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Teething problems intensify the VAR debate

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It doesn’t matter if you are a fan of VAR or you aren’t. It’s going to happen. Get used to it.

With Video Assistant Referees trialed in English soccer for the first time over the past few weeks during both FA Cup and League Cup games, the debate has intensified around its value and how it should be used.

First off, let’s define exactly when VAR will be used. According to the International Football Association Board (IFAB) guidelines, VAR will only be used to “correct clear errors and for missed serious incidents” which have “match changing” outcomes.

The four areas VAR can be used for are:

  • Goals
  • Penalty kicks
  • Red cards
  • Mistaken identity

It is important to remember that the referee on the pitch is the only one who can sanction whether a video review is necessary after consulting with VAR officials who are watching on monitors and recommend, via an ear piece, if certain instances are worth a second look. The referee can then go and take a look at the incident on a TV monitor on the side of the pitch himself, if necessary, before either keeping his original decision or changing his mind.

So, with all that in mind, why are we still having problems? Number one: fans, players and even managers still seem to be unsure as to exactly how this technology will be used.

Hand gestures making a square TV symbol are now happening in grounds across the UK, trying to suggest to the referee that he needs to go to VAR. Extra pressure is being placed on officials and despite the system being trialed in Major League Soccer, Serie A and the Bundesliga with limited issues over the past 12 months, it seems like the English game is struggling to adapt to the concept even though it will make the life of referees much easier in the long run.

All in all, VAR can slow down the flow of the game but that’s only if huge game changing moments occur multiple times. How often does that really happen? Once or twice, on average, in a single game, if that?

I was one of those so-called purists who wasn’t in favor of the technology to start with, but seeing how easy it can be to rectify mistakes over the past few weeks, I’m all for it now. Kelechi Iheanacho‘s second goal for Leicester in their FA Cup replay win against Fleetwood Town on Tuesday proved how great this can be. Replays showed he was clearly onside and the goal was awarded after initially being ruled out. It took 10-15 seconds without the referee even going to a pitch-side monitor to check it out.

Simple. Easy. Effective.

That goal was an example of a “clear and obvious error” which, per the IFAB guidelines, is why VAR exists. But in Chelsea’s FA Cup win against Norwich City on penalty kicks on Wednesday, there was an incident where VAR was used but didn’t overturn a decision which caused controversy.

Willian was booked by referee Graham Scott for diving in the box, even though replays showed there was clear contact with a defender but VAR officials didn’t believe there was a definitive reason to overturn the initial decision.

Antonio Conte had the following to say about the new technology as he wants it to improve.

“If we want to use a new system, I can’t accept a big mistake,” Conte said. “In this case, the Willian penalty was a big, big mistake. Not from the referee on the pitch, who took quickly a decision to book Willian and didn’t have any doubt, but from the person watching the game [Jones]. I hope the VAR wasn’t a referee because if you see that watching on television and don’t think that’s a penalty … he has to improve. It was very clear.”

Well, Antonio, you may have to accept mistakes, especially at the start, but was that decision really a mistake?

The VAR official may have simply been agreeing with the referee on the pitch that there was contact between Willian and the Norwich defender but that the Chelsea man left his leg hanging out and tried to buy a penalty kick. Even though there’s an extra official looking at video footage of the event, unless he believes the referee has got the decision horribly wrong it will not be overturned.

As for Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who saw the technology used in his sides 0-0 draw at Chelsea last week in the League Cup semifinal first leg, he remains an advocate of VAR and believes this trial run is extremely helpful.

“Will there be some hiccups up at the start? Certainly,” Wenger said. “We have to improve the system, but we have to go for it.”

That is the correct answer here.

It will take time to get used to the technology, just like it did in MLS. But fans, players and coaches need to not only embrace VAR but also educate themselves as to when and how it can be used.

I have no doubt that if the system is introduced into the Premier League for the 2018-19 season it will be hugely beneficial. Largely because the PL have sat back and let the FA trial the system and other leagues around the world work out the kinks. By the time next August rolls around, we will have months of use of VAR at the top level with the 2018 World Cup also set to use the technology.

Look at last weekend in the Premier League. Two key decisions likely changed the outcome of games between clubs battling to stay in the Premier League. Abdoulaye Doucoure’s late equalizer for Watford would have taken all of 10 seconds to review and overturn as he clearly punched the ball into the net against Southampton to seal a 2-2 draw.

While Newcastle’s Mo Diame clearly handled a goalbound effort which not only cost Swansea a penalty kick but would have seen Diame sent off. Both incidents would have been cleared up quickly and easily without minimum fuss.

That is what this system is for. The gray areas of diving and intent with handballs will still exist, just like they did before VAR. But the clear-cut calls which officials can’t see and don’t get right will be overturned when new replays become available to them.

That’s where they need the most help and that’s why VAR should be welcomed into the English game with open arms.

The debates will still rumble on in pubs, stadiums and offices in the UK. The system being trialed to stop those never-ending debates is currently having the opposite effect.

On This Day: Bornstein becomes national hero – in Honduras

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You know what today is? It’s Jonathan Bornstein day in Honduras.

Ten years ago today at RFK Stadium in our nations capital, a young, hot-shot kid with plenty of hair named Michael Bradley and Bornstein helped the U.S. Men’s National Team come back to draw Costa Rica, 2-2, in World Cup qualifying. In fact, it’s eerie watching Bornstein’s celebration, running to the corner flag and diving headfirst as he’s mobbed moments after by his teammates. It’s a bit similar to what Lanson Donovan did about nine months later.

