Spectacular talent, performances, drama, and controversy combined to make the 2018 FIFA World Cup the best the world has seen in a long time.

Controversy, in particular, has been surrounding FIFA for a while now and was at the forefront of the World Cup final. This time, the referee and the VAR (Video Assistant Referee) technology are under extreme scrutiny.

VAR was introduced to accomplish four things:

  1. Review Goals
  2. Revie Penalty Decisions (or Indecisions)
  3. Review Straight Red Card Incidents
  4. Review Mistaken Identity

Once an incident occurs, an on-field ref can either contact the VAR booth and ask them to review an event. Conversely, the booth can inform the on-field ref that an incident is worth examining. In either situation, the VAR booth gives the on-field ref crucial information, but it’s ultimately up to the on-field ref to make his own decision based on what he knows.

One could argue that an on-field ref made two crucial mistakes yesterday. These mistakes show both the downside of VAR and show that FIFA may need to alter the VAR rules.

French superstar Antoine Griezmann drew a foul and was awarded a free-kick around 30 yards away from the goal, which was a threatening distance. From Griezmann’s free-kick, France got the game’s first goal. However, the kick should have never taken place because it was not a foul, but a dive from Greizmann.

Greizmann was cheeky enough to play the ref by making it look like the “physicality of the defender caused him to fall.”

According to the rules of the game, refs cannot review whether a free kick should be awarded or not. This makes sense as almost every foul would then be under review. However, this fact does not take away from Greizmann’s egregious action.

After Croatia leveled the score, France was awarded a penalty on a handball of a corner-kick. The on-field referee initially did not make the call, however, and went with his gut instinct. However, after appeals from the French players, the ref went to VAR and ultimately decided to award the penalty.

This was another controversial play, because the on-field ref had all the information that he needed, and made a call that perhaps should not have been made.

There was no deliberate motion of the hand towards the ball, and this is one of the critiques of VAR.

VAR makes calls such as this particular ref’s much more subjective than a standard ‘gut-call.’ As football journalist Daniel Storey put it:

“VAR has altered the rules on handballs without the wording being changed.”

And again, he was not only one to echo this sentiment. Manchester United and Irish legend Ro Keane put it this way:

Football is a great game, best game in the world but that decision disgusts me. I am fuming. Disgraceful decision. That referee has never played football, I can guarantee it.

Another Manchester United legend, Rio Ferdinand, said:

“… two bad decisions have really turned the game on its head.”

Renowned referee, Mark Clattenburg, thought the decision was wrong as well.

These are just some of the many criticisms of the referee regarding the decision of a penalty-kick which probably should not have been given. Ivan Perisic’s hands were not in an unnatural position, and it is virtually impossible that he could have reacted any sooner.

Even though the rules don’t say that refs can review call fouls into question, it is puzzling to think that a faked ‘foul’ which leads to a free kick in a threatening position cannot be evaluated. FIFA needs to alter some of the rules regarding VAR, or else find referees who are not blind to this kind of simulation.

The first two goals changed the entire game because Croatia was dominating, yet had the unfortunate luck of being down. At one point, when the Croats were down 2-1, they had 61% possession with seven shots, while France had 39% and one shot (penalty). Why? Blame the referees. The refs put Croatia in a desperate position, which allowed France to expose them on the counterattack. However, they should not have been in this position in the first place.

Something needs to be fixed. FIFA should be applauded for implementing a system which attempts to improve the game and the fairness of its result, but at the same time, that technology needs to be used better. FIFA should alter the rules to strengthen VAR, and hire better decision-makers in general.

For now, however, France has been crowned as champions, and all World Cup fans can do is applaud the team.

Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons