Imagine your team is trailing in the semifinal of the World Cup by a single goal against the world’s preeminent women’s soccer team. You fell behind early in the game only to fight back and tie the game, off the creative foot of arguably the best player in this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. The gold standard of women’s soccer then responds just before half time with another header that gives the world’s No. 1 a 2-1 lead heading in to halftime.
Not the score you wanted heading in to halftime, but you regroup as a team. You adjust your game plan and change your formation, and come out in the second half and play aggressive soccer and put the reigning world champs on defense.
This is exactly how the English women’s national team came out of the locker room last Tuesday, ready to tackle the U.S. women’s juggernaut.
Midway through the second half, still trailing 2-1, a hustle defensive play and a quick response attacking play set up one of the prettiest passes in the Cup when England’s Jill Scott used a one-time flick pass to a surging Ellen White, who had positioned herself in between the U.S. center backs. White gathered the ball and passed a firm ball past the diving Alyssa Naeher to even the score at 2-2, a precision finish that White had done several times before in this Cup, including the first English goal in this game to tie the score in the first half.
But wait, there’s more.
Before the U.S. could put its restart in play, there’s a call from the mysterious Video Assistant Referee booth that they want to look at the play to determine White’s offside position when the pass was made. After a few minutes of discussion in some video booth in some unknown location, members of FIFA’s VAR team review the play from multiple angles and then pass down a verdict to the head official on the field.
Not long thereafter, on another attacking play by the Lionesses, a driven pass came through the defense to another somehow wide-open White, who whiffed on the ball as it went wide of the goal, postponing England’s chance to tie the score. Fast forward a few minutes, the same center official holds the goal kick, gets the message from the VAR police and decides to take a look herself on the screen.
Penalty kick awarded.
In both cases, after much review of film and tape and a ridiculously extended game clock, the VAR got the call right. In the offsides call, White was indeed a fraction of a foot offside, but even fractions count on offsides. In the latter, Becky Sauerbrunn accidentally clips White’s shooting foot as she draws back to strike the ball in to the goal, thus allowing for the eventual awarded penalty kick.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the beautiful game. There are some amazing things that happen on the field of play and then there are just some really dumb facets of the game that I will never understand.
The first is if a goalkeeper saves a penalty kick, I don’t care if she jumped a week-and-a-half early and makes the save, you don’t call that back, you let the save stand.
If you can’t score a goal from 12 yards away with no defensive pressure into a 8-by-24 goal with only one player in the way, then shame on you.
The second is ending the game in a penalty kick shootout. It’s like taking your best five free-throw shooters to decide the NBA Finals.
Play the game the way you got there. Keep playing until someone scores. If you have to, remove players so you play 7v7 on a full-sized field, but for Pele’s sake, please do away with the shootout rule.
And finally — and this really goes for all sports that use any kind of video assisted anything to make or correct decisions made by the referees — can we pass a resolution to do away with any non-human element to the game? Sports are sports because of the human element of the game, otherwise they’d be called Esports or video games — and that includes the officials.
Sometimes, they will make errors as do the players and coaches, but for the most part their calls are right.
I can’t stand the use of the VAR, and I’m not really a big fan of the instant replay in football, baseball, and now even in to basketball. In these two cases, the video worked, but at what cost?
Author Adam Osborne wrote, “People think computers will keep them from making mistakes. They're wrong. With computers you make mistakes faster.”
Three officials strategically placed and professionally trained earning their spot at the top of their profession, only to have a video interpreter in an isolated room change your decision.
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Could all of us pass that type of scrutiny in our professions?