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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.

Winks says trophies for Spurs are “round the corner”

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Tottenham Hotspur has just one trophy in the last 20 years, but midfielder Harry Winks says the club is knocking on the door and should be earning hardware in no time.

With the club reaching the Champions League final this season before falling to Liverpool, Winks – who started the big game in midfield – is believing in what Mauricio Pochettino has brought to the squad.

“As long as we keep believing in what we have to do… I’m sure they [trophies] are round the corner,” Winks said after the club’s first training session in Singapore. “Everybody is ambitious in the squad. Of course there comes a time when players want to start winning trophies. But there is a bigger picture at Tottenham.”

Winks signed a new five-year contract at Spurs just over a week ago, rewarding the Spurs academy product for breaking into the first team and earning a significant role throughout last season, only cut short by a groin injury. Winks made 17 starts and 26 total appearances last season and was a consistent presence in the Champions League run as well, starting eight of the team’s 13 matches in the competition.

Tottenham’s only trophy of the last 28 years is a 2008 League Cup victory, when they topped Chelsea 2-1 in the final with Jonathan Woodgate scoring the winner in extra time. You have to go all the way back to 1991 for their previous trophy, when they won the FA Cup by beating Nottingham Forest 2-1 in the final on a stoppage-time own-goal.

Spurs has come closer in recent years, with last season providing a legitimate title chase until Liverpool and Manchester City pulled away at the turn of the calendar year. They reached the Champions League final before falling to Liverpool, and fell to Chelsea in the League Cup semifinals as well.

Big things have taken place for the club this summer, with Winks’ contract extension plus the addition of Tanguy Ndomele on a club record fee. Spurs is also rumored to be in for attacking midfielder Giovani Lo Celso in what would be a quality addition to the squad. Christian Eriksen has not yet made a move to depart despite heavy interest from the top Spanish clubs, and Toby Alderweireld has also not yet departed despite his low release clause sparking rumors. Meanwhile, Danny Rose has not made the trip to Asia for preseason and the 29-year-old is reportedly on his way out.

Europa League: Rangers, Aberdeen, FCSB advance in first qualifying round

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The first qualifying round of the 2019/20 Europa League wrapped up Thursday as the competition pairs down teams en route to the group stage.

A couple of notable teams lived to see another day, including Steven Gerrard and Scottish side Rangers who passed its test with flying colors, hammering Gibraltar side St. Joseph’s 6-0 for a resounding 10-0 aggregate win. Jermaine Defoe scored a late brace but Colombian international Alfredo Morelos was the man of the hour, bagging a hat-trick including a stunning rabona at the doorstep that probably wasn’t necessary but still found the back of the net.

Fellow Scottish side Aberdeen who topped Finnish club Rovaniemen Palloseura – or RoPS – 2-1 for a 4-2 aggregate victory. English striker Sam Cosgrove put Aberdeen in front from the penalty spot in the 26th minute, and 19-year-old Scottish youth international Lewis Ferguson picked up the late game winner in the 94th minute with essentially the last kick of the game.

FCSB, previously known as Steaua Bucuresti, knocked off Moldovan club FC Milsami Orhei 2-1 for a 4-1 aggregate victory. FCSB, who finished second in the Romanian top flight last season, got the winning strike from 21-year-old Romanian youth international Razvan Oaida in the 42nd minute to give FCSB the victory.

Danish club Brondby advanced despite a 2-0 road loss, topping Finnish side FC Inter Turku 4-3 on aggregate thanks to their 4-1 victory in the first leg. Turku struck twice in quick succession after the break, scoring in the 52nd and 56th minutes, but it was too little too late.

Legia Warsaw shook off a 0-0 first leg draw and secured a 3-0 win over aptly-named Gibraltar side FC Europa. A brace from Spanish striker Carlitos led the way, with goals in the 7th minute and 60th minute to set the pace for the Polish side.

Irish club Shamrock Rovers advanced over Norwegian side SK Brann on a late winner by new signing Gary O'Neil who bagged an 87th minute strike to secure the 2-0 win and lead the Irish side through 4-3 on aggregate. O’Neil only just joined Shamrock Rovers from UCD this summer, and he came off the bench for the final 10 minutes and found the winner.

Swedish club Malmo, famous as Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s boyhood club, finished off Ballymena out of Northern Ireland 4-0 for a 11-0 aggregate bashing. Malmo featured four different goalscorers, including American international Romain Gall, who picked up his only international cap with a late bench appearances against Italy back in late 2018.

Croatian side Hajduk Split was upset by Maltese club Gzira United 3-1 at home, which gave the visitors the win on away goals after a 3-3 aggregate tie. Gzira striker Ben Hamed Kone struck for a pair, including the game – and matchup – winner in the 97th minute that sent the Maltese side through. The two goals were utterly spectacular, with the first coming in the 69th minute on a bicycle kick from all the way at the top of the box, while his second was a flick from nearly the same position that sent them through.

