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Double Column: Why the VAR was right and wrong, and who’s to blame

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The controversy surrounding the use of VAR at the Women’s World Cup took a new turn on Monday, as two decisions helped give France a 1-0 win over Nigeria, ensuring the European nation finished atop Group A.

For those who haven’t seen it, referee Melissa Borjas went to the video monitor to take a second look twice during the match. First, when Ngozi Ebere fouled Viviane Asseyi in the penalty box, leading to a penalty kick, and the second time when Nigeria’s 18-year-old goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie hopped off her line by a foot, VAR alerted Borjas to award a retake.

PST writers Dan Karell and Kyle Bonn both have opinions, and we figured this was a good forum to get their ideas off their mind.


Dan Karell

In my opinion, VAR did its job correctly. The problem wasn’t with VAR, or even the rules. It was with the referee, and how she interpreted those rules.

The original intent for VAR was to be used to fix clear and obvious mistakes missed by the referees, especially the center referee. This includes many examples, such as an obvious hand-ball in the box, the ball crossing the goalline, violent conduct away from the ball, or cases of mistaken identity with cards to players.

I don’t believe that either situation, the original penalty kick and the retake, were “clear and obvious” mistakes that were missed by the ref. Yes, was Asseyi probably fouled in the box by Eberi? Probably. But Asseyi also got to the ball first and could have taken a first-time strike. While that may have been a foul if it had happened at midfield, and therefore was in theory correctly called, you’ve got the referee and at least one assistant looking right at the play. If the referee decides to play on, then play on.

For the second, it was even more egregious. The new rules from the International Football Association Board states that goalkeepers now only need to have one foot on the line on penalty kicks, as most goalkeepers like to creep up and step off the line to shorten the distance to making a save. Of course, in the men’s game, this rule came to pass because almost no goalkeepers kept both feet on the line like they were supposed to. Like speed limit laws, it’s a law on paper but it’s almost never enforced unless there’s an serious issue, like someone driving 20 or more miles per hour over the speed limit. Most referees let them get away with it.

In this case, the referee, and two assistants, should have seen Nnadozie encroaching off her line. They also should have seen the France players encroaching into the box before Wendie Renard took the PK, as former U.S. Men’s National Team striker Herculez Gomez pointed out.

It even happened on the retake! Yet only Nnadozie was punished. Again, while Nnadozie was at fault, it shouldn’t have been a “clear and obvious” mistake by the referee. Nnadozie didn’t make contact with the ball as Renard’s first strike caromed off the post, and if Nnadozie somehow got into the head of Renard by stepping one foot off the line, then honestly, that’s on Renard.

In my opinion, while VAR was used correctly, it wasn’t in the spirit of the rule, why the system was put in in the first place. Both situations could have been judged by the referee in the middle. and if referees are now delaying all judgement to the VAR, they lose all authority from players for regular foul calls, throw-ins, or any basic decision.


Kyle Bonn

Here’s the thing about VAR: when used correctly – which it has been on plenty of occasions – it has made the game better 100% of the time. It was never going to be perfect the first time around, as no sport has implemented a replay system with pinpoint accuracy in its first go. The replay system in soccer works and works well, now it’s time for the sport to adjust to the issues which have been presented.

There have been three issues most frequently coming to light, two of which were predictable. The problems many people could see coming were the abrupt and awkward stoppages of play leading to long periods of waiting, and the unclear definition of “clear and obvious error” leading to occasional poor application of the system. Those two issues deserve their own column and can be addressed by analyzing early usage of the system and tweaking its logistical flow to streamline the process.

Thirdly, the system has brought to light certain rules that to the naked eye were never a problem as referees had discretion on how and when to issue punishment, but under replay scrutiny, everything must now be black and white. Do not blame the replay system for this deficiency – the rules were always the problem, the game just didn’t care to make the adjustments, leaving the referees to do that on the field instead. Now, with the rules out of the referees hands, the rules must change.

Obviously the handball rule needs serious correction, and that could take years to parse out. One rule that could be effortlessly edited to fit the new VAR universe is the goalkeeper’s positioning when defending a penalty, one that has become a clear hole in the rule book, no more evident than in the U-20 World Cup and now the Women’s World Cup. New Zealand was booted from the U-20 tournament in a penalty shootout that saw one of their saves ruled a retake after Michael Woud was judged harshly for coming off his line. Now, as Daniel eloquently outlined earlier, the Women’s World Cup suffers.

The laws of the game admitted fault, editing the rule slightly to allow goalkeepers to have one foot on the line rather than two, but this change has done little to fix the problem. Hopefully, a subsequent change will come soon to allow goalkeepers the ability to move in a natural manner while not gaining an advantage on the effort.

