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Refs training with VAR ahead of approval for Women’s World Cup

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Women’s World Cup referees are undergoing training with VARs in matches over the next two weeks, The Associated Press has learned, paving the way for the FIFA council to approve the use of video reviews at the tournament in France.

FIFA has faced criticism for not committing to using video assistant referees at the June 7-July 7 Women’s World Cup just as they were for the men’s tournament for the first time in Russia last year.

Amid growing demands for clarity on the deployment of VAR, United States women’s team coach Jill Ellis said it would be “insulting” if female players didn’t have an equal right to have decisions reviewed by video at their biggest tournament. England counterpart Phil Neville has also criticized the standard of refereeing in the women’s game and the lack of technology which could reduce mistakes.

FIFA only gave the first indication on Monday that it does plan to use the technology in France after the AP discovered previously undisclosed training with VARs was taking place in seminars and matches in Qatar. It ensures the 27 referees and 47 assistant referees will gain the necessary experience that allows FIFA executives at a meeting in Miami in March to approve the use of the technology for the World Cup.

“The final decision if VAR will be used at the Women’s World Cup will be taken by the FIFA council,” FIFA told The Associated Press on Monday. The governing body had previously only said a decision about VAR would come “in due time.”

FIFA is now ramping up testing with VAR as referees preside over matches with the assistance of technology at the Al Kass International Cup for men’s under-17 teams, including Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, from Monday through Feb. 15 at Qatar’s Aspire Academy.

“It’s similar to the men’s preparation,” FIFA said in a statement to the AP after being asked about the gathering of Women’s World Cup referees in Doha. “To have the best preparation the referees will have VAR training and in addition to that they will officiate games of the Al Kass Cup.”

It is a rare deployment of female referees at men’s games. Uruguayan official Claudia Umpierrez made the first VAR call of the tournament near Doha to disallow a goal for offside in a game involving Aspire and Moroccan side Raja Club Athletic on Monday evening.

“They have a competition, real matches and that’s is the best way to practice,” FIFA said. “VAR is only a part of their preparation. All other refereeing aspects like reading the game, uniformity and consistency in their decisions, positioning etc., are also crucial for their performances.”

While the Women’s World Cup referees and their assistants are women, most of the VARs are men, with some having gained experienced at the World Cup in Russia. No domestic women’s competition currently uses VAR.

When FIFA in December announced the appointment of referees for the Women’s World Cup, there was no mention of VAR.

FIFA appears to be operating on the same timescale to last year when VAR for the men’s World Cup was officially approved at a council meeting in March.

The video review calls in Russia were made from FIFA’s International Broadcast Center near Moscow. VARs, four to a game, sat with monitor operators trained to find the best camera angles before feeding decisions back to referees on the pitch in stadiums. Referees can also check replays themselves on pitch-side monitors.

Video review can help referees overturn clear errors in game-changing situations. This means incidents involving goals scored, the award of penalty kicks, red cards, and cases of referees showing cards to the wrong player.

VAR works well, but is it what we want?

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Video Assistant Referees (VAR) are coming to the Premier League for the 2019-20 campaign as the system is finally being adopted by England’s top-flight.

But is VAR what we really want? The jury remains out. Big time.

VAR has been used in Major League Soccer for years, rolled out across Europe’s other top leagues over the past few seasons and was a revelation at the 2018 World Cup.

But, and there is always a but with VAR, its arrival is getting us all to ask a huge internal question about the beautiful game: is this what we really want? Should every minute detail be scrutinized a la the NFL? Is this the direction we want to head in?

Whether we like it or not, that is the direction we are heading in. The system is being used in the FA Cup and League Cup in England this season, and in the knockout round of the UEFA Champions League for the first time. It is something we are going to hear a lot more about in the coming weeks and months.

Like any change in system there are positives and negatives.

Positive: I attended the Southampton versus Derby County FA Cup third round replay on Wednesday. Derby had one goal which looked perfectly fine ruled out via VAR, and one goal stood which looked offside. Both calls were correct when the replays were shown and there was tension in the stadium as the referee waited to announce the decision. It was all rather smooth and, most importantly, the correct decisions were made.

Negative: The fact that Derby were denied a wonderful team goal due to the heel of their striker being offside seems totally against the spirit of the game, and so to does Jack Stephens‘ right heel playing four players onside for Derby’s first goal. When you zoom in and slow down the footage, you can see that the decisions are technically correct. But there is an argument to be made that VAR is taking things too far.

Chants of “VAR, VAR” were heard by both sets of fans as youngsters made the square hand gesture as they called for VAR to be used time and time again. It is fun now, because it is new, but in a few years time we may all look down in the pub as we swill the remnants of a pint and say something along the lines of: “I miss the old days before VAR.”

