(Paul Gardner is my personal Johnny Appleseed for soccer; he brought his love and knowledge and blessed testiness to this savage land, and continues to write brilliantly in Soccer America. I hope I am allowed to reproduce their work; this is what Soccer America does....every day.)
Monday, July 2, 2018
VAR totally fails to seize its chance for glory
by Paul Gardner
If ever there was a tricky soccer situation that was waiting to be solved by VAR, surely it was the problem of goalkeeper movement at penalty kicks.
Rule 14 is sharp and clear and brooks no misunderstanding: “The defending goalkeeper must remain on the goal line, facing the kicker, between the goal posts until the ball has been kicked.” The goalkeeper must stay on the goal line. He is not allowed to move forward (though he can dance alongthe goal line if he wants to) until after the kick has been made.
The difficulty with that is that it requires one person -- the rules give the job to the assistant referee -- to be aware of two actions taking place 12 yards apart at the same instant. Already a difficult assignment, the rules then make it virtually impossible by positioning the AR on the goal line, where -- by looking straight ahead of him he has a clear view of goalkeeper movement, but at best only a slight marginal view, at the fringe of his field of vision, of the penalty kick taker.
The AR is being asked to do the impossible. So a compromise has been adopted by the referee and his AR. The goalkeeper is allowed to take one step forward without being penalized -- simply because the AR -- with probably only one second at his disposal -- cannot hope to judge whether that step forward was made after the kick was taken, as it was taken, or before it was taken.
Like any compromise, it is far from perfect, but it has one over-riding advantage: it is practical, it works. And like all compromises it is open to abuse. Once goalkeepers know they will not be penalized for that first step, their instincts tell them to make the step as early as possible. This they have done, and by and large they get away with it. No call. (No special shame attaches to goalkeepers over this -- it is, I think, part of every player’s nature to push the rules to the limit, and beyond, to find out just how far they can go).
Three major European titles have been won in the past decades by flagrantly illegal goalkeeper movement during shootouts. Not even the defeated teams have protested. The compromise has evolved into a conspiracy of silence.
What was once acceptable has become objectionable. A compromise to make the rules work is now a subterfuge to undermine those rules.
Now arrives VAR, with everything necessary to set things aright. An immediate review of replays showing both kicker and keeper at the exact crucial moment. One can say, with total truth, that for this situation, VAR has rendered the AR totally irrelevant. His viewpoint is not needed now, VAR can quickly do everything.
During the Croatia-Denmark game, it had the perfect opportunity to do just that. It failed calamitously. So atrociously comprehensive was its failure that I can’t even say it made a mess of things. Its failure was simply that, given the perfect opportunity to prove its value, it failed to do anything at all.
The game had been a rather grim, frustrating affair. Croatia, capable no doubt of playing the better soccer, rarely managed to do so. Denmark played the spoiler role to perfection and obviously rattled the Croatians. The game lumbered into overtime and with just four minutes left, referee Nestor Pitana of Argentina awarded Croatia a penalty.
Luka Modric stepped up to take the kick -- and Denmark’s goalkeeper, Kasper Schmeichel moved early. But this was too early, too noticeable. Sitting here in New York I was immediately sure this was excessive. Not just me -- I have checked with journalist colleagues watching in England, in Italy, and the USA -- all three tell me that their immediate reaction was the same as mine: Schmeichel had moved way too early.
Schmeichel made the save and was duly praised for being “brilliant.” Neither referee Pitana nor his AR saw anything wrong. No appeal was made to VAR.
The official FIFA “VAR Handbook” specifically refers to “Penalty Kicks and Kicks from the Mark,” stating that “The Referee can initiate a review for an offense by the goalkeeper or kicker which directly affects the outcome of the penalty kick and thus whether a goal is scored. If an offense is clearly identified, the necessary discipline action must also be taken.”
The failure of the VAR to get involved here defies belief. Schmeichel’s movement was so blatant (I’m using that word from the rulebook, which says that the AR must wave his flag “if the goalkeeper blatantly moves off his line before the ball is kicked”) that it didn’t really need any technology to spot it. For once the human eye served very well. (Incidentally, I suspect that the number of people, never mind goalkeepers, who have actually seen a VAR wave his flag on these occasions is minuscule -- I have never seen it, and I watch out for such events).
My feeling that I had seen things correctly from merely watching the live action was confirmed by repeated viewings of the replays -- see below -- which show Schmeichel with both feet off the goal line, his left foot about a yard forward as Modric is about to kick the ball.
Thus Schmeichel went unpunished -- a “clear and obvious error” by the referee and his AR -- precisely the type of situation that VAR is designed, and is fully equipped, to recognize and to correct. VAR should have been immediately involved here. The penalty kick should have been retaken. Schmeichel, as stipulated in Rule 14, should have been yellow-carded.
VAR was given a wonderful opportunity to shine, to bring long-needed clarity to a murky area. It failed -- abysmally -- to seize the moment. (By Paul Gardner)
7/3/2018 10:21:37 am
Maybe this should lead to a more basic rules discussion. I would want to know more about the physical capabilities humanly possible with the penalty kick. I have some suspicion that it may be impossible for the goalie to have a chance if he cannot move off the line until the ball is actually kicked. I would like to understand, for example, why the rule shouldn't rather be that the goalie can begin to move once the kicker begins his approach to the ball. What would that be like?
7/3/2018 01:32:24 pm
I suspect that those who watched the game, other than if you were Belgium, were disappointed by Japan's defeat. It might have been easier to take if the second half comeback started much earlier, but it was very disappointing to see it happen so quickly at the end.
7/4/2018 07:52:46 am
Enjoyable insights, Alan. You’re a good teacher. Thanks.
7/4/2018 08:51:58 am
Alan, i thought about Howard. Getting ball to Donovan - Jozy - Dempsey. Perfect sequence. My England friends yestersay were racing about the speed of Belgium's attack for that goal. GV
7/4/2018 12:10:14 pm
Brian--thanks for the kind words.
7/3/2018 10:31:26 am
7/4/2018 08:54:31 am
Bruce, i read aomewhere that the Japan entourage left the dressing room spotless, with thank you notes on blackboards. Classic. GV
7/4/2018 08:59:55 am
7/3/2018 10:37:07 am
Why not have the AR watch the split screen live?
7/3/2018 02:06:02 pm
George—personal Johnny Appleseed is the perfect term for Paul Gardner’s reporting. I get his feed every day and often contact him concerning an article or person who he wrote about.
7/4/2018 08:10:33 am
“Hurricane” Harry Kane gets my vote as the best player on the field in this tournament, and by far the best field captain. I don’t know the sport, but my eyes see a player way above the crowd. The English players are not all on the same page yet, however.
7/4/2018 09:00:25 am
Brian, totally agree. Kane plays like a working-class bloke. Honest. No airs. Lineker had some of that but Gazza-Beckham-Rooney acted like stars.
7/5/2018 08:37:30 am
Although it is great fun to read (and post) here, I have been avoiding spoilers because of my schedule and watching days later on DVR. So many opportunities to comment here!
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From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.