The inside story of how VAR was born

The Dutch Refereeing 2.0 project created goal-line technology. Its next creation – VAR – has proven to be more divisive among footballers, fans and pundits at the Russian World Cup. The first video referral in World Cup history happened during the Group B opener between Spain and Portugal, in Sochi. In the 24th minute, Spanish striker Diego Costa clattered against defender Pepe, elbowing him in the face. The defender fell to the ground and, in the sequence of the play, Costa sent the ball into the corner of the net. As Spain celebrated equalising the match at 1-1, referee Gianluca Rocchi consulted the video assistant referee (VAR) using his headset, asking if he had seen anything wrong with the play. The VAR, who at the time was sitting in a video operations room in Moscow, 1,620km away from the action, replied that all was OK. The goal was allowed to stand. "It was a clear foul,” Fernando Santos, Portugal’s boss, said after the match. Even Spain's Diego Costa agreed: "I saw it afterwards. You could give a foul. It's the referee's interpretation." When asked about VAR, he added: "I don't like it… I scored a goal but I didn't know whether to celebrate or not. If there is a questionable part of the play, you don't celebrate. It can make you look stupid." 
VAR was conceived as part of an ambitious project conducted by The Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB) called Refereeing 2.0. Its aim? To reinvent refereeing. "With all the 4G and Wi-Fi in stadia today, the referee is the only person who can’t see exactly what is happening and he’s actually the only one who should," says Lukas Brud, IFAB secretary at the International Football Association (IFAB). "We knew we had to protect referees from making mistakes that everyone can see immediately." One of the project’s first successes was the introduction of goal-line technology by FIFA in 2012, after a two-year trial conducted by KNVB. Thanks to that, at World Cup matches, referees are now instantly alerted when the ball completely crosses the line, via a technology developed by British tech company Hawk-Eye. (The same company widely adopted in professional tennis). “Soccer has always been very conservative when it came to the introduction of technology,” Brud says. “We knew that we are opening a very wide door and that if we started down this path, there would be no way back.” In 2014, KNVB began informally petitioning IFAB, the organisation responsible for developing the laws of the game, to introduce video-assistance in football matches. However, it was only after the departure of FIFA’s disgraced boss Sepp Blatter, a man notoriously adverse to football's technological enhancement, that the project received proper consideration. In October 2015, FIFA’s new boss, the Swiss-Italian Gianni Infantino, held a preparatory meeting at FIFA’s HQ in Zurich to consider the Dutch proposal for VAR. The idea was well received. Most of the members of the football body were of the opinion that there had already been enough high-profile controversies in football – from Thierry Henry’s handball that qualified France to the 2010 World Cup at the expense of Ireland to Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal against Germany in the World Cup of 2014 – that justified seeking a solution that would prevent similar errors in the future. “Those were serious incidences that could have been easily corrected with video assistant referees," Brud says. "If we had mentioned the idea of introducing video referees in 2010, people would say we were crazy, but now they saw it as an opportunity to help referees and to achieve fairer outcomes in a match." At that stage, the technology was still untested in top-flight matches. The Dutch had only conducted offline testing and mock trials at the Eredivise, Netherlands top-flight championship, during the 2012-13 season. In March 2016, at IFAB’s Annual General Meeting, a decision was made to start a two-year experiment to scientifically validate VAR. Its first test came at two international friendly matches that month between Italy and Spain and Italy and Germany. “It was very successful because nothing happened," Brud laughs. It confirmed what we were hoping for, that this is not going to be used in every single match." 