Do not blame VAR for the issues built into the game of soccer that human referees were in the past able to mask with common sense no longer afforded to them in a replay world. With the ability to scrutinize millimeters of play using video replay, it’s impossible for a referee to allow minor infractions for the betterment of the game. The game itself must adjust, and should that happen, VAR will be a fabulous addition to the game, but until then, fans, players, and coaches will be forced to swallow more cruel moments like we’ve seen of late, and the growing pains will continue to be noticeable.

Investigation: Migrant workers still being exploited on Qatar World Cup jobs

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An investigation conducted by Amnesty International, a British organization focused on human rights, revealed that thousands of migrant workers are still being exploited for unpaid labor and poor living conditions related to construction projects for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

[ MORE: Top Premier League storylines: Week 6 ]

Amnesty’s investigation into three Qatari companies — Hamton International, Hamad bin Khaled bin Hamad and United Cleaning — revealed that at least 1,620 workers had filed complaints over months of unpaid wages. Some were eventually paid a portion of what they were owed in exchange for dropping their cases, while some left the country and returned home with nothing.

Qatari officials had repeatedly promised, after nominal pressure had been applied by FIFA, to enforce stricter standards on company’s regarding their treatment of workers.

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“Despite the significant promises of reform which Qatar has made ahead of the 2022 World Cup, it remains a playground for unscrupulous employers,” Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International’s deputy director of global issues, said. “Either the reforms are being done very slowly, or they are not being implemented properly or they are not being done at all. As a result of that there are still thousands of workers who are not being paid properly, they are not getting justice, or are living in poor conditions.”

Nuno demands ‘immediate reaction’ from struggling Wolves

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Replicating the lofty heights of last season has proven a tough task for Wolverhampton Wanderers through the first month and a half of the 2019-20 campaign, both in the Premier League and in Europe.

[ MORE: Top Premier League storylines: Week 6 ]

After finishing seventh in their first season back in the PL, Wolves began their first-ever Europa League adventure this summer, largely breezing through the qualification rounds to reach the group stage. That part went swimmingly. Thursday’s group play opener didn’t go so well, as Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side fell to Portuguese side Braga at home, 1-0.

Wolves began the PL with three straight draws, conceding just two goals in total. Since then, they have lost two in a row and conceded eight goals.

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Again, we’re not even two months into the season, but Santo knows the next few games are going to be hugely important for his side. Not only does he need to keep his players’ heads from dropping during these trying times, but they also need to begin stringing together results, both in the PL and in Europe. Wolves need to bounce back, and immediately — quotes from the BBC:

“This is important. We face the reality and the reality says we not performing well so we have to analyze it and find solutions in the team to improve.

“We must react immediately. We have to take decisions and find solutions for the team because we have to come out of this situation and improve our performance so we can bounce back.”

“We are all disappointed.”

Up next for Santo’s side is a potentially tricky trip south London to face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, where the Eagles have already drawn top-six hopefuls Everton and beaten newly promoted Aston Villa.

Kaka urges Neymar to stay at PSG, lead Champions League push

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LONDON (AP) From lifting the World Cup to being named the world’s best player, Kaka ascended the highs Neymar is still chasing.

So after more tumult in Neymar’s career, Kaka has some advice for his fellow Brazilian:

  • Stay at Paris Saint-Germain to lead the pursuit of Champions League glory, and the world player of the year accolades will follow.
  • Keep on maturing and maybe the forward can win a World Cup to avoid being viewed as a failure for Brazil.

“Everybody wants to give some advice or an opinion about his life,” Kaka said in an interview with The Associated Press. “He’s just a 27-year-old guy, a lot of people of the same age make mistakes and improve with that.”

[ MORE: Top Premier League storylines: Week 6 ]

But Kaka’s opinions and advice could be worth listening to, even for Neymar.

After all, Kaka won the game’s top individual honors in 2007 when he was named FIFA world player of the year and collected the Ballon d’Or after winning the Champions League with AC Milan.

Neymar, the world’s most expensive player, is reeling from being jeered on his return to the PSG side last weekend after sitting out the opening four league games of the season as he pushed for a move back to Barcelona during the summer transfer window. He won’t play in the Champions League until the third group-stage game because of a suspension.

“For him I think it’s good to stay there in PSG for now,” Kaka said at the FIFA20 video game launch. “I think it’s good for him, for the club. I think PSG is always trying to build a great team to win a Champions League, so he can be the leader for this project and in my opinion, it’s good. It will be a great year for him.”

