How to prove that VAR is garbage with just one video (What really grinds my gears #17)

So here we go again. Actually, I was planning not to write much about VAR in modern football anymore. I think I’ve sufficiently stated how much I dislike this new feature and how much I think that it’s rather destroying football than actually adding something useful to it.

But not too long ago, VAR has been confirmed at the World Cup in Russia this summer. How exciting… As we’ve clearly seen an the Confed Cup – nothing less than the official trial in international football for the VAR – the technique has way too many problems to be used at the most important and biggest football tournament in the world.

Well, apparently FIFA has another opinion. And from my point of view I only have one explanation for this decision: FIFA officials have not watched a single game of football in Germany, Australia, Italy or Portugal this year.

Because in these leagues, among a few others, VAR is being used since the beginning of the seasons. And failures haven’t been rare. Many people that were longing for VAR to be introduced have since changed their minds and see VAR – as it is now – as harmful for their beloved sport.

Why? Because it may provide a little bit more fairness in the game, having goals disallowed because of players being offside by five centimetres, not visible for the linesman to see. But what’s the price we’re paying for that? Emotions! Having to wait after every second goal of your club if some guy in front of a plasma screen a few hundred kilometres away will allow it or not kills what makes football so special – the power of instantaneous emotions.

Don’t believe me? Have a look at this video from last weekend then.

It shows AC Milan player Patrick Cutrone after allegedly having scored a goal. However, he, all his teammates and every Milan fan couldn’t celebrate it instantly. Instead they had to wait for minutes while the goal was under review by VAR. After the goal is allowed, Cutrone tries to celebrate. Well, he’s the only one who really does. No collective ecstasy in the stadium, no relief after having scored an important goal, nothing.

This episode proves how much harm VAR does to football. For a rather unimportant league game this might be not so terrible after all. But imagine if Mario Götze’s World Cup winning goal from 2014 would have been reviewed like that. Do we really want this to happen?

How do you feel about VAR being used at the World Cup? Let’s discuss in the comment section!

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Madness in Greece: Club president storms onto the pitch with a gun!

Ooooohh, Greece. The land where the sun always seems to shine. The land that brought us Aristotle, Socrates, science, theatre, culture and so on. However, nowadays Greece is rather known for its government’s debts and its shattered economy. However, from time to time the beautiful southern European country makes into the global headlines for other reasons too.

One of them being sports. But ever since 2004 and their sensational victory at the football European Championship in Portugal (however with playing a disgusting kind of defensive football that still has negative impacts on European football up until today. But that’s not the point now, I’ll eventually get back to it another time) these news have never been too positive. Especially the headlines from Greece’s national football league are mostly shocking and or ridiculous. Like this week.

During the top clash between PAOK Thessaloniki and AEK Athens, ranked second, respectively first in the league table, the world of football has been shocked once more by the sheer violence that seems to have taken over this country’s football. After the regular ninety minutes were almost over, the home side, PAOK, scored the alleged winner. But referee Giorgios Kominos decided not to give it due to an offside position. That was way too much for some supporters. They stormed onto the pitch and threatened the referee and the players, who eventually had to hide in the catacombs of the stadium.

So far nothing too special, aye? But wait. Among these supporters there was club president Iwan Savvidis, being escorted by bodyguards and threatening the ref. Still not convinced by the story? Well, he was carrying a f*cking gun at that time. Yep, that’s right. A club president storms the pitch with a gun (that he luckily didn’t pull though) which leaves referee and players with no other choice but to run into the catacombs fearing for their life.

Savvidis is now being searched via arrest warrant and the Greek league will be on hold for an indefinite time, as the national government confirmed today. This has been decided since it’s by far not the first incident of this kind. Greece probably has one of the least stable and most violent football leagues in Europe. Now this is where the violence and the power games have gotten league, clubs, presidents and fans: To a suspended league and to Greek football being the laughing stock of the world again.

Let’s finish our thoughts on this matter with the words of a philosopher. Not one of the ancient greek ones (even though they’d be disappointed of this scenes too, I guess) but with Isaac Asimov who said „Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.“ How true that is for club presidents storming the pitch with a gun.


