World Cup 2018: VAR helps tournament reach 10 penalties - so is it working?

England's Harry Kane
Harry Kane (second right) scored twice for England in their Group G victory against Tunisia but also appealed for two penalties

A "fairer World Cup", better player behaviour and a reduction in the "mobbing" of officials.

The introduction of video assistant referees was one of the major issues heading into this World Cup and, as expected, it has been a near constant talking point during the first round of games.

Four penalties have been given using VAR, while England and Brazil both had cause to be unhappy with the system.

Like it or not, it is certainly having an impact - 10 penalties have been awarded in 17 matches. The World Cup record is 18 for an entire tournament.

Former Premier League referee Mark Halsey told BBC Radio 5 live the failure of VAR to give spot-kicks to England for fouls on Harry Kane against Tunisia showed the system is "inconsistent" and "should not be in this tournament".

But Fifa says it is "extremely satisfied with the level of refereeing to date and the successful implementation of the VAR system".

And David Elleray, technical director of the International Football Association Board - the body which oversees the laws of the game, told BBC Sport its overall impact has been "very positive".

"There have only been five reviews in the first 17 matches, which conforms to the global average of one in every three games," said Elleray, who helps to train referees in the use of VAR.

"This is 'minimal interference' and with the outcome of three matches being directly affected by the VAR intervention this is 'maximum benefit' and a fairer World Cup.

"The behaviour of players has been excellent, with only one red card and a low average of yellow cards and little mobbing of referees."

Here, we take a look at the incidents so far and get Elleray's verdict on whether VAR worked in each case.

'Farce' as England face Tunisia

What happened?

The first incident in the Group G game in Volgograd came in the 39th minute. Ferjani Sassi, who had scored a debatable penalty four minutes earlier for Tunisia, appeared to grab Kane in the penalty area and wrestle him to the floor from an England free-kick.

The video assistant referee, Sandro Ricci of Brazil, did initiate a review but no penalty was awarded.

The second incident, at an England corner in the 52nd minute, appeared to show Kane being pulled to the floor by Yassine Meriah. Again the decision was checked, again the same outcome.

What did they say?

England striker Harry Kane: "That is what VAR is there for. At a few corners I couldn't move."

Former England striker Alan Shearer on BBC One: "Kane wasn't allowed to go anywhere because he was being held. I would love somebody in charge of VAR to explain why the holds on Kane in the penalty area didn't result in fouls."

Ex-England midfielder Frank Lampard on BBC One: "Incidents like these are one of the major reasons for VAR. They were absolutely deliberate, and they were so cynical, but they got missed."

So was it the right decision?

David Elleray: "The incident in the first half is more blatant than in the second half. Fifa said referees would be strong on clear holding in the penalty area, so it is not clear why the VAR did not recommend an on-field review, unless he felt that there were also offences by other England players."

Griezmann makes history

What happened?

In the 54th minute of France's Group C game against Australia in Kazan, France forward Antoine Griezmann was challenged by Josh Risdon. Referee Andres Cunha waved play on but, after play continued for about 20 seconds, he stopped the game and headed to the review screen by the dugouts, before awarding the penalty.

Griezmann converted to set France on their way to a win.

What did they say?

BBC One co-commentator Mark Lawrenson: "The defender makes the slightest of touches on the ball first. Whether he makes contact afterwards is irrelevant - you're always going to follow through. Not for me, I'm afraid. Sorry. I think they got it wrong."

BBC One pundit and England women boss Phil Neville: "I don't like VAR, I haven't done from day one. I still think I'm right and it's not a penalty. It has to be clear and obvious. We have three different opinions in the studio so it's not clear."

Former England international Jermaine Jenas on BBC One: "That is one that shouldn't even be sent for a review. The referee made his decision by not giving the penalty. It was not a clear and obvious mistake. That's where VAR can come off on the wrong side of things."

So was it the right decision?