Referees and linesman will probably miss it too, because their role in the game will still be important but their responsibility is diminished.

The debates will continue about certain decisions with or without VAR. Take the Harry Kane penalty kick against Chelsea in the League Cup for example. Was that incident a “clear and obvious” error? That is what VAR is supposed to be used for and that is where the gray area still exists.

When VAR was used at St Mary’s a message was displayed on the big screens saying a goal was being checked, or a possible penalty decision was being looked at. It all worked quite well and certainly added drama to proceedings. Could replays be shown live on the big screens at stadiums in Premier League grounds to offer greater transparency to fans and players? Or would that cause riots if the VAR images were still inconclusive? It is a tricky tightrope to walk.

VAR will get the vast majority of decisions correct, but how often it is used and how heavily referees rely on it will determine if the system is going to be successful long-term.

We are about to find out if VAR is here to stay and if it is what we really want.

Right now, there is no going back.

Chelsea boss Sarri plenty upset with VAR decision for Spurs

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Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri doesn’t have a problem with Video Assistant Referee, but he sure thinks it wasn’t used well in Tuesday’s League Cup semifinal between his Blues and the host Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium.

[ RECAP: Spurs 1-0 Chelsea ]

VAR awarded a penalty to Harry Kane about 90 seconds after the Spurs striker was ruled offside moments after Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga chopped him down in the box.

Sarri understands the use of technology, but thinks the people making the decision got it wrong.

[ MORE: Spurs react to VAR-infused win ]

Apparently, they should’ve asked for the Chelsea camera! From the BBC:

“A few minutes ago I watched the video from our camera. It was offside,” Sarri said. “Our camera was in line with Harry Kane. Offside with the head, the knee. Offside. It was really important the linesman carried on running, he had a big impact on our defenders. … I don’t think English referees are able to use the system.”

Sarri was not disappointed in his team’s performance, as just the finishing touch was missing at Wembley Stadium.

Chelsea out-attempted Spurs 17-6, and deserved better than a 1-0 deficit.

“We played into the opposition box 70 balls,” he said. “Tottenham had 10 balls into our box. We had 17 or 18 shots, nine on target. I think we played very well. In this moment it is not easy to score but I am happy with my players.”

Kane’s VAR penalty gives Spurs first leg lead over Chelsea

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  • VAR awards Kane penalty
  • Chelsea pours it on in second half
  • Blues out shoot Spurs 17-6
  • Backup GK Gazzaniga key for Spurs against lively Hazard

Video Assistant Referee played a huge role in the League Cup semifinal first leg between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday.

Harry Kane converted a penalty awarded via VAR as Spurs grabbed a 1-0 lead in match that otherwise favored the Blues.

The margin was razor-thin, and Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri thinks VAR got it wrong.

[ READ: PL Player Power Rankings ]

The second leg is Jan. 24 at Stamford Bridge. The other semifinal between Manchester City and Burton Albion begins Wednesday at the Etihad Stadium.

Kane was taken down in the box by Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, but the penalty was not awarded as the Spurs man judged to be offside.

The video reviewed the call, though, and found that Kane was onside. The English captain didn’t miss from the spot, and Spurs led 1-0.

Eden Hazard was particularly vivid for Chelsea, though the Blues star could not find the back of the goal and his teammates struggled to put the finishing touch on his playmaking.

Youngster Callum Hudson-Odoi, the Bayern Munich target, played 79 minutes in the match.

UEFA to introduce VAR in Champions League knockout stage

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Following a successful run at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, UEFA is finally getting on board with adopting video assistant refereeing.

VAR will be in use during the Champions League’s knockout stage in 2019, according to a report from the Times of London, which states that UEFA’s executive committee is expected to approve VAR for this season at an upcoming meeting on Dec. 3 in Dublin. Video review was reportedly not supposed to be approved until the 2019-2020 Champions League campaign but recent refereeing errors in the face of successful trials of VAR changed UEFA’s mind.

[READ: Ibrahimovic back to AC Milan?]

Video review at the World Cup proved that VAR could be conducted in a speedy and accurate manner, ensuring the integrity of the game while adding some new drama to the game. Raheem Sterling‘s penalty kick in Man City’s match against Shakhtar Donetsk, when video replay showed he tripped over his own feet, only renewed calls from fans and the media for video assistant referees to be used in these big-time events.

Technology has improved to the point where it is imperative that referees are given all the help they can receive. Players are moving quicker than ever, and the human eye can only watch so much. The fact that referees get nearly every decision correct is in it of itself, an impressive feat. Hopefully, with VAR coming to the Champions League and the Premier League, referees can return to getting game-changing decisions correct.