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Why VAR is breakout star of 2018 World Cup

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VAR will still be the breakout star of the 2018 World Cup.

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Despite many lambasting its use during Portugal’s draw with Iran and Spain’s draw with Morocco on Monday, the simultaneous, rapid, VAR use proved why it has been a roaring success in this tournament.

The fact that so many decision were made via the video technology in such a short space of time, and getting the correct calls right on each occasion, proved how valuable it is.

Going into this tournament, we had the horrors of the 2017 Confederations Cup and the 2017/18 FA Cup in our minds. From huge delays to decisions being reviewed and then incorrectly overturned, it threatened to be a nightmare this summer.

There have been no such problems so far. Touch wood.

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After the final two Group B games on Monday, 15 official decisions had been made by VAR during the 2018 World Cup. All 15 were correct.

The only problem that remains with VAR is when and where to use the technology. It is still down to the opinion of VAR officials in the booth as to whether or not there is a “clear and obvious” mistake with one of the on-field decisions. But there’s no doubt the technology is forcing defenders to change the way they try and block opponents, especially in the box.

A record 19 penalty kicks have now been awarded in the group stage of the tournament, and the likes of England and Serbia can even feel aggrieved that they haven’t been handed even more penalty kicks after their players were manhandled in the box.

Four years ago in Brazil just 13 penalty kicks were awarded in the entire tournament and, halfway through the 2018 tournament, it appears we will be heading towards at least 30-35 penalty kicks being awarded this time.

VAR’s arrival has led to extra scrutiny of the “dark arts” of defending and that is a great thing. There is, overall, more consistency with decisions and we have seen less glaring mistakes from officials in this competition. There’s no doubt about that and that, again, is a huge plus for this tournament compared to incidents like Frank Lampard‘s infamous disallowed goal in 2010 and many other instances which have marred tournaments.

The main thing which has been so pleasing about VAR at this World Cup is the speed with which it has been used.

Referees are having quick glances at replays before making their minds up and the tempo of games really hasn’t been impacted at all.

The only time where it has perhaps been dragged out a little too much was for the video analysis of Ronaldo’s elbow against Iran which was adjudged to only be worthy of a yellow card.

Nothing is perfect but VAR has proved it can be extremely useful with so much on the line.

It still needs to be tweaked. Players still need to stop calling for it at every opportunity. Fans must get use to waiting on a decision from the officials before properly losing the plot in celebration.

But, overall, there’s no doubting that VAR has worked better than anybody expected at this World Cup.

That is why it’s the breakout star.

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VAR at the World Cup: Good Idea? Bad Idea?

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Partially for political reasons and partially to help push the game into the 21st century, FIFA announced last March that it was bringing video assistant refereeing to all World Cup games.

This comes after two-to-three seasons of testing and use, from youth competitions like the FIFA Under-20 World Cup to uses in MLS, USL, and this season in the Bundesliga and Serie A. Of course, the Premier League has only been using goal-line technology, and teams last month voted to keep VAR out of the Premier League due to controversies across the world.

[READ: World Cup Preview: Brazil]

On paper, replay is only to be used when the video assistant referee sees a “clear and obvious” error from the center referee on one of four game-changing plays; Goals, penalty kicks, red cards and cases of mistaken identity.

In practice, we’ve seen referees, either through intimidation from one set of players or just human error, fail to correct a mistaken call even after video evidence, and do it in a timely manner.

It’s clear that across the world, the process on how to come to the fairest and clearest decision is still being fine tuned. That’s why it feels like VAR is coming to the World Cup a little too early.

Count me in as being in favor of getting the right call, even if it takes the sting out of the game a little bit and forces a delay. But the delay shouldn’t last more than 120-180 seconds. It it is really clear and obvious, it shouldn’t take many replay angles for the referee to realize the correct decision, run to the middle of the park and make the call.

One worry at the World Cup is that many of the players taking part won’t have experience using VAR, and as such, they won’t understand why the referee would review one situation over another. This could lead to extended delays as teams crowd the referee, demanding a review of a controversial decision, even if that decision is protected in the laws of the game as one made solely by the referee team on the field.

In addition, another issue is that the VAR squads will rotate between refereeing crews, as opposed to building up a relationship with a specific referee crew. This could lead to communication issues as well as a lack of understanding between the referee crews, who don’t have a lot of time before the World Cup to get to know one another.

Ultimately, World Cups are always memorable for controversies, and with the VAR’s early introduction to the 2018 World Cup, we’ll likely have a VAR-related controversy instead of using VAR to solve a clear and obvious error.

FIFA picks 13 referees as World Cup video review specialists

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has picked 13 referees who will be video review assistants at the World Cup in Russia.

FIFA says they will act “solely as Video Assistant Referees (VARs)” in four-man teams reviewing potential game-changing incidents at each of the 64 matches.

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The 13 selected include several who refereed recent Champions League knockout games. They include three from Italy and two from Germany, which have the highest profile national leagues to use video review this season.

No referee was selected from England, where trials in cup games have been criticized for slow and confused decision-making.

FIFA says some of the 36 referees and 63 assistants previously picked for World Cup duty will also work in VAR teams.

Errors down, penalty kicks up after introduction of VAR in Italy

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The implementation of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in Italy has been controversial, but according to a look at the statistics, it has for the most part done its job to fix clear and obvious errors.