Elleray: "The initial challenge by the Australia defender looks fair but close examination shows that the defender then lifts his leg to trip Griezmann. This is something the referee did not see and thus he made a clear error in not awarding a penalty kick. Correct VAR intervention."

Brazil seek answers

What happened?

Brazil were leading their Group E opener with Switzerland when they felt defender Miranda was pushed as Steven Zuber headed in a 50th-minute equaliser.

The Brazilians also felt Gabriel Jesus was manhandled inside the Switzerland penalty area later in the second half, but neither incident appeared to be reviewed by VAR.

What did they say?

The Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF): "The CBF requires to know from Fifa the reason the technology was not used in key incidents during the game."

Brazil coach Tite: "I'm just going to say this once: the Miranda moment was very clear. It's a very clear play, it's very, very clear."

Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic: "We have the VAR and the VAR should provide answers. I just looked briefly at our goal - it was a regular goal, that was a regular duel. It wasn't a foul."

So was it the right decision?

Elleray: "Brazilian anger is retrospective; there is no immediate reaction from the Brazilian defenders when the goal is scored. There is always some pushing and shoving in the penalty area and the referee's decision not to penalise the attacker is not a clear and obvious error."

'That's how VAR needs to be used'

What happened?

With the Group C game between Peru and Denmark goalless in the 44th minute in Saransk, Christian Cueva went down in the area under a challenge from Yussuf Poulsen.

Referee Bakary Gassama waved play on but, again, after play continued for about 23 seconds, the official blew his whistle and stopped play to consult the review screen.

A penalty was awarded to Peru, but Cueva couldn't cash in, shooting over.

What did they say?

BBC One co-commentator Kevin Kilbane: "It was a good decision [to review] from the referee, who did everything right. He didn't want to make a hasty decision. It's a clear penalty."

Former England defender Rio Ferdinand on BBC One: "Fantastic, that's how VAR needs to be used. It was a situation which was a grey area, you can go to review it, see it, and it's clear."

Chelsea and Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas on BBC One: "It was a clear penalty. I agree 100% that VAR must be used in this way."

So was it the right decision?

Elleray: "This is a clear referee error and the VAR intervention allows fairness to prevail and the correct decision to be given, which directly affected the final result. VAR at its best."

South Korea agree with Sweden VAR penalty

What happened?

Sweden's Group F game with South Korea appeared to be drifting towards a goalless draw in Nizhny Novgorod when Viktor Claesson fell under a Kim Min-woo challenge in the Korean penalty area in the 65th minute.

Referee Joel Aguilar initially allowed play to go but called a halt moments later. He looked at the incident again on the pitch-side screen and about 90 seconds later Andreas Granqvist scored the penalty that was awarded.

What did they say?

Sweden coach Janne Andersson: "I felt the wait for the VAR was unnecessary. There was no doubt the penalty should have been called straightaway. Luckily the referee had VAR to help him to be able to make the right decision."

South Korea coach Shin Tae-yong: "We could say it was regrettable but he was tackled between his legs. We do agree that it was a good call."

Former Liverpool defender Stephen Warnock on BBC Radio 5 live: "My first reaction was no penalty, it looked like he got just enough on the ball, but it's the striker's touch. VAR makes the right decision."

So was it the right decision?

Elleray: "This is a very clear missed penalty and it is somewhat surprising that the referee made such a clear error. This incident shows how VAR has brought greater fairness to the World Cup as this penalty directly affected the result of the match."

Salah brought down in box says VAR

What happened?

In Monday's Group A match between Egypt and Russia, Mohamed Salah was held by Roman Zobnin when running into the area. The holding began outside but continued into the 18-yard box. Initially referee Enrique Caceres gave a free-kick but VAR deemed the infringement was inside the box.

What did they say?

Match of the Day pundit Danny Murphy said the foul "was a penalty", and colleague Alan Shearer said it was "the correct decision".

So was it the right decision?

Elleray: "The laws of the game clearly state that if holding starts outside the penalty area and continues into the penalty area it is a penalty kick. This was a good example of the VAR assisting the referee to make the correct decision."


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