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VAR horrors: World Cup 2019

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tragedy encapsulated?

Canto: It might be surprising to know that besides our many supertalents we’re sports aficionados, and of course experts, but in order not to overwhelm our fan we’ve decided to limit that interest, largely, to one sport, soccer, which we’ve never spelt f-o-o-t-b-a-l-l. Hope that doesn’t offend.

Jacinta: Well I’m happy to offend, so I strongly advocate calling this year’s comp, and those following in 2023, 2027 etc, the World Cup, and that other comp shall henceforth be called the men’s world cup.

Canto: Probably won’t catch on until the world’s turned upside down.

Jacinta: The world’s a ball, dummy, there’s no up.

Canto: The human world’s more like a pyramid, and we’re pretty close to the base…

Jacinta: Is that Trump’s base?

Canto: …which is why we can’t afford to watch all the games – as if we had the time – as they’re not being shown free-to-air. But apart from the full Australian games we can see the (very brief) highlights and follow the commentary and the controversies. Which brings us to the VAR (video assistant referee), which has been introduced for the first time ever…

Jacinta: Except in the men’s game, which isn’t real soccer…

Canto: For the first time ever, at any level, in this World Cup.

Jacinta: So the VAR isn’t actually a video, it’s a person, or team of people, watching and evaluating a video – including the on-field ref. And according to ever-reliable Wikipedia, they review all refereeing decisions under four categories:

  • Goal/no goal – attacking team offences, ball out of play, ball entering goal, offences and encroachment during penalty kicks
  • Penalty/no penalty – attacking team offences, ball out of play, location of offence, incorrect awarding, offence not penalised
  • Direct red card – denial of obvious goal-scoring opportunity, serious foul play, violent conduct/biting/spitting, using offensive/insulting/abusive language or gestures
  • Mistaken identity in awarding a red or yellow card

If the VAR makes a decision overturning that of the on-field ref, which is only in the case of a COE (clear and obvious error) she has the option of conducting an OFR (on-field review), using a video screen, clearly visible to all, in the RRA (referee review area). The problem is, I’ve noticed that the VAR is picking up more stuff than the field referees have done – or could have done – in the past, so it’s already changing the character of the game.

Canto: Good or bad?

Jacinta: I’m not sure. Let’s discuss some examples. Take this one. In the game against Brazil, Australia’s Tamika Yallop went down in the penalty area after a clash with a Brazilian defender, as she was heading towards goal with the ball. A shout went up, and of course the VAR had to adjudicate on the basis of penalty/no penalty. As part of this process, we the audience get to see, in slow motion, what the VAR has seen (which is perhaps a dangerous thing, if only for our blood pressure). The commentators – who I think were biased for Australia – seemed to agree that it was a definite penalty, but what the video clearly revealed was that, moments before the incident, as Yallop was surging into the penalty area, the ball bounced up, hit her on the arm and bounced off kindly for the Australian. It was because of this handball, not seen originally by the ref, probably because the Brazilian was tightly marking her, that the penalty issue didn’t need further consideration. A free kick was awarded to Brazil. But if there was no VAR in operation, that handball wouldn’t have been picked up, and the penalty would likely have been awarded – with no complaints.

Canto: Actually I think some Brazilian players did see the handball and tried to draw the ref’s attention to it, but you’re right, if neither the field or line ref saw it directly, they wouldn’t have ruled on it, and Australia might have gone on and scored. But don’t you think it’s a good thing that the VAR picked it up?

Jacinta: Errr… let’s go on to the next example. Now as you know, I have dual loyalties, being a dual citizen of the UK and Australia. I was born in Scotland and brought up with some Scots traditions, and was mildly excited to find Scotland in this World Cup series, I think for the first time. So imagine my shock when, after hearing (I could only listen on the radio, like an old-timer) that Scotland had gone 3-0 up against Argentina and were very likely to qualify for the round of 16 after losing their first two matches against England and Japan. But then, Argentina came surging back with two goals in the second half. Even a narrow win gave Scotland a chance, but then, at 3-2, and <em>in the last minute of time added on</em> – the 94th effing minute – Argentina were awarded a penalty.!!</p>
Jacinta: Errr… let’s go on to the next example. Now as you know, I have dual loyalties, being a dual citizen of the UK and Australia. I was born in Scotland and brought up with some Scots traditions, and was mildly excited to find Scotland in this World Cup series, I think for the first time. So imagine my shock when, after hearing (I could only listen on the radio, like an old-timer) that Scotland had gone 3-0 up against Argentina and were very likely to qualify for the round of 16 after losing their first two matches against England and Japan. But then, Argentina came surging back with two goals in the second half. Even a narrow win gave Scotland a chance, but then, at 3-2, and in the last minute of time added on – the 94th effing minute – Argentina were awarded a penalty.!!

Canto: Quelle horreur! Was it a fair decision?

Jacinta: Fuck knows… Sorry, feeling a bit emotional. I was listening to it on the effing radio! I only saw it on the highlights the next day, and by that time I was too depressed to care. But that’s not the end of the drama. Argentina took the penalty, and Lee Alexander, our goalie, saved it! Frabjous Day! But then, she was ruled as having come off her line by a nanosecond! And get this – not only do the players have to get used to the beady eye of the VAR, but a new rule was brought in on June 1 – a week before the World Cup – which  ‘means that goalkeepers must have one foot at least partly on the goalline when the kick is taken and can neither stand behind or in front of the line’ – and I quote the words of the obviously neutral sports journalist, John Irish. That means that goalies have to adjust their approach to penalty kicks after a career of doing otherwise – a week before the biggest event of their lives!!! But I haven’t finished the story. The penalty was retaken – and this time Argentina scored, but according to the commentators, players were encroaching on the penalty area before the spot-kick was taken!!! Please note above – Goal/no goal ‘encroachment during penalty kicks’. And the ref didn’t even consult VAR about it!!!