Initially, the intention was to use VAR to address most incidents in the game, but they quickly realised that was an unrealistic prospect. Instead they opted to reduce its remit, so as to achieve what they call "minimum interference and maximum benefit" in the game. The use of VAR is restricted to what is defined as "clear and obvious errors" in match-changing situations: possible infringement just before a goal, penalties, red cards, and instances when the referee mistakenly cautions the wrong player. “The game has become quicker and it’s increasingly difficult for referees to keep up with everything and make perfect decisions but we’re not trying to improve every problem in refereeing and that’s a misconception that people have," Brud says. "We’re trying to avoid scandals. We don’t want to create something in football that’s constantly interruptive and destroying the game." Last season, VAR was trialled by various national football associations, like the German Bundesliga, the Italian Serie A, and the Portuguese Primeira Liga. In England, it was tested at the League Cup and the FA Cup. These trials, as expected, often made headlines, for all the wrong reasons. For instance, in Australia, at the A-League grand final between Melbourne Victor and the Newcastle Jets, the referee tried to consult the system after a winning goal was scored from an offside position, to no avail as the cameras had frozen moments just before the incident. In Portugal, a review following a goal also proved impossible as the offside camera was blocked by a flag. In the final of the German cup, a penalty in the 93rd minute was not awarded. There was apparent contact when the defender hit the left leg of the player and he went down immediately in the penalty box. The referee was given advice by the VAR to look at the situation again, which he did, and still didn’t award a penalty. “Today it’s still not clear what happened," Brud says. "In many those cases the referee's decision was actually right, but people have a different understanding of the laws of the game. They have a different opinion. The referee is normally basing his decisions on pure neutral facts, but for some people they are emotionally involved and it is really difficult to understand." Brud might have a point. In an analysis carried out by sport scientists at KU Leuven, encompassing more than 800 matches in more twenty countries, it was found that the total accuracy in refereeing decisions had risen from 93 per cent to nearly 99 per cent in the four categories that VAR intervenes in. Nearly 57 per cent of VAR checks were for penalties and goals; VAR was used less than five times per match, and the average time lost due to the usage of VAR was less than 90 seconds in a game. 
The World Cup in Russia is the first competition using VAR in full. The system works as follows: five officials — the referee, the two on-pitch assistants, the fourth official and the video assistant referee (VAR)— are in constant communication via headset. After an incident, either VAR makes a recommendation or the referee requests their opinion. VAR can also flag events that the referee has missed, in which case, the referee can simply accept VAR’s verdict or check a monitor located on the side of the pitch. The VAR itself is located on a video operating room at the headquarters in Moscow. The VAR will consist of one VAR and three assistants – all FIFA match officials. These referees, wearing full kit, are located in a video operations room furnished with ten screens displaying the multiple camera angles from broadcast cameras and the two offside cameras in the stadium. These touchscreens allow referees to zoom in and out and instantly select different angles. Furthermore, to counteract criticism that the decision-making process was often unclear to players and fans, replays and graphics explaining the decision are shown on giant screens inside the stadia. So far at the World Cup, four penalties have been given by VAR, and there were only five reviews in the first 17 matches of the competition. Concerns that VAR would lead for long interruptions have also been proven wrong. Of course, critics continue to point incidents were VAR has failed to rectify a decision from the referee, such as clash between Costa and Pepe before the Spain goal. For instance, at the England - Tunisia game, VAR was reviewed twice when England striker Harry Kane is seen being wrestled by Tunisian defenders, but no penalty was given. "That is what VAR is there for," Kane said to the press. "At a few corners I couldn't move." It seems to be a naive criticism, however. Without VAR those decisions would have remained the same, regardless. Surely the point of VAR is in rectifying not all, but some incorrect decisions. That's what happened in the game between Peru and Denmark, after striker Christian Cueva went down in the area. The referee waved on but 23 seconds later, stopped play to consult and correctly awarded the penalty. "The problem is that people are always looking and picking out the controversial things," Brud says. "No one cares if someone had a happy day. This is why this will always be a problem of VAR's. People just ignore how well it can work. Normally it works well, but as soon as it doesn't, the discussions start again." Whatever happens, football will never be the same again. 

