VAN DIEST: Brewing VAR powder keg blows up at Women’s World Cup

VAN DIEST: Brewing VAR powder keg blows up at Women’s World Cup

PARIS — Good luck FIFA getting the monster back in its cage.

In an effort to satisfy a vocal minority, the governing body of soccer have ruined the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup for the majority with their employment of Video Assistant Referee (VAR).

This Women’s World Cup has become a test event for a new implementation of the controversial system and what had been brewing through the group stage came to a boiling point Sunday in the second-round game between England and Cameroon.

The game became a farce as Cameroon nearly walked off the field twice over VAR decisions and after the game England coach Phil Neville got on his high horse to chastise the behaviour of his opponent.

“I came to this World Cup to be successful, but also to play a part in making women’s football globally more visible, globally better, to put on a show that people can see that women’s football is improving it’s getting to a level now that has excitement and quality; the crowd, the stadium what we’ve seen in the World Cup so far and I sat through 90 minutes of football there and felt ashamed,” Neville started before even taking a question in his post-match media conference. “Ashamed, and proud of my own players’ performances, proud of my own players’ behavior under circumstances that I’ve never seen on a football field before. And complete and utterly ashamed at the behavior of the opposition.”

Interesting take from Neville, but you have to wonder what his and his team’s reaction would have been if the shoe was on the other foot? England are not always known for their decorum when it comes to soccer.

The decisions in question ruined what could have been a very intriguing game. But instead Cameroon felt cheated and the players completely lost their composure.

All this for a system with so many warts on it, it should probably just be wiped out altogether. Soccer is becoming like basketball where everything is going to video review to be scrutinized and it’s killing the flow of the game.

Cameroon conceded the first goal on an indirect free kick inside the penalty area on a ball ruled to have been intentionally passed back to the goalkeeper.

England then scored the second on a goal ruled out for offside, but overturned on VAR.

It was close, but hardly clear and obvious, which is the whole point of the system, to correct obvious mistakes by the referee. Yet when reviews are taking four minutes, it’s hardly obvious. All it is doing is unnecessarily extending the game.

Cameroon’s Ninon Abena and team mates talk with referee Qin Liang after the match against England at the Stade du Hainaut in Valenciennes, France on June 23, 2019. Phil Noble / Reuters

Playing over eight minutes of extra time in a half because of video review is ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as taking seven minutes to play the last 2.4 seconds of an NBA game.

“The girls lost a bit of their temper, but hats off despite the refereeing mistakes for their performance,” said Cameroon coach Alain Djeumfa. “Of course I’m frustrated, football is all about fair play and we were not shown fair play.”

Following the awarding of the second goal to Ellen White four minutes into first-half injury time, Cameroon protested in the form of a strike. They huddled up on their half of the field and refused to take the kick off.

Eventually, Cameroon got on with the game, but things really disintegrated in the second half when they had a goal ruled out to offside by VAR.

Alain Djeumfa, Head Coach of Cameroon consoles his team after Ajara Nchout of Cameroon has her goal ruled out following VAR check during the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France Round Of 16 match between England and Cameroon at Stade du Hainaut on June 23, 2019 in Valenciennes, France. Robert Cianflone / Getty Images

Again, it was close. And after the review and the goal overturned, Cameroon was ready to walk off the field and had to be coaxed back by Djeumfa, who was also beside himself.

“I think we need to remain as teachers first and foremost. We might have had the moment where we wanted to walk off, but thank God I was able to remain calm, because that’s not normally what I’m like as a person, but I was able to keep my cool,” Djeumfa said in his post-game media conference. “Ultimately, there was a lot of passion going on, but I have to thank God for keeping me calm.”

There were questions whether Djeumfa had told his team they were being discriminated against due to their race.

“I just said it was a miscarriage of justice,” he explained. “I won’t go any further than that and won’t talk about anything else. This is football, it’s a game it’s a sport and occasionally the referee makes mistakes, but ultimately, the referee made a lot of mistakes tonight.”

The last half of the game turned into a complete gong show. The referee was run into and shoved by Cameroonian midfielder Jeannette Yango and cameras caught England forward Toni Duggan being spat on by Cameroon defender Augustine Ejangue.

Then in the dying stages of the game, a remarkable 10 minutes of injury time, Cameroon substitute Alexandra Takounda stomped on England captain Steph Houghton. The play was reviewed and what seemed an obvious red card was only punished with yellow.

England’s Steph Houghton in action with Cameroon’s Michaela Abam at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup at the Stade du Hainaut in Valenciennes, France on June 23, 2019. Bernadett Szabo / Reuters

“We’ve had five, six, seven million people watching England play an international game against Cameroon with that kind of behavior I think it’s pretty sad,” Neville said. “I can’t sit here now and gloss over it, fudge it. I’ve got to tell the truth to everybody. That’s how I felt on the touchline that’s how the players felt and I’m so proud of their behavior in such circumstances that I’ve never seen on a football field. It takes you back to the time you were a kid and you lost and you went home crying with your ball.”

Unfortunately, this likely won’t be the last time the game descends into chaos because of the VAR system, which is being selective on what to scrutinize and what to let go.

They will look at whether a goalkeeper has a heel above the line on a penalty, but won’t review whether they get a touch on a shot and a corner should be awarded.

It’s to the point where the International Football Association Board, the group responsible for the laws of the game, allowed FIFA to change things midway through the tournament so goalkeepers will not be booked if they step off their line during a penalty shootout. They saw the potential debacle if goalkeepers started to get sent off for violating the rule twice.

Neville said his players would never act the way Cameroon did Sunday.

Let’s wait and see what happens when his team ends up on the wrong end of a controversial VAR decision.


On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest

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