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FIFA moves toward goal of video review at 2018 World Cup

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GENEVA (AP) The goal of helping referees with video review to make decisions at the 2018 World Cup has been facing key tests at FIFA headquarters.

Two systems among the 11 in talks to win the World Cup contract were undergoing trials this week during training sessions with Europe’s candidates to referee in Russia.

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An idea met with a skeptical response when then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter presented it in 2014 has support from his successor, Gianni Infantino – even if Blatter’s idea of NFL-style challenges by coaches looks unlikely to survive.

It is not certain that video assistance referees, or VARs, will be approved in time for the World Cup.

Still, history was made on Wednesday with a first significant intervention by video review at a Dutch Cup match. Willem II player Anouar Kali was sent off for fouling an Ajax opponent one minute after the referee initially showed a yellow card.

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Here is how FIFA is moving to give top-level referees the kind of help that is standard in American sports leagues:


FIFA wants video review only for potential “clear errors” in four situations: goals being scored, penalties being awarded, players being sent off and cases of mistaken identity.

It needs a technology system to help VARs and the referee communicate quickly without spoiling the game’s flow.

Massimo Busacca, FIFA’s director of refereeing, believes it should take “not take more than five, six seconds” to review an incident.

“If we need one (camera) angle more, of course it can take two seconds more,” Busacca told The Associated Press.

In most situations, play has naturally stopped and review time will not disrupt the flow.

All involved agree that calling back play to impose a decision not initially taken is the biggest challenge for FIFA and its rule-making panel, known as IFAB, which must give final approval.


The DreamCatcher system developed by Evertz Microsystems of Burlington, Ontario is among FIFA’s options. It has already been proven in NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL games.

This week at FIFA, two DreamCatcher operators worked in a windowless portable cabin next to the hedges lining the soccer body’s compound.

Two banks of screens – each to be monitored by one of two VARs, helped by a technician – take feeds from cameras around the artificial turf pitch that flanks FIFA’s offices.

The largest wide-screen TV above the desk shows a live game feed. Two smaller screens at desk level show several angles of the action at a slight delay, allowing the VARs to take a quick glance at an incident. The VAR can ask to zoom in anywhere on the split-screen images. Each World Cup match has at least 30 cameras, but too many angles can slow a decision.

Though the NBA and MLB centralize review operations in one location, FIFA would likely want each VAR team in a truck or booth at each of the 12 stadiums in Russia.

FIFA had set a two-year timetable and wants a decision by IFAB by March 2018.

“This has been the most thorough review of the leagues we have worked with,” DreamCatcher project manager Nima Malekmanesh said.


Six seconds. In that time, Busacca wants his officials to know if they must change a clear mistake.

That will require expert analysis and communication skills from the VAR, who Busacca believes should also be a FIFA-list official.

“Absolutely. If he is not the same level, how can he change the decision of the referee?” said Busacca, who suggests video review could be a rarity at World Cups with only the best referees taken from each continent.

“If you have a top referee, one situation every four or five games,” he said.

Busacca insists video review cannot compromise the “personality and football understanding” of his officials, and he is no fan of letting coaches challenge decisions.

“Never lose the authority of referees, never take it out,” he said.


Bjorn Kuipers supports video review within clear limits.

“You need a VAR which you can trust,” said the referee from the Netherlands. “If you don’t have a VAR on the same level, it will be difficult.”

He foresees the two video reviewers joining a referee’s two assistants and fourth official as part of a regular match team from the same country, speaking their native language.

“The communication has to be very clear, very short,” said Kuipers, who worked the 2014 Champions League final before going to the World Cup in Brazil. “We have 10 seconds or 12 seconds if we want but it’s not good for the game.”

Kuipers was granted 10 seconds earlier this month when Italy hosted France in Bari, and he made a key video-assisted decision to show France defender Djibril Sidibe only a yellow card for fouling Daniele De Rossi. The Italy midfielder’s teammates wanted a red card.

“Players like it when they got confirmation,” Kuipers said, referring to that outcome.


As FIFA’s lead official for technological innovation, Johannes Holzmueller oversaw the process of approving goal-line technology and picking the GoalRef system for the 2014 World Cup.

Holzmueller visited the U.S. in February to hear from pro leagues about their experiences with video review.

The 11 contenders in talks with FIFA also include American firm XOS Digital and Hawk-Eye, the British system used in Amsterdam on Wednesday.