Source: Wired

FIFA World Cup 2018 – Group Stage (Matches 33-36)

25 June 2018

Uruguay – Russia
Referee: Malang Diedhiou (SEN, photo)
Assistant Referee 1: Djibril Camara (SEN)
Assistant Referee 2: El Hadji Samba (SEN)
Fourth Official: Bamlak Tessema (ETH)
Reserve AR: Hasan Al-Mahri (UAE)

Saudi Arabia – Egypt
Referee: Wilmar Roldan (COL)
Assistant Referee 1: Alexander Guzman (COL)
Assistant Referee 2: Cristian De la Cruz (COL)
Fourth Official: Ricardo Montero (CRC)
Reserve AR: Hiroshi Yamauchi (JPN)

Iran – Portugal
Referee: Enrique Caceres (PAR)
Assistant Referee 1: Eduardo Cardozo (PAR)
Assistant Referee 2: Juan Zorrilla (PAR)
Fourth Official: Mehdi Abid Charef (ALG)
Reserve AR: Anouar Hmila (TUN)

Spain – Morocco
Referee: Ravshan Irmatov (UZB)
Assistant Referee 1: Abduxamidullo Rasulov (UZB)
Assistant Referee 2: Jakhongir Saidov (UZB)
Fourth Official: Mohammed Abdulla (UAE)
Reserve AR: Mohammed Al-Hammadi (UAE)

Serbia filed official complaint against referee Brych

For Serbia, it was a day and a night of agonising frustration, and at the end it boiled over. Before kick-off against Switzerland, they had watched Costa Rica holding out against Brazil, backs to the wall. By the end of normal time, it was goalless and, if Kaylor Navas could keep the Brazilians at bay for six more minutes, Serbia would go out on to the pitch in Kaliningrad knowing that, if they beat the Swiss, they would qualify for the knockout phase of a World Cup for the first time in 20 years when they still went by the name of Yugoslavia.
Costa Rica did not cling on in St. Petersburg and after dominating the opening hour in Kaliningrad, Serbia did not cling on against Switzerland. Now, they will have to beat Brazil in Moscow’s Spartak Stadium to go through. They were irritated beyond measure by the double-eagle celebrations of Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri that marked the goal-scorers out as children of Kosovan refugees, but they were not prepared to discuss the politics of Kosovo. They were, however, prepared to talk about the refereeing of Felix Brych, which Savo Milosevic claimed cost them a clear penalty for a foul on Aleksandar Mitrovic. In the first match against Costa Rica, Mitrovic had also had a fierce claim for a penalty waved away. Since Serbia won that match, it did not matter. This did. “We have filed an official complaint, that is all we can do”, said Milosevic, who spent three years at Aston Villa and is now vice-president of the Serbian FA. “Two decisions in two games is too much. This is a World Cup and those kinds of decisions are deciding games. This decision, against Mitrovic, was at 1-1 and they have decided the game on the pitch instead of us. I congratulate the Swiss, they are an excellent team but, really? I understand the referee didn’t see it but that is why we have VAR. What are those guys doing up there? Do we need another four men up there, do we need 100 people to control VAR for something we can all see perfectly well? We are Serbia and nobody cares, that is all I can think of”, concluded Milosevic. 

FIFA World Cup 2018 – Group Stage (Matches 30-32)

24 June 2018

England – Panama
Referee: Ghead Grisha (EGY, photo)
Assistant Referee 1: Redouane Achik (MAR)
Assistant Referee 2: Waleed Ahmed (SDN)
Fourth Official: Norbert Hauata (TAH) 

Reserve AR: Bertrand Brial (NCL)
VAR: Danny Makkelie (NED)
AVAR 1: Pawel Gil (POL)
AVAR 2: Sander van Roekel (NED)
AVAR 3: Mark Geiger (USA)

Japan – Senegal
Referee: Gianluca Rocchi (ITA)
Assistant Referee 1: Elenito Di Liberatore (ITA)
Assistant Referee 2: Mauro Tonolini (ITA)
Fourth Official: Abdulrahman Al Jassim (QAT)
Reserve AR: Taleb Al Marri (QAT)
VAR: Massimiliano Irrati (ITA)
AVAR 1: Tiago Martins (POR)
AVAR 2: Hernan Maidana (ARG)
AVAR 3: Paolo Valeri (ITA)

Poland – Colombia
Referee: Cesar Ramos (MEX)
Assistant Referee 1: Marvin Torrentera (MEX)
Assistant Referee 2: Miguel Hernandez (MEX)
Fourth Official: Julio Bascunan (CHI)
Reserve AR: Christian Schiemann (CHI)
VAR: Mauro Vigliano (ARG)
AVAR 1: Gery Vargas (BOL)
AVAR 2: Roberto Diaz Perez (ESP)
AVAR 3: Daniele Orsato (ITA)

