Being a referee has never been easy but finding fresh recruits for the job is going to prove ever harder in the future because VAR, the tool that is supposed to be helping them, is doing nothing but putting them under more pressure and undermining them still further at World Cup 2018.
The Portugal – Iran game was an object lesson in just why the system is, over time, going to entirely change the character of football. Ridiculously long stoppages, footballers trying to intimidate the officials into constantly consulting the TV screens, and trying to goad one another into off the ball incidents that will be caught by the cameras. Before our eyes, football is evolving into something very, very different and it isn’t for the better.
Two penalties given by VAR in the second half, neither of which were blatant penalties by any stretch, the referee buckling under pressure and giving penalties after being told to look at the pictures again by the VAR control room. The Iranian penalty? Where is Cedric supposed to put his hand when jumping for the ball? That must have been the referee’s reading of it when he didn’t give the spot kick before he was pushed into it by the cameras.
And that one decision could end up changing the destination of the World Cup because Iran’s equaliser means that Portugal, having otherwise finished top of the group, now finish second and face a much tougher test in Uruguay than they would have in Russia.
It might have been worse yet, for Iran almost stole a winner which would have put Portugal out altogether. Meanwhile in the Spain v Morocco fixture, VAR managed to miss a red card for Pique after a two footed challenge that somehow didn’t even collect a yellow. In the finish, Spain twice came back from a goal down to draw 2-2 and top the group, with Russia to come. They don’t look as good as was expected but Russia should be a free pass to the last eight.
The hosts came down to earth with something of a bang today, though the consolation is that the Russians’ 3-0 defeat at the hands of Uruguay was largely irrelevant given that both sides have already qualified for the last 16.
It was routine stuff for the South Americans who had the game sewn up inside the first half an hour and were then able to treat the rest of the fixture as nothing more than a glorified training exercise. It didn’t dampen the atmosphere too much around the stadium for there’s a general acceptance that in reaching the knockout stages, Russia’s footballers have ensured they are not disgraced and that anything from here is a bonus.
Uruguay have greater ambitions than that and they are a side that are gradually growing in stature as he tournament goes on. Having both Suarez and Cavani on the scoresheet in the final game is good for their confidence going into the sharp end of things, though Suarez will never score an easier 20 yard free-kick again, one of the Russian defenders obligingly shoving two Uruguayans out of the way to create space on the end of the wall into which Suarez directed his shot and scored his goal. Even more bizarre given that if he’d missed, it’d have to have been a penalty.
With Russia having made changes to protect players on yellow cards, it was easy street for Uruguay from there on, the 3-0 victory a reasonable reflection of the 90 minutes.
Elsewhere, Egypt’s horrible World Cup campaign came to a yet worse end as they succumbed to defeat to Saudi Arabia in the fifth minute of injury time, losing 2-1 despite their 45 year old goalkeeper, Essam El Hadary making a terrific first half penalty save. Mo Salah had earlier put Egypt in front, but he disappeared from view after the break, his shoulder injury clearly too much to carry through the World Cup. Liverpool will now be looking into his condition as a matter of some urgency.