Forty-eight matches and 122 goals later, the World Cup group stage is done and dusted but the World Cup has not disappointed in spectacular moments and incident thanks to the use of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system.
The route to the final is now clearer for the teams that remain, and this is where teamwork, tactics and determination differentiate teams.
At a press conference on Friday, FIFA’s referees committee chairman and former referee Pierluigi Collina outlined the use of VAR so far in the tournament.
Over 48 matches, the VAR system analysed 335 incidents – including all 122 goals – which equates to 6.9 uses per match.
It led to 17 reviews (14 on-field) requiring the referee to watch highlights and three that applied to indisputable errors, for example, offsides. Overall, VAR referrals led to referees making 14 different decisions.
Referees’ decisions were 95% correct without VAR and 99.3% correct with VAR.
That would still mean accepting that two reviewed decisions were wrong and, while Collina would not go into individual incidents, specifically the off-the-ball controversies in England’s 6-1 win against Panama, he did suggest that this match had prompted a further clamp-down.
“We would have preferred to speak of 100 per cent but 99.3 is something that is very, very close to perfection and things have been fine-tuned based on what is occurring,” he said.
Fifa says it will consider widening the system in future competitions so that viewers can also hear the live deliberation between officials.
Massimo Busacca, Fifa’s director of referees, interjected to say that the clashes between Jesse Lingard and Panama’s Gabriel Gomez, including when the England winger was struck by an elbow in the face, was “not a black-and-white situation” and that there had so far not been one major error.
Fifa’s research revealed an average of four fewer fouls per match in Russia as well as fewer red cards (only three) but many more penalties, with 24 so far compared to 10 in the group phase in both 2014 and 2010. Seven of the 14 extra penalties were as a result of VAR.
Collina showed a series of incidents that demonstrated the communications between officials that led to decisions. Fans can now hear comparable conversations between other officials in other sports and Collina said that he could see the benefit to this also becoming a key feature of VAR.
“We can think of it in the future,” he said. “Before running you must first walk but it is something that could be interesting.”
Fifa also believes that the rhythm of matches has not been unduly affected by VAR. Its research showed that additional time at the end of matches had, on average, increased by around a minute to just over six minutes. The average time needed for a VAR review by a referee was 80 seconds.