Egypt to file complaint against referee Caceres

Egypt will formally protest to FIFA about the performance of Paraguay referee Enrique Caceres (photo) whose decisions they feel prejudiced the outcome of their World Cup game against hosts Russia in St Petersburg on Tuesday. “We want an investigation into the performance of the whole refereeing team”, Egyptian Football Association president Hany Abo Rida told Reuters. 
Egypt lost the game 3-1 to suffer a second defeat at the tournament and an early elimination in their first World Cup appearance since 1990. Abo Rida, who is also a FIFA Council member, said Egypt felt fullback Ahmed Fathi was pushed in the process of attempting to clear the ball two minutes into the second half and resultantly steered it into his own net to give Russia the lead. He also felt there was a legitimate penalty appeal in the 78th minute for striker Marwan Mohsen, bundled over by Russia defender Ilya Kutepov. By that stage, Egypt were 3-1 down. “The referee should have used the VAR system to check and award the penalty. They should have also seen that Fathi had been pushed. It is our right to complain and ask for an investigation”, added Abo Rida. 

Source: Reuters

FIFA World Cup 2018 – Group Stage (Matches 27-29)

23 June 2018

Belgium – Tunisia
Referee: Jair Marrufo (USA, photo)
Assistant Referee 1: Corey Rockwell (USA)
Assistant Referee 2: Juan Zumba (SLV)
Fourth Official: Andres Cunha (URU)
Reserve AR: Nicolas Taran (URU)
VAR: Mark Geiger (USA)
AVAR 1: Bastian Dankert (GER)
AVAR 2: Joe Fletcher (CAN)
AVAR 3: Felix Zwayer (GER)

Korea – Mexico
Referee: Milorad Mažić (SRB)
Assistant Referee 1: Milovan Ristić (SRB)
Assistant Referee 2: Dalibor Djurdjević (SRB)
Fourth Official: John Pitti (PAN)
Reserve AR: Gabriel Victoria (PAN)
VAR: Daniele Orsato (ITA)
AVAR 1: Artur Dias (POR)
AVAR 2: Carlos Astroza (CHI)
AVAR 3: Tiago Martins (POR)

Germany – Sweden
Referee: Szymon Marciniak (POL)
Assistant Referee 1: Pawel Sokolnicki (POL)
Assistant Referee 2: Tomasz Listkiewicz (POL)
Fourth Official: Ryuji Sato (JPN)
Reserve AR: Toru Sagara (JPN)
VAR: Clement Turpin (FRA)
AVAR 1: Pawel Gil (POL)
AVAR 2: Cyril Gringore (FRA)
AVAR 3: Paolo Valeri (ITA)

Elleray: VAR interventions allow fairness to prevail

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

England – Tunisia
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.
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." 

France – Australia 
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. 
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 – Switzerland 
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. 
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." 

Peru – Denmark 
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. 
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." 

Sweden – Korea 
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. 
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." 

Russia – Egypt 
In 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. 
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." 

Source: BBC

FIFA denies referee Geiger asked for Portugal shirt

FIFA has denied claims by a Morocco player that American referee Mark Geiger asked for a player’s shirt during Portugal’s 1-0 win on Wednesday.
Geiger denied the allegation to FIFA, which says the referee behaved in an “exemplary and professional manner” in a statement issued Thursday. “FIFA unequivocally condemns the allegations supposedly made by a member of the Moroccan team,” the statement read. “FIFA referees are under clear instructions with regard to their behavior and relationship with the teams and it can be confirmed that Mr. Geiger has acted in an exemplary and professional manner as an appointed match official. FIFA would like to remind teams of their duty to respect all principles of Fair Play”.
The claim was made by Morocco player Nordin Amrabat in a post-game interview with Netherlands public broadcaster NOS. Amrabat said Portugal defender Pepe told him the referee had asked for his shirt during the first half. “I do not know what he is used to”, Morocco midfielder Nordin Amrabat told Dutch television NOS. “But he was very impressed with Ronaldo and I hear from Pepe that he asked in the first half if he could have his shirt. What are we talking about? At the World Cup? It’s not a circus here”. Some media reported Amrabat as saying Pepe told him Geiger had asked for Ronaldo’s shirt. FIFA responded by saying it learned of reports of the allegation with “regret and disappointment”.

