Latest World Cup VAR controversy leaves former players split over new system

Former England captain Rio Ferdinand believes the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee system at the World Cup has added “entertainment value” – but admits it showed its flaws on Monday night.

Other pundits and experts have been more scathing of VAR in use at the finals and it was once again in the spotlight following a controversial penalty decision in Portugal’s draw with Iran.

Portugal had looked set to progress to the last 16 as winners of Group B after Ricardo Quaresma’s superb first-half goal saw them leading 1-0 going into stoppage time in Saransk.

RKarim Ansarifard
Karim Ansarifard nets Iran’s equaliser following a controversial penalty decision (Darko Bandic/AP)

However, with time almost up, Iran were awarded a penalty after Portugal defender Cedric Soares was adjudged to have handled the ball in the area as he challenged for a cross.

The spot-kick was awarded by referee Enrique Caceres following a VAR referral and, with Karim Ansarifard successfully converting from 12 yards, Portugal were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw and second place behind group winners Spain.

Despite the teething problems of the new technology, Ferdinand appears to be largely in favour of utilising the system.

“Up until yesterday I think VAR has been a decent addition. I think it’s added entertainment value to the game and they’ve got the majority of the decisions right,” he told BBC Radio 5Live.

“But last night, I don’t know who was behind the screens and helping the referee but they didn’t do a good job.”

Another ex-England skipper, Alan Shearer, showed less support for the use of VAR when analysing the Portugal match for the BBC.

“If he (the referee) thinks that’s a deliberate handball then he’s crazy,” Shearer said.

“In his rule-book, every time it hits a hand it’s a penalty. It’s ridiculous. How can he do anything about that? He’s half a yard away and the defender’s eyes are closed. There’s no way on earth that’s a deliberate handball.

“That was my fear coming into this tournament, that you’re going to get decisions like this. It turns the game into an absolute farce.”

He added: “It’s nonsense, it’s utter nonsense. He had a clear view from 12 yards away and didn’t think it was a penalty. I’m trying to keep calm without swearing. I’m getting angry here because that’s just a ludicrous decision.”

Referee Enrique Caceres
Referee Enrique Caceres goes to watch the VAR during the Group B match between Iran and Portugal (Darko Bandic/AP)

Iran’s penalty is the latest in a string of VAR rulings during the World Cup that have prompted debate and criticism of the process.

There were two other incidents earlier in the same match, with Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo awarded a 53rd-minute penalty after referee Caceres had a second look at Morteza Pouraliganji’s clumsy challenge on him.

Ronaldo, who saw his spot-kick saved by Ali Beiranvand, was also later the subject of a VAR red card review after he was caught apparently taking a swing at Pouraliganji off the ball – he was eventually shown yellow.

The VAR system also played a key role in Monday night’s other Group B match between Spain and Morocco.

Spain were on course for a shock defeat, trailing 2-1 with 90 minutes up, when substitute Iago Aspas flicked the ball into the net.

The offside flag was immediately raised but, after video analysis, the goal was subsequently given and the 2010 world champions escaped with a 2-2 draw in Kaliningrad.

Spain now play hosts Russia in the knockout stages, with Portugal facing Group A winners Uruguay.

Football Paradise Staff Reporter

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