No hiding place as VAR makes World Cup bow

A view of the video assistant refereeing (VAR) operation room at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia International Broadcast Centre (IBC) in Moscow. — AFP

KAZAN, Russia — If the strongest advocates of Video Assistant Referees (VAR) are to be believed, World Cup football will never be the same again after the TV review system makes its debut at the finals Thursday.

With this one innovation, they believe, contentious refereeing decisions will be a thing of the past, wrongs will be righted and the prospering of cheats brought to an end.

Had VAR been around, goes the thinking, German keeper Toni Schumacher's assault on France's Patrick Battiston in 1982 would have been properly punished, while Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" goal in 1986 would have led only to a direct free kick.

For the opponents of the use of technology, video reviews, particularly of goals, interrupt the natural rhythm of the game as tension builds before being released when the ball hits the back of the net.

Others suggest it brings only confusion where it should bring clarity and some question the technology itself, pointing to some embarrassing failures in leagues around the world which were early adopters.

One such was this year's A-League final between Melbourne City and the Newcastle Jets, when the Australian title was decided by a single goal despite three City players being offside in the run-up to it.

Football Federation Australia (FFA) later conceded the VAR had been unable to review the footage from the relevant camera because of a software glitch.

FIFA, while accepting the technology is not yet perfect, believe it has this eventuality covered by the sheer number of feeds the VAR and his assistants will have at their disposal in their Moscow bunker — some 37 during the knockout stages.

And whatever the flaws of the system, the possibility of a retrospective red card for an incident missed in real time by the referee is certainly going to concentrate the minds of defenders.

Australia's Matthew Jurman is used to VAR from his club football in the K-League and will be highly aware of the all-seeing eye of the camera if he is handed the task of shackling France's attack in Kazan Saturday.

"These days you can't do much without everybody seeing it," the center half said on Wednesday.

"So you have obviously to be smart about defending, especially around the box."

Despite VAR's World Cup debut, the battle over its future in the game is not yet won and a high-profile failure in Russia could be fatal to the cause.

For players such as Australia midfielder Jackson Irvine, such considerations are well above their pay grade.

"It's one of those things we don't have control of," he said. "Hopefully, it's going to make sure the big decisions are clear and decisive with no issues."

VAR at the World Cup

What is it?

The VAR is a match official who monitors video footage of the game for incidents that the on-pitch referee and his assistant referees might have missed.

How it will work?

A VAR, one of 13 FIFA qualified referees, and three assistants will monitor each of the 64 matches at the World Cup from an operations room in Moscow.

They will have access to the pictures from 33 broadcast cameras as well as two cameras dedicated to aiding offside decisions. Eight of the cameras will provide "super slow-motion" and four "ultra slow-motion" pictures.

Another dedicated camera will be installed behind each goal for the matches in the knockout stages of the tournament.

What decisions qwill the VAR review?

The VAR will become involved only in the following instances:

* Goals and offenses leading up to a goal

* Penalty decisions and offenses leading up to a penalty

* Direct red cards

* Cases of mistaken identity

Can the ref review the footage?

Yes, for some incidents, the referee will act on information from the VAR, in others they will view the footage at the side of the pitch.

The on-field review will take place in the following circumstances:

* When a goal has been scored, in the case of a foul committed by an attacking player or for offside interference.

* On penalty decisions, for a foul leading up to penalty or a foul by an attacking player.

* All direct red card incidents.

The referee will act on VAR advice in the following circumstances:

* When a goal has been scored, to decide if a player was in an offside position leading up to the goal or if the ball had gone out of play leading up to the goal.

* On penalty decisions, to decide whether a foul was committed inside or outside the penalty area, if the ball had gone out of play leading up to penalty or if a player was in an offside position leading up to penalty.

* All cases of mistaken identity. — Agencies