Useless Rules: Refs aren’t responsible for stoppage time scandals in Spain and Mexico (WRGMG #13)

Stoppage time is one of the aspects that annoys me the most about football. Either a team on the bottom of the second Dutch division that had no attempt on goal so far and is 1:0 down goes full Real Madrid and scores a screamer of an equalizer ruining your combo-bet or a referee that decides to feel generous and gives two minutes of stoppage time after a game full of substitutions, treatments and time-wasting, when your favorite team is 0:1 down. You know what I mean. Somehow I feel that what happens after the 90th minute is a freaking curse for most football fans.

Additionally, as a football enthusiast from Basel, Switzerland, I’ve always had my personal trouble with stoppage time. Back in 2006 our rivals from Zurich took the championship from us due to a goal in the 93rd minute – in the last game of the season. A defining moment.

But hey, after all, that’s football. Knowing that a game can change entirely until the final whistle is blown makes it thrilling. So conceding goals in stoppage time is one thing, you could always be on the other side too and see your team score. Referees not having the balls to punish teams for time-wasting is another. A thing, that I feel needs to be changed in today’s football. What I’d wish for would be no fear of giving 8 or 9 minutes when a team has had 6 medical treatments during the second half.

But what I want to write about in this week’s What Really Grinds My Gears is even worse than this matter for the spirit of each fan in the stands or in front of the tv. In the last few days I’ve heard of two situations, where the referees took it to another level. I thought it was a joke or a huge misunderstanding at first. But apparently, it wasn’t.

In the Liga MX, the 1st Mexican tier, and in the Segunda B, the 3rd division in Spain, referees disallowed goals in stoppage time, because they blew the whistle just before the ball was shot on target. But I think this is best described in pictures. So see for yourself:

Mexico: Toluca misses a penalty and scores the equalizer from the follow-up. But in the meantime the referee had ended the game already.

At first, this looks like a huge joke. The referee ends the game straight away, after the penalty was taken and ignores the fact that there’s still explicit danger of a goal being scored by the follow-up. “Shouldn’t a referee know the football rules?” Well actually, he does. In the official FIFA rules it says that after a penalty was given in stoppage time it HAS to be taken, no matter if the added time would already be over and that the game cannot be ended UNTIL the shot has had its “effect”.

What that means: When he was sent towards the goal and either went in, missed the target or got deflected by post, crossbar or keeper WITHOUT the possibility of a goal without touching any other players than the keeper again, the game HAS to be ended straight away. So if the ball would have bounced back from the ground or the keeper into the goal, it would have had to count. But in our case a Toluca player took the rebound and scored. So we have to say: Having added 3 minutes of stoppage time and the penalty being taken in the 100th minute, the referee did do the right call. Well done, dear ref. But also: Dear FIFA, wtf is that rule?!

Spain: Ponferradina scores after a long pass, that seems to have been deflected by a defender at first. The referee blew the final whistle before the shot had been taken.

Also here, the referee’s car might not have survived the night, as players and fans alike must have got pretty upset with the decision that at first seems like a scandal. But again: According to the FIFA rules he didn’t have to let this attack be completed before ending the game, under the premise that this scene has occurred after the added time he indicated would have been over (doesn’t become clear with the video source we have, as you can see). Only for penalties, the game needs to be extended.

But again, this rule doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense from a practical point of view. I guess, the whistle has been blown, because the referee thought that the defender would deflect the ball more clearly with his header, which he didn’t. An attack like that needs to be conducted. With ending the game before the shot (and the goal), the referee didn’t just not end the game from a neutral position (which would be what you’d expect from an impartial ref) but he influenced the entire outcome with disallowing the winning goal.

So today we’ve learned again that added time sucks. And that modern day referees can only lose. Like we saw with the Mexican example, referees need to be protected more with reasonable rules by FIFA. Every fan would at first curse the ref, for ruining the game when in fact he was just obedient to a useless rule. A bit of common sense wouldn’t hurt here at all, just as it wouldn’t have for the Spanish ref that, in my opinion, simply has misinterpreted a rule. Hence: It’s not justified to entirely blame the ref in both cases, especially not in the Mexican one.

