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For the first time in the World Cup’s rich history of quixotic refereeing, video replay will be used to review “game-changing” moments in real time. Most of the reviews will take place around goals, not unlike the way replay is used in the NFL.
But a video assistant referee team, or VAR, can also weigh in to help the on-field crew review red cards, decisions to award penalty kicks and when the wrong player has been cited for a foul.
FIFA is very excited about this. So, too, are purists who believe contests can be made more fair with the occasional retrospective glance at fast-paced moments in a game, especially one as full of gamesmanship as soccer.
Part of World Cup lore involves bad calls and, unless you’re a fan of England, they can make the whole thing more fun. We’ll see what technology brings to the tournament: welcome precision or dull perfectionism.
What’s certain is that video review will influence the game on the field in some important ways, whether it’s used or not. For example, linesmen are being advised to keep their flags down on close offside calls, allowing play to continue, and then go to video review if needed. (We saw this twice in Thursday’s tournament opener.)
This means defenders on the field, many of whom play in leagues that do not yet use VAR, will need to be sure to keep playing despite a sense that the attacking player is offside. Like the NFL, the “ruling on the field” will only be overturned if the evidence proves conclusively that it should be.
Regardless of your feelings about video review, you have to love FIFA’s Trumpian chutzpah in selling it.
On its Web page explaining VAR, the federation has chosen Diego Maradona to celebrate its virtues. The Argentine forward, one of the game’s all-time greats, says of VAR, “Technology brings transparency and quality, and it provides a positive outcome for teams who decide to attack and take risks.”
In the 1986 semifinals against England, Maradona scored perhaps the most infamous goal in World Cup history.
With the score tied at 0, Maradona swept into the penalty box, where the “go” to his “give” pass, blindly kicked by an England defender, floated in. He leaped with England keeper Peter Shilton, far taller than the diminutive Argentine, and spiked the ball into the net with his hand.
Later, Maradona said simply it was “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God,” giving the goal its name. It would not have withstood video review.
FIFA’s second spokesman for VAR is Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, a German star striker in the 1980s who now runs powerhouse club Bayern Munich. A German soccer official praising video review is another bit of irony; England’s clear yet disallowed goal against Germany in the 2010 World Cup’s round of 16 made the introduction of video review inevitable.
With England trailing 2-1, midfielder Frank Lampard slammed a shot off the bottom of the crossbar that landed 2 feet behind the goal line before being bundled out by the keeper, a young Manuel Neuer, who is still Germany’s No. 1.
The referee ruled no goal, and Germany went on to win, 4-1. Three years later, FIFA approved the first use of video review for some of its international tournaments, testing grounds in advance of this year’s World Cup debut.
You might lament England’s fate.
But the Germans believed Lampard’s ghost goal served a kind of historic justice. Smacking his shot off the bottom of the crossbar, Geoff Hurst “scored” for England against Germany in the 1966 final, helping secure England’s only World Cup title.
What might VAR have had to say about it? No England fan would want to put it to the test.
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