KEIR RADNEDGE in MOSCOW —- Aleksandar Mitrovic and Harry Kane, if early matches of Serbia and England were replayed, would benefit from penalty claims turned down in their respective games against Switzerland and Tunisia.
World Cup referees were enabled, by the introduction of video assistance, to hit a 99.3pc ‘perfection rate’ according to FIFA refereeing chairman Pierluigi Collina. But Collina has also indicated one particular flaw in officials’ initial orders.
This was not so much an issue of VAR but about what should, and should not, be permitted in terms of physical contact.
Mitrovic and Kane were both manhandled by defenders in those games without any support from referees Felix Brych of Germany and Colombian Wilmar Roldan.
England, happily, did defeat Tunisia 2-1 eventually but Serbia were left furious: the score in their game against Switzerland was 1-1 at the time of the incident and they ultimately lost 2-1 to a last-minute goal.
England and Serbia both raised queries about the incidents and Collina told a media briefing: “At a certain point of the group phase there were some incidents which disappeared.
“We had some holdings [of players] but in the following matches they either disappeared or, if they continued, were punished by the appropriate decisions and, if in the penalty area, a penalty kick.
“We noticed, intervened and fine-tuned. You were able to appreciate that something had changed.”
The issue of penalty box man-marking was the only note of negativity conceded by Collina among his paean of praise for VAR.
Collina reported the 3.4 average of cards per game as equal to major club competitions at domestic and international level and noted with satisfaction that only three red cards had been shown, two of those for double-yellows. The number of penalties had doubled compared with 2010 and 2014 through “more accurate control of what went on inside the penalty area.”
Some 335 incidents had been checked by VAR including all 122 goals. Collina’s team had registered 17 VAR reviews during games with 14 seeing the referee run to his monitor screen. The three decisions immediately corrected concerned two for offside and one for mistaken identity on a booking.
Collina added: “We have had 14 decisions changed by the intervention of VAR, six penalty awards changed on the intervention of VAR – with one changed from a free-kick to a penalty and two penalty awards by the referee being reversed after a monitor review.”
This meant that Collina assessed 95pc of the referees’ own decisions as having been correct, a ‘perfection rate’ improved to 99.3 by the use of VAR.
He added: “Before the competition we said VAR does not mean perfection, there could be some wrong interpretation of or mistake but 99.3pc is very close to perfection.”
The average time for a VAR review was 80 seconds which answered pre-finals concerns about time lost. Referees are under instructions to add time for video reviews though they do not add time for standard match interruptions such as free-kicks and throw-ins.
Massimo Busacca, FIFA’s director of refereeing, concluded: “After 48 games, we haven’t had a single scandal, and that’s very important.”