What should have become evident is that the rules concerning injury time are outdated and to some extent even simply stupid. And that’s what I think needs to change in order to avoid a lot of trouble in the game. Gosh, how I hate stoppage time.

But as I’ve said before: All of this is a crucial part of football. Let’s close this article with the words of Carlos Terrazas, the coach of Ponferradina:

The referee has taken this decision and we have to respect it. We all make mistakes, players, managers, and also referees. It’s part of football and we have to respect it, because without referees we couldn’t play.

What really grinds my gears #11 – A ghost goal lead Panama to the World Cup

In this format I will, once per week, polemically write about things that disturb me in the world of sports. Things that, in my opinion, either are hilariously disgusting or just proper embarrassing. You decide.

First of all: I find it hilariously funny that the US didn’t qualify for Russia 2018 – as sorry as I am for the upcoming football scene in the country and hence the fans wanting to see their idols play in the spotlight of a World Cup. But apparently that’s what you get for calling it soccer.

Nevertheless, the US will be missed at the World Cup. Just as much as Chile or the Netherlands who failed to qualify as well. It will be a lack of entertainment and a lack of quality – and probably a lasting negative effect on the development of American football – excuse me, soccer. And this is terrible, because football was slowly but truly getting somewhat of a standing in the States. The lack of media attention due to the missed World Cup surely won’t be of any benefit to this.

But things get worse for American soccer fans. Not only did their team fail to qualify while teams like Honduras and Panama overtook them in the qualifying campaign. But until the last game away against Trinidad and Tobago, at this time last of the CONEMBOL group with 3 points out of 9 games and, obviously, no chances to qualify anymore, the US-players had their World Cup fate in their own feet. Even a draw would have done – against an island with slightly over a million inhabitants that shouldn’t have been a daunting task. Apparently it was.

The US-players were devastated after the game against Trinidad and Tobago. Source: Twitter.

But what should annoy the Americans much more than their own embarrassing failure on the Caribbean island is the fact that their direct competitor, Panama, qualified thanks to a 2:1-win over Costa Rica. Costa Rica? That’s right. The team that made the World Cup quarterfinals in 2014. They shouldn’t really lose to a team like Panama either. But they were through since the second last game. I’m not saying that they didn’t care – but maybe they still felt some sort of exhaustion after the celebrations. Who could blame them?

Yet, it gets even better. Costa Rica might not even would have lost that decisive game in Panama, if it wouldn’t have been for Panamas equalizer in the 55th minute of the game. And that goal, despite the great story of Panamas qualification, the tears of joy spilled by the fans and the great story of their qualification campaign, really grinded my gears. Why? Because not in 200 years, that was actually a goal.

When a corner from the right side came into the box, the ball got headed towards the goal, where it was blocked between an attacker, a defender and the post. From there it went out of play. Yet, it never came close to cross the line. Still somehow  referee Walter Lopes decided that this was a goal.

But actually, this scene is too weird to be described, so see for yourself:

Despite the protests by the Costa Rican players, the ghost goal counted and from there on Panamas miracle could be written.

As you might remember from one of my earliest blogposts, I’m – let’s express it diplomatically – not the greatest fan of video assistant referees (VAR). This time they could have been at least useful. But actually, goal line technology (that is really support) and a less terrible ref would have done too here.

But hey, Costa Rica und especially the US: You’re not alone. Hilarious referee mistakes happen quite frequently. Check out this disallowed penalty from the Uefa Youth League for example:

Still not convinced? Ghost goals happen in the allegedly best league of the world as well:

Anyway. As much as this goal is undeserved, it can’t be changed anymore. Mistakes are human and they happen – that’s the nature of the game. So let’s just hope that Panama makes something out of this rather lucky World Cup ticket and that country and people will spread more of the amazing celebratory emotions they expressed after the historic qualification. At least, they don’t call it soccer there.

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