Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system working well at the 2018 World Cup


Could your country’s 2018 World Cup fortunes be decided by technology in Russia?

That is one of many questions fans across the globe have been asking as the tournament’s opening games have been taking place.

Supporters from the likes of Portugal and Spain have already had instances where the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system has impacted their team, while fans of France benefited from goal-line technology in their game against Australia.

The German-developed Goal Control technology was seen to great effect in that match, with the system proving that France’s winning goal had crossed the line.

With numerous cameras mounted on the stadium roof/catwalk, the system captures the three-dimensional position of the ball with very high precision in the air and on the pitch.

When the ball passes the goal-line, all referees receive a vibration and an optical signal on their watches within one second. The Goal Control system is part of an overall package of VAR technology that has been utilised on numerous occasions at the tournament, but the early signs about whether it will be a success look extremely positive.

VAR is being used at the tournament after the International Football Association Board (IFAB), which sets the game’s laws, unanimously approved the use of the technology in matches on a permanent basis.

Goals and offences leading up to goals, penalty decisions and offences leading up to penalties, direct red card incidents and all cases of mistaken identity are the four match-changing situations where VAR can be used.

The video assistant referee and his three assistants make up the four-man VAR team for each match.

They are selected from 13 fully-qualified FIFA match officials that have been invited to Russia 2018 for VAR duty. During each match, they watch replays picked out by a team of replay operators.

They have access to up to 33 official broadcast cameras, plus two more dedicated offside cameras, with each assistant VAR given a particular remit and the VAR leading the team and talking to the match official.

The VAR team is based in Moscow at the international broadcast centre. The VAR Room that you see on screen is in touch with match officials at the 12 World Cup stadiums from their central base in the capital.

The use of VAR has not been disruptive to the games, with referees waiting for the next break in play before reviewing any issues.

The first VAR decision of the 2018 World Cup was made in Portugal’s Group B opener with Spain on Friday night when referee Gianluca Rocchi decided to go to the extra officials following Diego Costa’s challenge on Pepe which led to the former Chelsea striker’s equaliser.

Costa appeared to elbow Pepe in the face, with the latter going down onto the floor as a result, before finishing superbly past Rui Patricio. It looked like a foul in real time, but a quick referral confirmed that it was a goal.

History was made in France’s opening Group C game against Australia on Saturday as VAR was used to give a penalty for the first time ever.

Antoine Griezmann was running through on goal before he was seemingly caught on the heel as he entered the penalty area by Josh Risdon’s outstretched leg.

Initially, the referee Andres Cunha allowed play to continue, but he suddenly stopped the game after receiving an alert in his ear that he should look at the replays on the pitch-side monitor.

After watching the replay three or four times Cunha decided to award a penalty which Griezmann duly converted.

The Goal Control system worked its magic in the same game by confirming that Paul Pogba’s late strike had gone over the line to give France a 2-1 victory.

Peru also had a penalty correctly given when Christian Cueva was taken out by Denmark defender Yusuf Poulsen in their Group C encounter, although many people wondered why the referee saw the need for a review when it was a clear penalty.

Some pundits have suggested that the presence of VAR has made officials reluctant to make marginal calls, instead choosing to wait for their support team to indicate whether a review is necessary.

However, the overall feeling from the World Cup so far is that VAR is helping to ensure that key decisions are being made correctly and therefore improving the overall integrity of the game.

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