This year’s World Cup is very different for many reasons. But perhaps, the most glaring one is the use of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR). For long, contentious decisions in the most watched sport in the world has affected the outcome of several matches. One of the most controversial is the “Hand of God” incident. In what was one of the most infamous incidents of World Cup history, Argentina’s Diego Maradona used his hand to score when jumping for the ball with England goalkeeper Peter Shilton in the 1986 quarter-finals in Mexico City.
The officials did not spot the offence and the goal was given, with Maradona later telling reporters he was helped by the “Hand of God”.
This led to calls for an independent review of decisions before the centre referee took a final decision. But has it really been worth the wait?
The truth is, several decisions in this World Cup have been correctly decided by the VAR. Against Iceland, a lot of Nigerians watching that match hoped that the centre referee would stand by his decision not to award the penalty against Nigeria. The second he decided to consult the VAR, we all knew that decision will change.
But how about the Morocco Vs. Spain and Iran Vs. Portugal games? Did the VAR pass its auditions? With Portugal and Spain’s qualification not yet assured, the outcome of both matches was very important. So how did the referee fail to spot what seemed like an offside goal (the one that made it 2-2) even after reviewing it on VAR? Or how did the referee fail to award C. Ronaldo a red card even after the lengthy review? Or the contentious decisions that characterized the match?
For some reasons, it seemed the odds were deliberately stacked against Iran and Morocco yesterday, being the relatively smaller teams.
With most international pundits and even the international media already writing off Nigeria, the Super Eagles need to be very careful in how they approach today’s final game. If anything, yesterday’s matches showed that when the occasion is grand, the smaller teams suffer from the decisions of the VAR, compared to the big teams.