All Europa League scores (bold team advances)

Rangers 6-0 St. Joseph’s
Ballymena 0-4 Malmo FF
Legia Warsaw 
3-0 FC Europa
FC Milsami 1-2 FCSB
RoPS 1-2 Aberdeen
FC Inter Turku 2-0 Bronby
Apollon Limassol 
4-0 Kauno Zalgiris
Hapoel Be’er 1-0 KF Laci
Hajduk Split 1-3 Gzira United
Kilmarnock 0-2 Connah’s Quay
KR Reykjavik 0-0 Molde
Shamrock Rovers 
2-0 SK Brann
Hapoel Be’er 1-0 KF Laci
Tobol Kostanay 1-1 Jeunesse Eche 
FK Makedonija 0-3 Alashkert FC
Kairat Almaty
2-1 Siroki Brijeg
KS Teuta 1-0 FK Ventspils
FC Levadia Tallinn 3-2 Stjarnan
Rigas Futbola Skola 0-2 Olimpija Ljubljana
Universitatea Craiova 
3-2 Sabail
Dinamo Minsk 1-2 FK Liepaja
Levski Sofia 2-0 MFK Ruzomberok
Cracovia 2-2 Dunajska Streda
FC Vaduz 
2-1 Breidablik
Haugesund 5-1 Cliftonville
Neftchi 6-0 Speranta Nisporeni
Petrocub-Hincesti 0-1 AEK Larnaca
Torpedo Kutaisi 0-2 Ordabasy Shymkent
Zalgiris Vilnius 1-1 Honved
Zrinjski Mostar 
3-0 Akademija Pandev
Progres Niederkorn 1-2 Cork
UE Engordany 0-1 Dinamo Tbilisi
B36 Torshavn 2-3 Crusaders
FK Kukesi 1-1 Debrecen
Hibernians 0-1 Shakhter Soligorsk
IFK Norrkoping 
2-1 St. Patrick’s
NS Mura 2-3 Maccabi Haifa
Vidi 0-0 FK Zeta
FC Vitebsk 1-1 KuPS Kuopio
Shkupi 1-2 Pyunik
Buducnost Podgorica 4-0 JK Narva Trans
FC Spartak Trnava 2-0 Radnik Bijeljina
NK Domzale 1-0 Balzan FC
Radnicki Nis 2-2 Flora

Report: Barcelona logs bid for Neymar

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According to a report by Sky Sports, Barcelona has officially submitted an offer to Paris Saint-Germain for Brazilian superstar Neymar that includes a $113 million cash component as well as a two-player offer that PSG can choose from.

The report states that Barcelona submitted a six-player list to PSG which includes Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele, Ivan Rakitic, Nelson Semedo, and Malcom. PSG can reportedly pick two from those six players, and the deal would be complete. Sky Sports did not know the identity of the sixth player at the time of the initial report.

Neymar has become unsettled at PSG after his time in France has been marred by suspensions and disappointing results in European play. He was involved in an altercation with a fan after PSG fell to Stade Rennais in the Coupe de France final in May, and has been accused of rape this summer by a Brazilian girl he flew to Paris late last season. Neymar was also suspended for three upcoming Champions League matches for critical comments made on his Instagram page after PSG was beaten by Manchester United this past spring.

Neymar has reportedly told PSG sporting director Leonardo that he wishes to leave the club in a recent meeting following the Brazilian’s late arrival to PSG preseason training. He missed the Copa America this summer thanks to an ankle injury suffered in a pre-tournament friendly against Qatar.

Over the last two years at PSG after joining from Barcelona via a world-record $250 million transfer fee, Neymar has made 58 appearances, scoring 51 goals and assisting 29 more. However, he’s been eliminated from the Champions League Round of 16 both years, finding himself injured for at least the return leg of the knockout matchup in both years.

Watford downed late by Ajax in preseason friendly

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Watford went toe-to-toe with Champions League semifinalists Ajax for most of the match, but capitulated late as Dutch youth international Jurrien Timber scored an 89th minute winner in a 2-1 win for the Eredivisie side in Austria.

Andre Gray put the Hornets up from the penalty spot six minutes before the break as American youth international Sergino Dest was called for an unlucky handball in the box. Abdoulaye Doucoure danced through the box and as he looked to skip the ball past Dest, it popped up and caught the American’s arm. Gray delivered and put Watford 1-0 up at the break.

The lead would only last until the 51st minute when Dusan Tadic found himself on the ball at the end line on the right, and he cut back to Donny van de Beek through the dummy of Kasper Dolberg on the penalty spot for an easy low finish and a 1-1 scoreline. It would stay that way until one minute to go in regulation as Carel Eiting sent a ball into the box where the 18-year-old Timber lept with his back to goal and clipped the ball off the top of his head for the winner, burying the chance inside the far post.

Both teams featured strong lineups, as Watford ran out stars like Gray, Tom Cleverley, Adrian Mariappa, and former Eredivisie veteran Daryl Janmaat while Nathan Chalobah, Gerard Deulofeu, and Jose Holebas came off the bench. Ajax saw van de Beek, Tadic, Dolberg, and Daley Blind all make the starting lineup.

Next for Watford is a match against Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday, also taking place in Austria.