THOSE who mistakenly believed using video replays to assist referees during matches would result in an end to bad decisions have received a rude awakening at the Russia 2018 finals in the past nine days.

There has been controversy aplenty over blatant fouls that match officials have missed despite the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) being in place as well as over some of the penalties they have given since the tournament got underway.

The whole of England was incensed when Wilmar Roldan of Colombia failed to award not one but two spot kicks to their national side on Monday evening.

Harry Kane, their captain and striker, had been wrestled to the ground in both the first and second-half of the Group G game on Volgograd, but no action was taken. That is even though VAR can punish offenders retrospectively after reviewing footage.

Had Kane, who had given Gareth Southgate’s side the lead against Tunisia with a close-range strike early on, not headed home an injury-time winner goodness knows what abuse Roldan would have received. But he could have had no complaints.

Then there was the Denmark game against Australia in Samara on Thursday. Antonio Mateu Lahoz of Spain utilised the pitchside screen after Yussuf Poulsen had handled inside his own area. He promptly awarded a penalty which Mile Jedinak netted to level a match that finished 1-1.

The Danes were understandably incensed, the Aussies delighted. Even neutral observers, though, were unable to agree. The spat between Slaven Bilic, who thought Lahoz had got it right, and Martin O’Neill, who was of the opposite view, in the ITV studio was as entertaining and intense as a rather forgettable game.

But there was never any prospect of VAR, a system that remains in its infancy despite being deployed at Russia 2018, being foolproof. There were always going to be teams and their supporters left aggrieved by injustices, perceived and otherwise, despite its use and in some cases because of it.

But, one or two incidents aside, the use of VAR has been a resounding success. It is pinpointed infractions which would ordinarily have been overlooked and punished those responsible. If anything, it has enhanced the spectacle of games and increased the drama for spectators, both inside the stadium and at home.

The Brazil game against Costa Rica in Saint Petersburg yesterday was the perfect example of the technology at its best. At first glance, it looked a clear penalty kick, a stonewaller as they say, when Neymar went to ground following a tug by Giancarlo Gonzalez.

But referee Bjorn Kuipers reviewed the incident, saw that he had been conned by the most expensive player in football history and promptly overturned his own decision. Brilliant. Long may it continue.

HeraldScotland | Sport

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