[READ: USMNT looks to build in match v. Canada]

To add some context, it was the final day of qualifications matches in the Hex. Three days earlier, the U.S. had already secured a place in the World Cup with a wild 3-2 win at Honduras, meaning Los Catrachos needed to win over El Salvador on the final night and hope that the U.S. would keep Costa Rica from winning in the final match.

Who else, but Carlos Pavon gave Honduras a 1-0 win over El Salvador that night. Then, it was Bornsteins goal later that night that put Los Catrachos into the World Cup for the first time since 1982, and left Costa Rica to battle for the shared spot between CONCACAF and CONMEBOL.

In honor of the big day, hundreds of Honduras fans had been mentioning Bornstein on social media, and the veteran defender – currently of the Chicago Fire – retweeted quite a few of the thankful messages to him. Below, here’s video of the call from Honduras TV, as well as from Ian Darke and the ESPN crew.

Unfortunately for Bornstein, this may be the highlight of his national team career. He did make the 2010 World Cup squad and started twice, including the matches against Algeria and Ghana, but he never truly took the next step in his career to become a star left back.

After a calamitous performance against Mexico in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup final, which also Bob Bradley his USMNT job, Bornstein was dropped and hasn’t been seen from again on the national team stage.

However, even though he’s only a club player these days, he’ll never have to buy a drink in Honduras, that’s for sure.

Euro 2020 qualifying: France settles for draw with Turkey

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Euro 2020 qualifying continued on Monday and included a top-of-the-group clash in Group H.

[READ: England rout Bulgaria in game marred by racist chants]

France 1-1 Turkey

France spoiled a chance at home to put one foot in Euro 2020 after conceding late in the match and settling for a draw with Turkey.

Despite playing without a lot of starters – Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, and Hugo Lloris are all out injured – France still was strong in the first half and peppered Turkey with 12 shots. Goalkeeper Mert Gunok made an outstanding double-save in the first half and Leicester City’s Çağlar Söyüncü did his best to keep Antoine Griezmann in front of him.

In the 72nd minute, Olivier Giroud came on the field as a substitute and four minutes later, he put France in front to the delight of the home crowd at the Stade de France. What else, but a header off a corner. However, the lead didn’t last long. Off a free kick in the 82nd minute, Hakan Calhanoglu’s delivery was nodded home by Kaan Ayhan. The 1-1 draw leaves both France and Turkey tied with 19 points from eight qualifying matches. It also means that Turkey hasn’t lost to France over two games in this qualifying cycle.

Here’s a look at the rest of Monday’s scores:

Monday’s Euro 2020 qualifying scores

Group A

Bulgaria 0-6 England

Kosovo 2-0 Montenegro

Group B

Lithuania 1-2 Serbia

Ukraine 2-1 Portugal

Group H

Iceland 2-0 Andorra

Moldova 0-4 Albania

Ronaldo scores 700th goal for club and country

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Cristiano Ronaldo achieved yet another personal milestone in his star-studded career on Monday evening with a simple penalty kick goal.

With his 72nd minute strike, Ronaldo tallied his 700th goal for club and country in his career. It’s an incredible achievement, and one indicative of his incredible goal-scoring exploits and his long career.

Ronaldo was already leading all active players globally in terms of goals scored, so his 700th is only adding to the list. His former club nemesis, Lionel Messi, still sits a reported 28 goals behind him, according to Soccerway. After them, LA Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the closest, and he has “only” 542 goals.

The Portuguese icon becomes the sixth male player to score 700 goals in his career. The others include Pele, Romaro, Josef Bican, Ferenc Puskás, and Gerd Muller.

Ronaldo made his debut for Sporting Lisbon in the 2002-2003 season as a 17-year-old and quickly was snapped up by Man United and Sir Alex Ferguson, where he transitioned from a tricky winger to a clinical striker who couldn’t stop scoring.

The 34-year-old has scored 40-or-more goals on three occasions in his career and he scored 25-or-more goals in all nine years he was at Real Madrid. For Portugal, he’s now scored an incredible 95 goals in all competitions. He had 15 goals in World Cup qualifying alone for the 2018 campaign.

Watch the video of Ronaldo’s breaking goal below. Unfortunately for him, Portugal fell, 2-1 to Ukraine.

Southgate, England players sound off on racist abuse

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England took care of business in Monday’s 6-0 thrashing of Bulgaria, but the Three Lions had to endure some horrendous racist abuse from the crowd during the game.

The match was paused on two occasions I’m the first half by the match officials after racist chanting could be heard from a section of supporters, and a large group of Bulgarian fans were ejected towards the end of the half. However, racist abuse continued during the match from small pockets of fans in the stadium.

[READ: England v. Bulgaria delayed after racist abuse from stands]

“I have to say that the officials were on to everything very quickly,” England manager Gareth Southgate told ITV after the match. “We reported everything immediately when we heard things, we had constant communication with the fourth official and the referee. I was in contact with the players, all the way through the first half in particular, and then again at halftime.

”We know it’s an unacceptable situation, and I think we’ve managed to make two statements. By winning the game, but also we’re raised the awareness of everybody to the situation. The game was stopped twice, I know for some people that won’t be enough, but we as a group were on board with that process.”

Raheem Sterling, who scored a brace in the win, also sounded off on social media, as did former England and Arsenal star Ian Wright.

Ultimately, UEFA and the match officials followed the protocol, but the sad part about this is that England and the officials had a plan for racist abuse, and it was predictable that it would happen.

In a statement after the game, the FA confirmed they would be asking UEFA to investigate what happened. However, any punishment is too little, too late for the players who endured the abuse.