The technology works, and FIFA must find “a clear protocol” for feeding information to referees, Holzmueller said.

Coaches’ challenges could lead to stoppages to tactical reasons, and requiring referees to check images on a tablet computer also appears to be slow.

“We have to look at, `Does it improve the game and not just refereeing?”‘ Holzmueller said.

Allow England defender Alfie Mawson to charm you

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Swansea City’s Alfie Mawson is at England national team camp, and the young man is conducting himself in downright adorable fashion.

It seems the 24-year-old London defender cannot quite believe Gareth Southgate called his name for the Three Lions.

[ MORE: Key newcomers for USMNT friendly ]

“A lot of people wouldn’t have even heard my name until this call up,” Mawson told the BBC. “You know it’s down to performing well at certain times, it’s down to doing the right things and sometimes it’s down to being a nice person.”

Mawson has played every minute for Swans this season, picking up two goals and an assist. More importantly, he’s won 3.3 aerial battles per game and 6.3 clearances.

While this won’t necessarily serve him well against the Netherlands and Italy in this week’s friendlies — they don’t put a lot of hopeful balls into aerial or clearing positions — it’s kept Mawson on the England radar for this summer’s World Cup.

Mawson is two seasons removed from playing in the Championship, and was loaned to lower league clubs like Maidenhead United and Welling United. At the time, he was going to “car boot sales with my girlfriend” which from my limited Googling seems the English equivalent of a yard sale and flea market combined.

“We are in a good position now where we don’t really have to do the car boots unless she wants a bit of excitement on a Sunday morning.”

Pretty good position, yeah.

FIFA urges Russia to hasten work on delayed World Cup arena

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SAMARA, Russia (AP) FIFA has urged Russia to speed up World Cup preparations at a stadium which needs “a huge amount of work” to be ready on time.

With less than three months to go until the World Cup, the 45,000-seat Samara Arena is the only one of 12 stadiums which doesn’t yet have a pitch installed.

The stadium in the Volga River city of Samara was already badly delayed due to a complex roof design, but now cold weather in the Russian spring is causing further problems. The pitch can’t be installed until the weather warms up.

“Obviously we would expect further progress than this,” FIFA’s chief competitions official Colin Smith said on a visit to the arena Wednesday. “We don’t yet have a pitch, and obviously we need to wait for some warmer weather conditions in order to get this pitch installed.”

As of Tuesday, instead of a field, there was an area covered with tarpaulins and snow. Temperatures are forecast to stay slightly below freezing for the rest of the week.

“There’s a huge amount of work still to be done,” Smith added. “From the information we’ve received there’s nothing stopping all these areas being completed on time. It just requires commitment and more manpower to get it done on time, and when we talk about on time, we’re talking about the commissioning date of the end of April.”

If that date passes, it could restrict FIFA’s ability to test the stadium with Russian league games and install World Cup equipment. Outside the arena, deep snowdrifts cover much of an area that is due to be landscaped for the tournament and will host some facilities for fans.

Alexander Fetisov, deputy governor of the Samara region, said the stadium will be ready.

“I’d like to avoid unnecessary dramatization of the situation,” he said. “Everything is being done so that the stadium is commissioned in the time required.”

Samara isn’t the only World Cup field which has drawn attention in recent weeks. The stadium in Kazan has been widely criticized by Russian fans after a brown, muddy surface was used for league games after the winter break.

Smith said FIFA was offering Russia help to get its fields ready, adding, “We’re doing everything possible and we’re convinced that we’re going to have a very, very high standard of pitches at this tournament.”

Key newcomers for USMNT friendly

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While the excitement potential is high amongst big club USMNT call-ups like PSG’s Tim Weah and Everton’s Antonee Robinson, there are several other relative newcomers who are facing a more acute focus.

So yes, of course, we’re most excited to see the young guns fire away, but a few others will be under the microscope for different reasons.

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Paraguay is leaving some big names behind — Dario Lezcano, Jesus Medina, Edgar Benítez — but won’t be using as “B” or “C” of a squad as the USMNT. Key defenders Junior Alonso (Lille) and Gustavo Gomez (AC Milan) will be staring down the U.S. attack, while Atlanta United star Miguel Almiron will try his luck against the Yanks’ backs.