Italian sports paper Gazzetta Dello Sport compiled all the times VAR has been used through 346 matches, 330 in Serie A and 16 in the Coppa Italia. There were 1,736 checks (916 goals, 464 penalties and 356 red cards) with 105 corrections and just 17 errors where the referee and assistant made the wrong decision. Eight of those errors did affect the result, which is an issue that will surely be addressed by the Italian officiating organization.

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But overall, Gazzetta found that in the VAR era, referee errors only amounted to 0.98 percent during a match, as opposed to 6.03 percent in the past. In addition, fouls are down 8.8 percent, red cards are down 6.4 percent, and yellow cards are down 14.7 percent. On the flip side, penalty kicks are called 4.3 more percent of the time.

The Premier League voted recently not to add VAR to its league matches next season, while top leagues in Germany, Italy and in Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League continue to use it.

VAR decisions at World Cup to be explained on giant screens

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) Fans attending World Cup matches in Russia won’t be left wondering about the reasons behind decisions of the video assistant referee.

After the VAR’s decision is made, replays will be shown on giant screens inside the stadiums accompanied by a written explanation.

It’s all part of the VAR information system that FIFA unveiled Wednesday .

[ MORE: Man Utd makes historic hire ]

FIFA will place someone in the VOR (video operations room) who will listen in to the VAR’s decisions and communicate them to both TV commentators and stadium personnel operating the giant screens.

“So we will have graphics on the giant screens, we will have replays after the decision on the giant screens, and we will also inform the fans about the outcome of a VAR incident and review,” said Sebastian Runge, group leader of football innovation at FIFA.

With the VAR making its tournament debut during the June 14-July 15 World Cup, FIFA is holding its final training camp this month for the 99 match officials – 36 referees and 63 assistants – who have been selected to go to Russia.

Thirteen VARs have been pre-selected and are being trained at Italy’s Coverciano complex, and FIFA referees chief Pierluigi Collina said more VARs and VAR assistants will be chosen from the 99 match officials.

Three of the 13 VARs come from Italy’s Serie A and two from Germany’s Bundesliga – elite competitions that already use video assistants.

The VAR can support the referee in four game-changing situations: goals and offenses leading up to a goal, penalty decisions and offenses leading up to a penalty, direct red card incidents and cases of mistaken identity.

Still, VARs in both Italy and Germany have received vehement criticism for long delays and bungled decisions this season.

On Monday, Mainz was awarded a penalty during halftime against a rival Freiburg side that had already left the pitch for the break – prompting the unusual scene of a team returning from the changing room to defend a penalty.

“Yesterday we had already discussed this incident here and gave match officials and VARs clear indication about what should be done if something similar in FIFA competition – specifically the World Cup – happens,” Collina said without providing further detail.

Collina added that the VAR should not be overused, adding that ideally it would intervene at all in a match.

“The goal of VAR is to avoid major mistakes,” Collina said. “The objective is not to have clear and obvious mistakes committed on the field of play. This is the target, the goal is not to re-referee the match using technology.

“There will continue to be incidents when a final answer will not be given and there will be different opinions,” Collina added.

Among other items involving the VAR:

MOSCOW CONTROL CENTER

FIFA will follow the Bundesliga model of a central control center for the VAR rather than using trucks outside stadiums.

“We will have all of the referees based in Moscow so there won’t be any stress in terms of travel,” Collina said.

For each match, Collina will select one VAR and three assistant VARs.

Training operation rooms presented to media included six monitors for the VARs and two more for technical assistants enabling the VARs to see requested replays.

There could be up to four technical assistants in the room for World Cup matches.

OFFSIDE CAMERAS

FIFA will install two extra cameras at matches to monitor offside decisions.

The cameras will be in addition to the 33 cameras used for broadcasters and they will be installed under stadium roofs.

Broadcasters will not have direct access to the cameras but if they are used by the VAR then broadcasters can show the video.

Runge added that three dimensional technology – considered the ultimate strategy for determining offside – is not ready for real-time access yet.

SWEAT AND STRESS

VARs will not officiate more than one match per day.

“It’s not like watching a match on the sofa sipping coffee,” Collina said.

Collina, who officiated Brazil’s 2-0 win over Germany in the 2002 World Cup final, explained why the VARs will wear track suits similar to referees’ on-pitch attire.

“The reason is at the end they sweat as much as someone on the field, because the tension is very high,” Collina said. “They can’t do two matches per day – it’s too stressful.”

COMMS AND HACKING

The Moscow control center will be connected to match officials via a fiber optic network.

If the network fails, the backup plan includes an old-fashioned land telephone line and a telephone stationed near the fourth referee for emergency use.

“Worst-case scenario includes a backup plan on site. That’s when the IBC is down – no power, no fiber network,” Runge said. “Then we have a plan in place where the fourth official would become the VAR and the fourth official would be replaced by the reserve referee.

“We have a cabin in the broadcast compound from where we send all of the feeds to the IBC anyway. That cabin can be turned into a smaller, light version of the VOR.”

Hacking has also been considered.

“We are aware that there might be something but our IT department put measurements in place that will protect us from that,” Runge said.

POST-MATCH BRIEFINGS

In extraordinary circumstances, FIFA will hold post-match briefings to explain decisions in greater detail.

“If something should happen that we think should properly and accurately be explained – and it doesn’t matter if it’s related to VAR or something different – if it is a matter to explain the background of a decision, as an exception certainly we will do it,” Collina said.

“But it won’t be a post-match press conference for every match, explaining every single decision taken during every single match.”

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