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VAR system stirs controversy at Cup

Taeguk Warriors, among other teams, got tough breaks
June 27,2018
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The screen shows the video assistant referee (VAR) review during Korea’s match against Sweden at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium in Russia on June 18. [YONHAP]
As the 2018 FIFA World Cup continues, controversy over the video assistant referee (VAR) system, introduced at the World Cup for the first time this year, has refused to die down.

Though the VAR system is meant to improve the accuracy of referee calls, a number of teams aren’t satisfied with the system, as the decision to call for a video review ultimately rests with the referee.

Referees can call for a review of a play in four specific situations - goals, penalties, red cards and mistaken identity in penalty calls. Once a video referee sees a call, the VAR referee gives a signal to the head referee on the field. Then it’s up to the referee on field to review the situation.

During Korea’s first 2018 FIFA World Cup match against Sweden on June 19, the team suffered a 1-0 loss on a penalty kick. Kim Min-woo’s foul on Viktor Claesson in the box in the 65th minute decided the match. Originally, the referee decided to continue the match, but he was asked for a review by the video assistant referees. The review showed that Kim fouled Claesson, as he tackled him without touching the ball.

Spain benefitted from the VAR system recently. During Morocco’s match against Spain on Monday, Spain’s Iago Aspas scored a tying goal in stoppage time, but it was originally ruled invalid, as the referee ruled that Aspas was offside. But after the video review, Aspas was ruled onside, and the goal counted. As the referee seemed to be generous to Spain, the Moroccan players strongly protested the referee’s decision.

This decision angered the Moroccan players even more, as the referee didn’t blow the whistle for Spain’s Gerard Pique’s two possible handballs and fouls. Prior to Morocco’s match against Spain, the Moroccan side expressed its anger over the referee’s VAR call during its match against Portugal.

The match between Portugal and Iran was also altered by VAR. Iran was given a penalty kick off a foul from Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo during the second half of the match. This led Iran to score a goal to tie the match up 1-1.

The VAR system has been a major factor in the World Cup so far. During Iran and Spain’s match June 20, Iran scored in the 62nd minute after being given a free kick, but it was ruled invalid, as Iran was ruled offside after the video review.

Due to such inconsistency in the referees’ calls for video review, players and fans have raised accusations of potential favoritism. Some also argue that video reviews interrupt the flow of matches.

Only one red card has been given out so far this World Cup, and this year’s tournament has set a new record for the most penalty kicks as of Iran and Portugal’s match on Monday.

After the two teams’ match, a total of 20 penalty kicks have been awarded, which exceeds the previous record of 18, which was reached during the 1990, 1998 and 2002 World Cups. This number is expected to grow much larger, as the group stage matches aren’t even done yet.

BY KIM JI-HAN, KIM HYO-KYUNG AND KANG YOO-RIM [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]