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04th Jul 2018

World Cup Comments: VAR has shone a light on the fact that defenders need to improve

VAR has been both praised and criticised, but it has highlighted a need for major defensive improvement in the game

Wayne Farry


VAR has been a divisive topic at this World Cup

The introduction of any technological innovation to the game of football always receives a mixed response. Some decry it as yet another example of the game being neutered as the element of risk involved in decisions made by officials is gradually taken away.

Others meanwhile welcome it as progress, stripping away aspects that – given the technology on offer – have absolutely no need to be left to chance, especially given the sums of money and emotional investment involved in the game at the highest levels.

Like most things in life though, technology in football cannot be truly judged until we see it in effect as it was intended to be used, after all the cobwebs have been removed and the creases have been ironed out.

In the case of VAR, the public’s perception of it was not helped by how it was utilised across European football in the months leading up to the World Cup.

What we saw – in England’s Carabao Cup in particular – was a system which, despite often making the correct decision, delayed games to the extent that fans were groaning at the mere thought of it.

This introduction wasn’t helped by the fact that the officials carrying it out appeared entirely unaware about how to best use it, or how to do so in a streamlined manner, and the experiment left a bad taste in the mouth.

As a result, there was a large degree of trepidation ahead of its use in the World Cup, trepidation that most have come to realise was unfounded.

Whereas previous examples of VAR had delayed games to a farcical degree, officials in Russia have used it perfectly, rarely holding up games despite its regular use.

The efficacy of VAR has also been evident in Russia, with the game between Germany and South Korea the perfect example of why it is now necessary in football.

Towards the end of that game, officials awarded a goal that simply could not have been spotted by an official unless they were given the benefit of replays and numerous camera angles.

Without the option of VAR, such a goal being disallowed would have been written off as far too tough a decision for a human to make correctly.

But the advent of VAR proves why we need it. If it’s broke, and we can fix it, why not fix it? Humans will always make mistakes, and any mistakes involving VAR in this tournament have come from officials not consulting it when they should have.

Any time VAR has been consulted, it has given the correct decision.

All of this is vindication enough, but there is a second, equally important point that the use of VAR has thrust into the spotlight during this tournament: the need for defending and defenders to improve enormously.

This might sound like a controversial statement but really it’s a matter of fact, and VAR has made it more evident than ever.

All throughout this tournament we have seen players give away what are clear and obvious penalty kicks, fouls which in the past may not have been punished, but with VAR are as clear as day.

Whether it’s a handball, a trip or utter man handling, this World Cup has produced the whole gamut of defensive infringements.

We saw it during France’s opening game against Australia, with Samuel Umtiti touching the ball in a manner more appropriate to someone attempting a slam dunk.

We saw it in Nigeria’s defeat of Iceland, where Tyronne Ebuehi blatantly kicked Alfred Finnbogason in the back of the leg to give Iceland a penalty opportunity which they failed to take advantage of.

We also saw it on Tuesday night, as England captain Harry Kane was ridden by Colombia’s Carlos Sanchez like a small child trying to jump on his large dog’s back as if it were a horse.

Now while some of these penalties were merely spotted by the referee, as Kane’s was, others were only given thanks to the access to VAR.

People will inevitably complain that the introduction of VAR will simply mean that more and more penalties will be given – and this World Cup has had more penalties than other before it – but that is not a bad thing.

More penalties should force players to take a look at themselves, take a look at the way they play the game and consider whether – perhaps – they need to play the game in a smarter way.

The truth is that fouls should be punished, and VAR gives officials the technology and authority to punish more of them than ever before.

As time passes and as players get used to the increased scrutiny on them, they will either improve or fall behind those who do, adapt or die. Those who evolve will remain, those who don’t will cease to play at the top level and as a result defending will improve.

In the long term, that can only be a good thing.