Twenty minutes left and it was looking like Scotland were about to have the chance of qualifying for a World Cup for the first time since 1998.
The Scottish Women’s National team were 3-0 up against Argentina in the final game of the group stages on Wednesday night. After losing to both England and Japan, a win was all that would suffice for us to be in with a chance of qualifying. At three goals ahead it was looking like that was going to be the case. But as we learned from the Champions League Semi-Final, A three-goal lead isn’t always enough to guarantee a victory and I remember thinking to myself how typically Scottish it would be for us to do exactly what Barcelona did and concede three goals before the 90 minutes were up. For one of the first times in my life, I hoped I was wrong.
Five minutes passed, and Argentina scored their first. Still two goals ahead, surely that would be enough. But then one became two and all of a sudden there was only injury time left to play and Argentina had all the motivation they needed to put another one past us. All that was needed was to hold our nerve for the remaining few minutes. Then came a poor challenge from Sophie Howard and Argentina were screaming for a penalty. After a slight delay, the referee conferred with VAR (Video Assistant Referee) and gave the penalty.
Argentina were celebrating like they’d already won, almost forgetting that they still had a penalty to take. I was on the edge of my seat and then Lee Alexander did what no one expected her to do—she saved the penalty. We thought it was over, that we were off to the knock-out stages by the skin of our teeth, but we were wrong.
VAR was called upon once again, Alexander had been adjudged to come off her line too early and the penalty was to be retaken. The second time round Bonsegundo wasn’t going to make the same mistake and she found the back of the net.
VAR has been used in almost every game this World Cup. In the words of ex-Scotland player Gemma Fay, “this world cup is going to be decided by VAR and that’s just wrong, football should decide the World Cup.” All of Scotland’s World Cup games featured a VAR decision, two of which (against Japan and Argentina) it seemed the deciding factor. Not the ability of the players, not how well they played on the night, but by something that is completely out of their control. It just doesn’t seem fair.
VAR can work wonderfully, giving losing teams a chance at a come-back by giving a previously disallowed goal. Or in Argentina’s case giving a penalty to the team that’s trailing behind. But it is not a referee, nor will it ever be, and it should not be treated like one.
VAR doesn’t always make things clearer either, arguably it’s making the referees’ decisions harder. You can replay a challenge a hundred times and never settle on an outcome, so at the end of the day it’s down to the referee anyway. VAR is, sometimes, an unnecessary middle man.
Now that VAR is becoming more widely used, the future generations of referees and other officials will be trained to use it properly, so hopefully things will improve in the future. But as of this World Cup, it seems we’ve gone too far with VAR.