Source: The Guardian

UEFA Europa League – Preliminary Round (Second Leg)

5 July 2018

Klaksvík – Birkirkara
Referee: Kristoffer Karlsson (SWE, photo)

Assistant Referee 1: Peter Allheim (SWE)
Assistant Referee 2: Mikael Hallin (SWE)
Fourth Official: Andreas Ekberg (SWE)
Referee Observer: Rusmir Mrković (BIH)

St. Joseph's FC – B36 Torshavn
Referee: Christophe Pires (LUX)
Assistant Referee 1: Daniel Da Costa (LUX)
Assistant Referee 2: Gilles Becker (LUX)
Fourth Official: Ricardo Morais (LUX)
Referee Observer: Dragutin Poljak (CRO)

FK Trakai – Cefn Druids
Referee: Dejan Jakimovski (MKD)
Assistant Referee 1: Nikola Karakolev (MKD)
Assistant Referee 2: Kushtrim Lika (MKD)
Fourth Official: Dimitar Mečkarovski (MKD)
Referee Observer: Aleksandr Gvardis (RUS)

FC Prishtina – Europa FC
Referee: Ioánnis Papadópoulos (GRE)
Assistant Referee 1: Ilías Alexéas (GRE)
Assistant Referee 2: Konstantínos Nikolaidis (GRE)
Fourth Official: Emmanouíl Skoulás (GRE)
Referee Observer: Dušan Krchňák (SVK)

Gżira United – Sant Julia
Referee: Juxhin Xhaja (ALB)
Assistant Referee 1: Denis Rexha (ALB)
Assistant Referee 2: Ilir Tartaraj (ALB)
Fourth Official: Klajdi Kola (ALB)
Referee Observer: Brian Lawlor (WAL)

Bala Town – Tre Fiori
Referee: Kristoffer Hagenes (NOR)
Assistant Referee 1: Reidar Gundersen (NOR)
Assistant Referee 2: Øystein Ytterland (NOR)
Fourth Official: Tom Harald Hagen (NOR)
Referee Observer: Pjetur Sigurdsson (ISL)

Folgore – Engordany
Referee: Zbyněk Proske (CZE)
Assistant Referee 1: Radek Kotík (CZE)
Assistant Referee 2: Jiří Kříž (CZE)
Fourth Official: Pavel Orel (CZE)
Referee Observer: Milan Karadžić (SRB)

UEFA Europa League – Preliminary Round (First Leg)

26-28 June 2018

Europa FC – FC Prishtina
Referee: João Capela (POR, photo)

Assistant Referee 1: Nélson Cordeiro (POR)
Assistant Referee 2: Pedro Ferreira (POR)
Fourth Official: António Carvalho (POR)
Referee Observer: William Young (SCO)

Sant Julia – Gżira United
Referee: Denys Shurman (UKR)
Assistant Referee 1: Oleksandr Zhukov (UKR)
Assistant Referee 2: Valentyn Kutsev (UKR)
Fourth Official: Mykola Balakin (UKR)
Referee Observer: Jari Maisonlahti (FIN)

Birkirkara – Klaksvík
Referee: Besfort Kasumi (KVX)
Assistant Referee 1: Edmond Zeqiri (KVX)
Assistant Referee 2: Fatmir Sekiraqa (KVX)
Fourth Official: Genc Nuza (KVX)
Referee Observer: Nicolae Grigorescu (ROU)

Engordany – Folgore
Referee: Kári Jóannesarson (FRO)
Assistant Referee 1: Andrew Christiansen (FRO)
Assistant Referee 2: Jørleif Djurhuus (FRO)
Fourth Official: Eiler Rasmussen (FRO)
Referee Observer: Plarent Kotherja (ALB)

B36 Torshavn – St. Joseph’s FC
Referee: Jari Järvinen (FIN)
Assistant Referee 1: Sami Nykänen (FIN
Assistant Referee 2: Jarno Kiistala (FIN)
Fourth Official: Atte Jussila (FIN)
Referee Observer: Vencel Tóth (HUN)

Cefn Druids – FK Trakai
Referee: Christopher Jäger (AUT)
Assistant Referee 1: Roland Riedel (AUT)
Assistant Referee 2: Christian Rigler (AUT)
Fourth Official: Walter Altmann (AUT)
Referee Observer: Václav Krondl (CZE)

Tre Fiori – Bala Town
Referee: Stanislav Todorov (BUL)
Assistant Referee 1: Martin Venev (BUL)
Assistant Referee 2: Aleksandar Atanasov (BUL)
Fourth Official: Ivaylo Stoyanov (BUL)
Referee Observer: Salustià Chato Ciprés (AND)