France Flatter to Deceive, as Does the Video Assistant Referee

Video Assistant Referee

France were the first side in this World Cup to benefit from the Video Assistant Referee decision in the major talking point of their opening Group C match against Australia.

France Flatter to Deceive, as Does VAR

The French made extremely hard work of breaking down a tactically disciplined yet skilfully limited Australia team. They had to thank controversial Video Assistant Referee usage and a goal-line technology decision to eventually win 2-1. Besides the opening six minutes, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele and Kylian Mbappe were painfully static in their movement. They made it easy for their opponents to defend deep and nullify the trio’s threat. Ultimately it came down to factors outside of the players’ talents that decided the game.

It was only a matter of time before technology became a major talking point as it’s the first major tournament to bring in VAR to try and eradicate blatant officiating errors.

Questions Over VAR Use

On this occasion Australia were the alleged victims; the Socceroos felt aggrieved to see Josh Risdon’s desperate tackle punished retrospectively. This left the felled Antoine Griezmann to score from the penalty spot.

After multiple replays of the incident for commentators, pundits and fans, there was still no decisive evidence as to whether Risdon did or did not get enough contact on the ball to dispossess Griezmann; also whether the contact between players was enough to bring the attacker down.

VAR was introduced to make sure that ‘clear and obvious’ mistakes or missed incidents could be highlighted. Corrective action would then be taken. Should it be a safety net against all decisions? Or should it be used to get an additional view of questionable moments? Can the referee on the pitch decide what to review, or does he have to wait for the VAR officials to highlight things to him?

Not the Only Controversy

Uruguayan referee Andrés Cunha originally waved away the penalty claims from Griezmann and France. Once the ball was in a ‘neutral area’, he paused play after an alert in his ear from the VAR team and reviewed the incident again. The only assumption that can be made was that Cunha thought the Australian defender had touched more of the ball than he first thought, or that it had caused the ball to get far enough away from Griezmann to dispossess him.

This is one of the biggest problems with the use of VAR so far in this tournament; there appears to be no definitive control or guidelines to its use. Cristian Pavon was clearly felled in Argentina’s 1-1 draw with Iceland; Harry Kane was wrestled to the ground while trying to attack the ball from set pieces several times in England’s late victory over Tunisia, and Brazil defender Miranda was obviously pushed by Steven Zuber before Switzerland’s equaliser. None of these incidents were deemed worthy enough of a VAR review. 

If TV cameras can highlight these incidents easily, why are the two teams of officials (on the ground and in the studio) not helping each other to make sure that they are dealt with correctly?

Bad Luck Rather Than Bad Technology

There was always going to be a teething period with the new technology. This is because it still requires a large element of human judgement. This is unlike the goal-line technology, which has been a huge success. It gave France their winner following Paul Pogba’s heavily deflected effort. But to not have guidelines on two or three specific decision-making processes when using VAR alludes to poor planning from the organisational bodies.

Australia can point to possible misuse of VAR for the goal that sent them behind. However, they can only blame bad luck for the goal that sent them to defeat. Pogba, who had drifted in and out of the game in phases, played a series of high-tempo one-twos on the edge of the box. As he broke into the penalty area to collect a bouncing return pass, he toed the ball onto the shinpad of defending left-back Aziz Behich. The ball then looped up and over Mat Ryan and in via the underside of the crossbar.

Improvement Needed for Both Sides

Ryan later moaned his side were “beaten by technology” – Australian hypocrisy levels reaching a record high following the cricket ball-tampering scandal Down Under recently – but it’s certainly fair to say they were good enough value for at least a point. Behich was a noticeable out-ball in the first half as Australia looked to try and counter-attack. However, a familiar pattern became apparent when France were in possession.

The three forwards were narrow and played mostly with their backs to goal. Width was being provided by full-backs Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernández. Neither had much joy, and it was only a quick turnover that led to Griezmann racing towards the Australian goal.

The Socceroos were already underdogs in a group that also contains hipster-favourites Peru and Denmark. They will likely need to show a lot more ambition than they did against the 2016 European Championship runners-up. France will try to use the victory to build momentum for upcoming fixtures against two sides that pose a much more potent attacking force then Saturday’s opponents.

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