Qatar 2022 matches will be played in the VAR zone. For the second time in a FIFA World Cup (after Russia 2018 World Cup), the Video Assistant Referee technology will be utilised to track goals, assess penalties awarded, identify players getting booked and check serious fouls resulting in red cards. Twelve cameras placed below the stadium roof will be used every match, to record movement of the match ball which has a sensor chip inside to relay data constantly.
Players will be under constant watch, not just by designated match officials, but the 12 cameras designed for VAR will focus on every footballer on the pitch, 28 points on his body. This new technology, tracking every limb on the player’s body, will be used in the semi-automated offside decisions for the first time in World Cup action. There is no place to hide for those cunning players, trying to gain unfair advantage via fouls away from the referee’s vision, with or without the ball.
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The World Cup games in the past have been scarred by vicious fouls. Uruguay’s maverick forward Luis Suarez biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder during Brazil 2014 was one such low point. The match official did not spot the vile act, Suarez got away without a warning despite the Italian’s appeal. VAR would have nailed the player the moment his mouth came in contact with the Italian’s shoulder as both went for the ball.
FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee later looked at match footage later, banned Suarez for nine international games. He was also asked to stay away from any football for four months, plus a fine of 100,000 Swiss francs. The Uruguayan’s act was an outcome of frustration at the struggle to make an impact on the World Cup stage, having returned to the squad after knee surgery. Uruguay won 1-0 to advance into knockouts, Italy went out.
Suarez sat out the next World Cup game and was sent back home disgraced. He moved from Liverpool FC to FC Barcelona by then and trained alone, as entry into football stadiums or grounds was barred by FIFA. After six successful seasons with FCB (2014-2020), he moved to La Liga rival Atletico Madrid in 2022 and is currently with Uruguay club Nacional. He is back on the World Cup stage for Qatar 2022, a veteran at 35 trying to rekindle the old flair in the goalmouth.
The VAR technology capturing pitch action will create a bit of freedom for the ball-players across teams to express themselves via incredible skills. Rivals in defensive positions will be wary of rushing into tackles or resorting to fouls against such special footballers, for fear of being spotted by cameras. The pace of World Cup football is so fast that for the maestros, 12 cameras tracking all players can be an ally and saviour against ruthless rivals.
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For a pure genius like the late Diego Maradona (three World Cup appearances at Spain 1982, Mexico 1986, Italy 1990), VAR in use then would have saved from being hacked down repeatedly. Defenders did not mind risking a caution from the referee or even a yellow card to subdue the chunky Argentine, credited with the ‘Goal of the Century’ at Mexico’s Azteca stadium. He dribbled past five England players and goalkeeper Peter Shilton to score in a 2-1 victory, leaving opponents in a daze.
The wonder goal was the culmination of 11 touches by the Argentine captain on the ball. Earlier in the same match, his first goal in the 51st minute against England would have been disallowed for hand-ball if VAR cameras were in use then for the benefit of Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser to refer. Maradona leapt up as if shaping his head, his outstretched left arm guided the ball past a stunned Shilton, the No.10 went on a celebratory run.
England players protested, Nasser stood by his decision and the ‘Hand of God’ goal stood. In a different era, such a cunning act would have been captured by Var cameras zooming down on the pitch from the stadium roof, the referee would have warned the Argentina goal-scorer with a caution or a yellow card for cheating. England would get a free-kick from the spot where the horrific hand-tap happened. Maradona returned home with the trophy. The controversial goal decision stands.
The two goals in a 2-1 victory for Argentina when the scoreline should have been 1-1 in reality, represents black and white shades of a 25-year-old maestro, cunning in the goalmouth and classy with the ball at his feet. Undeterred by the outcry over a ‘Hand of God’ goal as Maradona described tongue in cheek, Argentina went from strength to strength, masterminded by a talismanic captain, to be crowned the champion.
He was present in the VIP enclosure for Russia 2018, watching VAR in use for the first time in World Cup action. Maradona passed away at 60 last year due to serious health issues, his larger-than-life presence will be missed in Qatar 2022 when Argentina steps on to the pitch for Group C matches against Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland. Lionel Messi is the driving force for the Argentines this time, playing in the VAR zone and hoping for protection from referees to do his magic.
Messi played the 2010 World Cup in South Africa in Argentine blue and white colours, with Maradona as national coach in the dugout. Messi teammates at French club Paris Saint Germain (PSG), Neymar and Kylian Mbappe representing Brazil and France respectively at Qatar, are famous faces who will be heavily marked in the rival half and will be dependent on a web of cameras focussed on them for protection from nasty fouls.
France was the first beneficiary of VAR use in a World Cup final for the first time in the tournament’s history. Referee Nestor Pitana missed Croatia’s Ivan Perisic handling the ball in an attempted clearance following a set piece situation at Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium. Responding to French players pointing out the handball, the match official then checked the off-field screen and awarded France a penalty. Antoine Griezmann converted and France went on to win the
title clash 4-2. The French return to Qatar 2022 as defending champion.
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