THE first week of the World Cup served up plenty of memorable goals and games, but unfortunately the biggest talking point has been the use of the controversial Video Assistant Referee system.
Designed to let referees use video technology to make better decisions, it is the first time VAR has been used at a World Cup, but so far the system has been criticised for getting several big calls wrong, including a contentious penalty given against Australia in their 2-1 defeat to France.
Although VAR reviews an incident in slow motion from multiple camera angles, ultimately it still boils down to human interpretation, and there will always be debates and disagreements about sporting decisions, especially penalties.
Critics also say the system spoils the spontaneity of celebrating a goal and can result in several minutes of stoppage time while footage is reviewed.
Football West CEO James Curtis says the VAR has to win over fans.
“Bringing in VAR at the World Cup was always going to throw up contentious incidents and it just so happened the first one involved the Socceroos,” he says.
“There were others in the Sweden and England matches.
“As long as they are consistent and get the right decisions then I believe most people will happily live with it.”
VAR was trialled in the FA and Carabao Cups in England last season, as well as the German and Italian leagues, and Fifa president Infantino declared it was “almost perfect”.
“From almost 1000 live matches that were part of the experiment, the level of the accuracy increased from 93 to 99 per cent.”
The A League was the first top-level domestic football league in the world to implement VAR last season, but its future could be in the balance after a technical failure meant it got a crucial offside decision wrong in the showpiece grand final in May.
Another big off-field talking point has been Optus’ patchy coverage of the World Cup, with its streaming service dropping out during live matches.
Following a national outcry and a phone call from prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, Optus announced on Monday it would simultaneously broadcast all the games on free-to-air SBS for the next 48 hours.
In Australia fans have had to subscribe to Optus TV if they want to see every live game – SBS broadcast one game a day – annoying soccer fans who say that given the significance of the World Cup all matches should be on free-to-air.
“It’s important that all Australians are able to watch their team play on the world stage, be it on free-to-air or on a digital platform,” says Football West CEO James Curtis.
“With the changes in technology and consumer behaviour, it will be important to maintain a balance of accessible options.”
Off-field incidents aside, it’s D-day for Australia with two crunch games against Denmark and Peru looming.
Australia fought hard in their opener against France, but they only mustered one shot on target and one corner.
The Socceroos will want to be more offensive in their remaining group matches and get Tom Rogic and Mathew Leckie on the ball more often. Expect to see veteran striker Tim Cahill feature at some point as well.
Physicality is part of Australia’s game, but they will need to be careful as they were on the brink of a sending off with Josh Risdon, Aziz Behich and Leckie on yellow cards against the French.
At the time of going to print on Wednesday (June 20), Curtis was confident Australia could make the knockout stages.
“We have shown that we can match it with the French,” he says.
“The big question will be who we play in the last 16?”
by STEPHEN POLLOCK