frank, I haven’t played golf in 35 years. I was referring to the unhappiness so many have expressed with this or that, in watching the Cup. It reminds me of many people I know that golf, expecting always to be happy after a round. Golf drives you crazy if you let it. It just seems, on the Soccer Referee Society, SA and other sites, principally states based sites, that there are way more people dissatisfied with what they’re watching. It wasn’t that way when the Center, flawed and all, was the maiestro of the game and getting clear television coverage was icing on the cake. 

  22. frank schoon replied, July 4, 2018 at 10:04 a.m.

    Ships, this is without a doubt the worst world cup thus far ,even beating WC'14. I hope Croatia stays in it. I guess it will be either France or Brazil in the final. 
    This game so sorely needs exciting wingers again, we have got develop wingers again. In the past 20years the only exciting players were wingers of which we have so few of like, Figo, Ronaldinho, ,Messi, Ronaldo, Robben, Ribbery, Van Persie, Bale, Ginola, Henri, Chris Waddle, etc...So many of these teams lack good wing attack therefore they hit  a wall of buses parked in front of the goal. Look at the quality of crosses...DEPLORABLE. Hey, did you see Quaresma of Portugal the right winger, oh what a player!. He is a right winger with a right foot, his crosses were phenomenal, and when switched to other wing on the left he crossed the with the outside of his right foot...GORGEOUS. And he is so tricky one on one.
    What I got from this WC is that we need wingers, players need to develop good shooting outside penalty area as well able to shoot with either foot for so many are caught in an awkward position of not able to shoot with their weak foot and ofcourse Crosses.
    Furthermore I'm getting tired of the flatback line or rather 2 centerbacks, square with neither being good ball handlers or passers ,a la Beckenbauer. I want to see the centerback to move up with the ball to midfield creating numerical advantage, instead of relying on the Defensive midfielder to come back or have his back turned facing downfield, or just passing it to the flanks.....I'm falling asleep watching this garbage for it so predictable. Things have got to  change...

  23. Bob Ashpole replied, July 4, 2018 at 2:43 p.m.

    Interesting. As an example, Mexico was breaking down teams with wing play, even Brazil. Brazil was controlling the center but giving up space in the wide areas. 

    If most teams don't have exceptional wingers, then the teams that do will have a great advantage.

    Today you often see 4231 and 4132 with the "wingers" tucked inside playing like inside forwards. Width comes from the fullbacks. Perhaps that is an accommodation to the lack of true wingers.

  24. frank schoon replied, July 4, 2018 at 2:55 p.m.

    Bob,<Width comes from the fullbacks. Perhaps that is an accommodation to the lack of true wingers.">
    That is the problem. Cruyff stated they the backs who totally are not experienced wingers are having to run 60 downfield ,thereby wasting energy. This is why you see  lousy crosses and lack of penetration on the flanks. The space to be found is on the flanks. Wingers don't have to run 60 meters to attack...This whole situation, the lack of wingers and allowing the backs to go down the wing is because coaches think to defensively. Cruyff stated that you to have a spread or rather wing play for that keeps the opponent's defenders backline spread out.
    Yes, Spain got into trouble as so many  other teams that didn't have wingers. Many of these teams, just about all played 4231 meaning the wings are furtherback. And one thing is when you have wingers is to play as deep as possible, all the way up to the back. When teams play park the bus you need wing play to not only execute crosses but also able to beat the defender or keeping the defense spread....This whole cup has been a tactical nightmare....

  25. frank schoon replied, July 4, 2018 at 3:03 p.m.

    Bob.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpvJCLyRaw0
    Ricardo Quaresma, a true winger...

  26. Bob Ashpole replied, July 4, 2018 at 11:11 p.m.

    Thanks. Enjoyed that.

  27. frank schoon replied, July 5, 2018 at 6:56 a.m.

    Bob, I harken back to the days when all teams had great tricky wingers. Can you imagine in this World Cup  most of the teams had good wingers  what a joy this WC would have been. To me it is pure one on one artistry to play in that position. Even Cruyff professed love for that position and he considered it one of the most important position, tactically.  Did you know Bobby Charlton, Beckenbauer, Puyoll, Alba, Danny Alves were all wingers at one time.  As I stated before ,we need a school for wingers. In the old days kids would watch wingers and copy their style for each wingers has own style but today there are so few. The wing is the lifeblood of soccer.  There more videos on Quaresma. The thing is he is just a wingers most fans are not even aware of. You can imagine , he is just a simple winger, what you would see with much better ones.

  28. uffe gustafsson, July 3, 2018 at 10:45 p.m.

    I was referring to VAR not what refs are doing.
    thats seperate issues.
    i personally think to much acting going on like a hand to the face and players acting like Tyson hit em with a knock out. The refs have a diffecult job sorting out what is a real foul and what is not. And VAR is a tool that can be used for refs to see what is real and not.
    that is what I’m trying to say.
    if you like this crap of rolling around for the tinest of contact then fine but it’s bull shit to me and VAR is a big tool for the ref to sort it out.

  29. Wooden Ships replied, July 3, 2018 at 11:10 p.m.

    I don’t care for the acting either Uffe, but I don’t think the VAR can accurately, objectively, remedy it. Let the players sort it out. Ultimately that’s what the 2nd half of England and Colombia match did. 

  30. Kent James, July 6, 2018 at 8:49 a.m.

    Baby steps, Paul, baby steps.  VAR can't solve everything at once.  Players have to adjust.  Right now VAR is correcting the fouls in the box, potential red cards, off the ball stuff, and clutching and grabbing on corner kicks.  Keeping GKs on the line for PKs (and players outside the area as well?) could be next.  

  31. Ron Benson, July 6, 2018 at 9:44 a.m.

    Good information , but a bigger problem :injuries/unfair play could be helped if we simply cut out heading in soccer .
    Using your head as a battering ram/mallet makes no sense .
    Also it does not add to the beautiful game . 
    Simply dumping a highball into the box to see who can jump the highest or who can get away with pulling , pushing and obstructing an opponent , is not beautiful .

  32. Bob Ashpole replied, July 6, 2018 at 12:27 p.m.

    You are blaming a striking technique for bad tactics and misconduct. The enemy is bad tactics and misconduct.

  33. R2 Dad, July 7, 2018 at 3:02 p.m.

    Yeah, what Bob said. "dumping highball into the box" is the strategy of teams that have no options, ie kickball. Only crappy kickball teams head the ball 50 times per match. Fix the kickball and the heading is infrequent.

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