The history books will show that substitute Rodrigo Amaral scored a stunning free-kick to help Uruguay beat Italy 1-0 in their Group D opening match at the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea. But this was a game overshadowed by the conflict caused by a controversial call from the newly installed video assistant referees (VAR).
Inspired by their captain Nicolas de la Cruz, Uruguay enjoyed the better of an entertaining first half, and were kept at bay by a five star performance from young Torino keeper Andrea Zaccagno.
Italy looked intermittently dangerous, in hitting a slick-passing Uruguay side, on the break, with Andrea Favilli the key to a disciplined game-plan.
But the match was turned on its head with two minutes left in the half.
As Italy threatened to carve an opening on a fast break, the play was called back following an alert from the video assistant referee tucked away in a darkened room location, in front of a bank of monitors within the stadium.
The claim was that Joaquin Ardaiz was fouled in the penalty area when attempting to take the ball into feet six yards out. It was an incident unremarked upon either by both players involved or by Eurosport’s watching commentators, with access to the same TV feed as the refs. Nonetheless referee Walter Lopez (after consultation) pointed to the spot. He did so to the understandable consternation of the Italians and following a significant delay – that may have contributed to what happened next.
Nicolas de la Cruz stepped up to take it and, just as had happened in the first match of the South American U-20 Championship, he failed to convert his spot-kick as Andrea Zaccagno made a comfortable save from a poor effort
Though justice was ultimately done, in terms of the result, there is no doubt that the game was spoiled as a spectacle for the next 20 minutes. It looked like the penalty incident was playing on the Uruguay players’ minds and the Italians enjoyed their best phase of the game as a result of this.
Substitute Rodrigo Amaral came to his captain’s and Uruguay’s rescue. In the 76th minute, Amaral hammered in an unstoppable free-kick from the right edge of the penalty area into the top corner. It proved to be the winning goal.
So far the VAR experiment in the U-20 World Cup tournament in South Korea has been far from convincing.
Neither the award of a penalty to Uruguay v Italy nor the sending off for the Argentina player Lautaro Martinez, shown a red card for catching Fikayo Tomori with an elbow against England have diminished what is an uncomfortable truth – video evidence is not going to be either definitive or objective as a solution.
Indeed in situations, such as the ones highlighted so far in South Korea, video evidence may be no more useful than another competing opinion. And it may make the situation it is expected to clarify even more contentious – hinder rather than help.
Secondly, as the play raged up the other end Italy U-20s could very easily have scored an opening goal comfortably before the play was stopped to review the penalty ‘that no-one else saw’ for Uruguay. What then? Imagine the situation of Italy being penalised with a wrongly awarded penalty and also having an otherwise good goal chalked off?
In addition, the Eurosport commentators appeared to suggest that referee Walter Lopez effectively took the word of the video ref at face value and did not review the action in person. Surely that should be something the ref would be obliged to do, to make sure he takes ownership of any video-assisted decision? Without this consensus between the ref on the field and the VAR locked away in his room then there will always be concerns about who is in charge and who is calling the shots.
And of course, just as the men in black definitely become seduced by the glamour of the game will we see a situation whereby video assistants too, will want to justify their presence by ‘getting involved’ in terms of influencing events in an overly obtrusive way.
Here at How To Watch Football, we have written at length about the complex issues relating to video assistance.
And there is another significant point to add. You can find the two FIFA highlights packages linked directly in the body of the text of this story for the games involving Uruguay v Italy and Argentina v England (above). And in both cases, the key incidents (a very soft penalty and a very harsh red card) have been presented to the viewer in what is an extremely obscure manner – a manner very much at odds with the clear-cut coverage of both incidents by the original TV broadcaster Eurosport.
Both FIFA and Eurosport were operating from the same broadcast feed so you’d have you ask yourself why the FIFA coverage has been edited so specifically, so tightly? There is no doubt in my mind that this is little more than governing body propaganda based on the vain hope that no-one will have noticed the glaring problems so far, caused by video evidence intervention in these key group games at a flagship tournament.
My overriding view is that video assistance is not the straightforward issue it has been marketed as by FIFA.
At best there is work to do. At worst, it could be a disaster that reveals some extremely unwanted and inadvertent consequences. But by attempting to cover up negative evidence within The FIFA U20 World Cup trial through slight of hand, is not a good precedent to set when the integrity of the game is at stake. This episode has been managed extremely badly and there is no doubt that this is a story with the legs to run and run.