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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.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams “Einsteins” ]

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.

[ VIDEO: Previews of all 10 PL games – Week 6 ]

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

THE REQUIREMENTS

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 TECHNOLOGY SYSTEM

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.

THE REFEREES’ BOSS

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.

THE REFEREE

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.

THE FIFA MANAGER

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.

VIDEO: Portugal lead Iran at HT; Spain 1-1 Morocco

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We’re through the first 45 minutes of Monday’s Group B finales at the 2018 World Cup, and things are happening. A quick rundown…

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos combined to commit a disastrous gaffe at midfield, resulting in a goal for Khalid Boutaib in the 14th minute. At this point, Spain would have finished second, behind Portugal, and headed to the far more difficult side of the knockout bracket.

Five minutes later, it was Iniesta who, with a little help from some slightly lesser geniuses, unlocked the Moroccan defense to set up Isco for an emphatic finish. La Furia Roja moved back to the top of the group, on goals scored.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

In the afternoon’s other game, Portugal and Iran appeared destined for a 0-0 scoreline at halftime, until Ricardo Quaresma unleashed a stunning, outside-of-the-foot curler from outside the box to beat the goalkeeper and put Portugal ahead — both on the day, and in the table. As things currently stand, Portugal would win the group and Spain would finish second.

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 4

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In the fourth episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England players have been preparing for their next match in an unusual way, Argentina has a huge meltdown, and more.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

Click play on the video above to watch the fourth episode in full.

Atlanta leads way with six All-Star Fan XI selections

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It may be hard to believe with all the World Cup festivities going on, but the Major League Soccer season is nearly halfway over.

[ MORE: Toronto FC’s 2018 has been far from their cup-winning 2017 ]

And that means it’s almost All-Star time.

The MLS All-Stars will continue their recent tradition of facing a European superpower in August, with Juventus being welcomed to the United States in early August.

But, which players from MLS will we see in action?

Last season’s expansion sweetheart Atlanta United leads the way in the fan voting with six players from the Eastern Conference side voted into the Fan XI, including attackers Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco, Darlington Nagbe and Josef Martinez.

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan and defender/captain Michael Parkhurst also made the team from Atlanta.

In all, only five clubs were represented based on the Fan XI, with the LA Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Los Angeles FC’s Carlos Vela and Laurent Ciman, Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi and Portland Timbers star Diego Valeri each rounding out the squad.


Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United)

Defenders: Michael Parkhurst (Atlanta United), Laurent Ciman (Los Angeles Football Club), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Miguel Almirón (Atlanta United), Ezequiel Barco (Atlanta United), Darlington Nagbe (Atlanta United), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers)

Forwards: Josef Martínez (Atlanta United), Zlatan Ibrahimović (LA Galaxy), Carlos Vela (Los Angeles Football Club – EA SPORTS™ “More Than a Vote” Challenge)

Saudi Arabia steals late win over Egypt in Group A finale

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Saudi Arabia pulled off a late 2-1 win against Egypt on Monday in their Group A finale, as the two nations ended their 2018 World Cup run in the group stage.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Salem Al Sawsari scored in the fifth minute of second half stoppage time to give the Saudis a late winner in the match, as the attacker struck the post in the dying moments before the ball crossed the line.

The Pharaohs took the lead in the 22nd minute, after a tremendous run from Mohamed Salah and lob over the Saudi Arabia goalkeeper.

Salah has two goals at the World Cup for Egypt, who were already eliminated heading into Monday’s match.

Saudi Arabia was granted a chance to equalize prior to halftime, however, goalkeeper Essam El Hadary brilliantly stopped Hattan Bahebri’s penalty kick in the 41st minute to preserve the Egypt advantage.

El Hadary became the oldest player in World Cup history to appear in a match at the age of 45.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

The Egypt keeper wasn’t as lucky the second time around though, with Salmon Al Faraj converting a penalty kick in the 51st minute.

Saudi Arabia finishes group play in third place on three points, while Egypt goes winless in its three matches.