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VAR system clouds the Club World Cup

Venezuela-England live online: Final World Cup U20


Real Madrid - Kashima Antlers, Club World Cup Final 2016

Video replay technology

Cristiano Ronaldo after scoring against Club America in Yokohama.
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Cristiano Ronaldo after scoring against Club America in Yokohama.Matthew Ashton - AMAGetty Images

Real Madrid have reached the Club World Cup final, after a somewhat lethargic game against Mexicans, Club América, and which was resolved with stoppage time goals at the end of both halves from Benzema and Cristiano. The match itself doesn’t really require much more analysis than that, apart from a pat on the back for Lucas Vázquez - the kind of player you always want in your side and for whom jet lag is merely a rich man’s affliction. The main talking point once again was the VAR video replay system (Video Assistant Referee), which produced a moment which raised more eyebrows than the one on the eve of the game: Cristiano saw his goal given by the referee, then ruled out, then awarded again by the VAR in a moment of chaos and confusion.

To confound matters even more, on the eve of the game we had discussed the pros and cons of VAR, which doesn’t include a setting to detect offside moves, a pitiful excuse wheeled out to explain the blunder on the eve of yesterday's game. Anyway, the person who is responsible for the system, David Elleray, offered an explanation of the IFAB web page in which he clarified that the system should be able to revise offside moves. When reviewing Cristiano’s position, which was right at the limit, the invisible panel of three assistants reviewing replays on video screens instructed Paraguayan ref Enrique Cáceres to disallow the goal, which he obediently did. But moments later he was ordered to backtrack on that decision, and once again he obediently complied. And that was how the match ended.

In any case, those who were sceptical about the system have seen their arguments affirmed. It’s a system which can be improved of course. The excuse is that it is still only on trial, but that testing was reserved for a major tournament - this edition of the Club World Cup. I recall that several years ago there was a prestigious youth tournament in Monaco (in which Roberto López Ufarte gained the nickname Le Petit Diable (The Little Devil) which was used to test ideas designed to improve refereeing or changes the rules of the game. But rather than do something similar, they decided that they’d give it a run-out in Japan; why the hurry, I have no idea. The technology is good – there’s no doubt about that but we have to know what purpose it serves and how and when to use it. This example of VAR raises the question about who is really holding the reins.