  1. The goalkeepers — With full respect to Bill Hamid and his five caps, the trio of backstops who could play against Paraguay are unknown entities on the senior international level. There are reasons to be excited about Alex Bono (Toronto FC) and Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew) going against Los Guaraníes — and Hamid, too — and standing behind a young and untested group of center backs should give plenty of chances to make a name for whoever is chosen (If Sarachan is more “woke” this go-round, it’ll be multiple keepers).
  2. Andriya Novakovich — The Telstar striker is checking all the boxes: 6-foot-4, productive on the youth level, and now succeeding overseas. The 21-year-old has 17 goals on loan from Reading in the Dutch second tier. While that’s far from a “Woah” figure considering the top-tier in the Netherlands isn’t exactly a defensive hot bed, it’s intriguing for Tuesday in North Carolina.
  3. Rubio Rubin — We’re hopeful Sarachan goes with a 4-4-2, which would allow both Rubin and Novakovich to get runs next to Bobby Wood. Rubin is seeing some time at Liga MX side Club Tijuana after his European adventure stalled following a hot start for Utrecht. He had an assist in CONCACAF Champions League play against Red Bulls this month.
  4. Tyler Adams — Speaking of that match, the Red Bulls got a goal from Adams. It’s fair to say he’s got the chance to be as special a player as Schalke youngster Weston McKennie (and would apparently like to join his USMNT teammate overseas). Adams and McKennie together could legit be an engine room for years. Will that begin on Tuesday?
  5. Cameron Carter-Vickers — The 20-year-old center back has shown resilience in England. His hot start to life at Sheffield United, on loan from Tottenham, cooled enough to have him sent back to North London, but Carter-Vickers has rebounded to become a key part of Ipswich Town’s back line. With 22-year-old Matt Miazga the only clear center back on the roster and older than him, CCV can quiet a lot of doubters.
  6. Kenny Saief — This guy has excited at nearly every turn since bursting onto the scene with Gent via the Israeli national team, and an injury cost him some momentum with the USMNT. Now healthy and on loan with Anderlecht, the same side which refined the fire of Sacha Kljestan, the once-capped Florida-born man is as intriguing as ever.

Season strugglers: Some ignominious PL performances

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Tuesday found us breaking ties on our “Most Impactful Premier League Summer Buys” rankings by digging through some advanced statistics sites.

In doing so, something struck us: We rarely if ever check out which players are faring the worst when it comes to those next level numbers.

Ah, the international break: Good for off-the-wall posts.

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At the risk of kicking a player while he’s down, here are some negative numbers that stand out from the pack.

Of the 358 players who’ve played at least 10 Premier League matches, Joe Hart is having the worst season of the bunch according to Squawka. That’s a bit misleading due to how the site’s metrics operate, considering eight of the bottom 20 players are goalkeepers (and several, like Jonas Lossl and Jordan Pickford, are having outstanding campaigns).

So the unfortunate honor goes to Swansea defender Martin Olsson, who edges James McClean of West Brom for the infamy. Since the site does heap numbers on players by action accumulated, perhaps it’s better to single out the per-game and per-90 strugglers. Olsson and McClean are still very much near the bottom, but surprisingly Yannick Bolasie is the worst per game, and Swansea’s Wayne Routledge is having the least effective season per 90 minutes.

As for WhoScored, its metrics are hammering forwards, with Lys Mousset, Andre Gray, and Benik Afobe at the back of the back (ahead of McClean, again, who is a multi-site struggler).

These stats aren’t perfect, of course, and I like the idea of having McClean on my squad. But there are some other odds stats in the pack.

 These players might want to pass their next opportunity to the keeper. Of players with 10 or more shot attempts this season, Adam Lallana (11), Renato Sanches (12), Lewis Cook (14), and Dale Stephens (15) have failed to put a single shot on target.

— Of the 81 players who’ve tried their luck 30 times or more, these are the worst accuracy rates

— For perspective, Harry Kane has put 56 percent of his league-leading 162 shots on target, while second place man Mohamed Salah is 61 percent of 118.

— Defensive errors also can be increased significantly by the times a player is put under pressure by his team, which is why goalkeepers are high on Squawka’s list. Take them out, and you get a list with Spurs’ Eric Dier up top. Two of his six errors have led to goals against Tottenham, with Zanka (Huddersfield Town), Alfie Mawson (Swans), Andreas Christensen (Chelsea), and Shane Duffy (Brighton) next with four errors.