There was a lot to enjoy about the football at Zayed Sports City on Wednesday evening as Al Jazira threatened a stunning upset of Real Madrid in their Fifa Club World Cup semi-final.
The only downside for the crowd of 36, 650 (other than the result if you are a Jazira fan) was Fifa’s Virtual Assistant Referee (VAR) system, or rather how it was used.
While it may have helped make some correct decisions and give the officials a chance to have a second look at marginal decisions, it also created confusion.
Three goals were disallowed during the 90 minutes and on two occasions VAR was used. Both times it was not clear to the players, spectators in the ground or those watching on TV that VAR was even in play.
To be clear: this was not the fault of referee Sandro Ricci. He was only following procedure.
But a mixture of people on all sides still getting used to VARs, and just how it is presented, led to it feeling like a flawed concept.
Watching from the stands I shared the puzzled expression of thousands when Casemiro’s first-half header was first cancelled out for a foul, then given as a goal, then chalked off again, this time for offside, against Karim Benzema.
Here is where the confusion set in. The TV director did not know to look for Ricci making the square gesture to signal a replay on VAR, so it was missed by viewers at home. The lack of communication of what was going on to those in the stands, other than a sign on the big screens firstly saying VAR was in play and then why the goal was ruled out, with graphics to show the respective offside decisions, after play had restarted, also left spectators scratching their heads.
Wednesday night was confusing and Fifa must learn from it, and fast.
Other sports have used video replays to help officials and football’s world governing body really should be looking at how they are doing it.
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Tennis, American football, cricket and both codes of rugby are among those to implement it successfully, and all have done it in a way that is easy for viewers to follow.
Fifa should display the same images the officials are looking at up on the big screens in the stadium, in real time, for the benefit of spectators both in the ground and watching at home, as rugby union, league and cricket do.
It would have helped the process on Wednesday if the crowd had seen on the big screens what Ricci was viewing on the touchline, and Artur Dias and Marvin Torrentera, the two men listed as VARs on the Fifa teamsheet, were looking at from their studio monitors to help make their decisions. An announcement on the public address system would also have helped people understand what was going on.
Zinedine Zidane, the Madrid manager, was right that the amount of time deliberating on the Casemiro goal was far too long. An easy way of cutting time is not having the on-field referee having to run to look at a monitor on the side of the pitch.
If Ricci could have based his judgement on what he was instructed to look out for by the VAR officials it would have saved him some time, and his legs, some work. You don’t see rugby officials or cricket umpires walking off the field to look at a screen so why are Fifa making their referees do it?
Transparency is key, giving people more information is vital and Fifa should follow the leads of other sports if it wants to avoid more confusion in future.