When the FIFA player awards are handed out on Monday, though, Neymar will be far from the Milan ceremony. He has never finished higher than third in the vote for the Ballon D’Or, and still lives in the shadow of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

“What I believe that lacks in Neymar to accomplish the world’s best player award is a big team accomplishment,” Kaka said in London. “When he achieves this big team accomplishment, being the leader of this accomplishment — and he has a big chance for it, I am sure of — Neymar will be chosen to be announced as the world’s best player.”

Neymar is starting a third season in Paris after Barcelona could not strike a deal to re-sign the player it sold two year ago for $246 million.

“Maybe at 27, I could have made the same mistakes,” Kaka said. “And so I think this is a great opportunity for him to improve himself and to be better and mature.”

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While Neymar has won the French league twice — the minimum expected for a team with lavish Qatari funding — he has not won a European title with the French capital club as he did with Barcelona in the 2015 Champions League final.

Neymar’s only titles with Brazil so far are gold at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and the Confederations Cup on home soil in 2013. Neymar missed the 7-1 loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinals through injury and was part of the team knocked out the 2018 quarterfinals by Belgium. He also missed this summer’s Copa America, which Brazil won without him.

Kaka was part of the squad that won the 2002 World Cup, and Brazil hasn’t reached the final since then.

“Always for Brazil we have this pressure,” Kaka said. “Because we have won five World Cups, so everyone thinks about the World Cup. So, if you do a lot of good things for the national team but you don’t win a World Cup, maybe you fail.

“I don’t think it’s fair but it’s like this and this is the situation. And Neymar had an opportunity to play in two World Cups and didn’t win one with Brazil. So, our expectation with him is for him to be the guy for the next World Cup for us. I think it’s hard for him but I think every year he’s more mature, he understands his position in the national team better as well and it’s good.”

Premier League Preview: Southampton v. Bournemouth

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  • Early-season mid-table clash on the south coast
  • 10th-place Saints host 9th-place Cherries
  • 0-0, 3-3 draws in PL meetings last season

Matchweek 6 of the 2019-20 Premier League season is upon us, and the proceedings are set to kick off on Friday when a pair of south coast clubs, Southampton and Bournemouth, do battle (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Both sides enter the clash at St. Mary’s Stadium on the back of a victory last weekend in PL action. It’s Bournemouth whose triumph last time out was wildly impressive, though, as Eddie Howe’s side cruise to a 3-1 win over top-six hopefuls Everton at Vitality Stadium. However, Saints have proven a real nightmare of an away day for the Cherries as they’re in search of their first-ever win away to Southampton (15 previous tries, beginning in 1953 – all competitions).

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Southampton secured their most recent victory when they traveled to newly promoted, 10-man Sheffield United. Home form has been a bit worrying for Saints early this season, until you consider they’ve hosted none other than Liverpool and Manchester United at St. Mary’s… until you look back to last season and realize they have won just five of their last 21 at home. On the plus side, Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side has been much improved since conceding five goals in the first two games of the season. Since then, just one goal which came in a 1-1 draw with Man United.

Injuries/suspensions

Southampton: OUT – Kevin Danso (suspension); QUESTIONABLE – Nathan Redmond (ankle), Michael Obafemi (hamstring); PROBABLE – Ryan Bertrand (ankle)

Bournemouth: OUT – Charlie Daniels (knee), Lloyd Kelly (ankle), Dan Gosling (hip), David Brooks (ankle), Junior Stanislas (knee), Simon Francis (fitness); QUESTIONABLE – Chris Mepham (undisclosed), Arnaut Danjuma (foot)


Projected lineups

Southampton: Gunn – Bednarek, Yoshida, Vestergaard – Soares, Romeu, Hojberg – Ward-Prowse, Boufal – Adams, Ings

Bournemouth: Ramsdale – Stacey, Cook, Ake, Rico – Wilson, Billing, Cook, King – Solanke, Wilson


What they’re saying

Ralph Hasenhuttl, on Southampton’s defensive improvement: “This season it’s not the case that we don’t give them any chances, they still have chances because it’s very difficult in the Premier League to not give them a chance. Also the goalkeepers Angus (Gunn) and Alex (McCarthy) make a good development this season and the back five were very concentrated. It is good to see things develop that you have been working on. This can hopefully continue.”

Eddie Howe, on the budding south coast rivalry: “It should be a really feisty game, a really good atmosphere and an entertaining match. Southampton have started very well, too. It’s gaining in everybody’s focus. The more games we have, the more the rivalry will intensify I think. We’ve enjoyed the games against Southampton which have been tight and tough, from both clubs’ perspectives. We’re looking forward to another entertaining match.”


Prediction

Southampton have been far more convincing in their defending than Bournemouth on the attack. It’ll likely be a game of precious few high-value chances. In the end, neither Saints get the elusive home win nor the Cherries get the first victory at Southampton. Final score: 1-1.