Canto: Okay, calm down. You must surely admit that the Scots stuffed it up, just a bit, to get into their parlous position, dropping from 3-0 to 3-2 in quick time. And did you see these players encroaching?

Jacinta: Well, no, I was far too emotional to be forensic about it. But you know what foreigners are like – they’re all bloody cheats. It’s an effing conspiracy I’m telling you. Of course they want Argentina over Scotland in the finals, it’s good for business!!! They probably think they’ll get a chance to play Messi!!! 

Canto: Well you don’t need to worry about that – he’s only a male.

Jacinta: Oh yes I forgot. Anyway, I’m not sure if we’ve heard the worst of the VAR. My worry is about the flow of the game, which, if VAR is extended – which I expect it will be – to other parts of the game, in a micromanaging sort of way, it will become overly stop-start and technical. but maybe that’s the future… Then, in order to comply with VAR, we’ll replace humans with androids… 

Written by stewart henderson

June 21, 2019 at 7:12 pm

Posted in Soccer, world cup

Tagged with , ,

heroes of another kind: the Matildas

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It might surprise some people to learn that I’m a bit of a sports tragic, though I follow sport in general a lot less than I did as a kid. Nowadays it’s a more or less guilty pleasure as I always feel, when watching a soccer game, that I should be  spending my time getting my head around cosmology, electronics, molecular biology or anything else that doesn’t come easily to me.

I say soccer – and that’s what I’ve always called it – because that’s almost all that I follow nowadays, though cricket, tennis, Aussie rules (not to be called AFL), golf, hockey, table tennis and even basketball, were all sports that I played, with extremely varied proficiency, as a youngster. And as a female supremacist, I’ve gone over to the bright side in recent years, and if I were to choose a sporting team to follow out of the many and varied, it would be the Matildas, our national women’s soccer team. And I’m only one of many jumping on the Matildas bandwagon at present. Their most recent home match, against Brazil in Newcastle, drew a record home crowd of nearly 17,000, remarkable for a Tuesday. Their previous record was set only a few days before, against Brazil again in Sydney, when 15,000 attended, just pipping the crowd for the GWS v West Coast Eagles AFL semi-final, a real indication of the rise of women’s soccer here, and it may it go on rising.

So, a little history. The first national women’s team competed in the Asian Women’s Championship in 1975 (the first ever held). Of course it was all pretty amateur in those early days and playing opportunities were sporadic for all women’s soccer teams. It’s fascinating that there was an FA ban on women’s football in place until 1971, according to Wikipedia (I think they’re talking about Britain, but in most places there wouldn’t have been any need for a ban, it just weren’t ladylike en it?). The first women’s world cup was held in 1991, and Australia made its first appearance in 1995, but lost all three of their group games, including a 5-0 loss to Denmark. Throughout the nineties, the Matildas (the name was adopted in’95) were unheralded and unpaid, and even resorted to posing for a nude calendar in 1999 to raise funds. The 2000 Sydney Olympics raised their profile, with large crowds attending their games for the first time, though their results were disappointing. A bit of a lull followed, though they managed to qualify for the 2003 world cup, and reached the quarter-finals in the 2004 Olympics. Gradually they were becoming recognised internationally. In 2007 they reached the quarter-finals of the world cup for the first time, and in 2010 they won their first international championship, the Asian Women’s Championship, now called the AFC Women’s Asian Cup. At the 2011 world cup they again reached the quarter-finals – and again in 2015. Earlier this year they defeated the USA for the first time in their history (after 27 attempts!). This has been their most striking year, with their victory in the inaugural tournament of nations, including a dominant 6-1 defeat of Brazil. As of September 1, the Matildas are ranked 6th in the world, though recent victories may have promoted them further. In any case it’s a ranking the men’s team could only dream of.

Australia has a national women’s soccer league, the W-league, which comprises nine teams, but many of our top players also play overseas – in Japan and the US in particular. Current players Lisa de Vanna and Clare Polkinghorne have been capped over 100 times for Australia, but the national side has generally managed to combine youthfulness with experience – for example defender Steph Catley already has 62 caps at age 23, Alanna Kennedy (defender) has 57 caps at age 22, Caitlin Foord (midfielder) has 58 caps at age 22, Emily van Egmond (midfielder) has 66 caps at age 24, and Katrina Gorry (midfielder) has 58 caps at age 25 (and those figures are already out of date). This extraordinary combo augurs well for the team’s future.

It’s probably fair to say, though, that Australia’s young star striker, Samantha Kerr, is garnering most of the plaudits at the moment. First capped for Australia at the age of fifteen, she became the all-time leading goalscorer in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) of the United States earlier this year, though she’s only just turned 24. Many of her goals have been spectacular – she’s a great header of the ball, and she certainly has the striker’s killer instinct. She also has great positional skills and her reading of the game and her assists are a joy to watch.

So it’s likely that the Matildas’ phenomenal recent success will continue for a while yet, and it’s quite plausible to see their ranking rise to the very top. The next world cup is in France in less than two years. Unless something disastrous happens in the intervening period, which is highly unlikely, Australia will start as one of the favourites, for the first time. Can’t wait!

super-striker Sam Kerr

Written by stewart henderson

October 1, 2017 at 7:31 am