VAR debate rages on after Champions League drama

UEFA bowed to public pressure by bringing introducing the Video Assistant Referees in the Champions League from this season's knockout rounds.

UEFA introduced Video Assistant Referees in the Champions League from this season's knockout rounds.   -  Getty Images

Neymar called the decision that led to Paris Saint-Germain being dumped out of the Champions League a “disgrace”, while elsewhere on Wednesday Roma was left raging — both clubs are out of Europe and both feel cheated by controversial VAR calls.

“It's a disgrace. They get four guys who don't understand football to watch a slow-motion replay in front of the TV,” the injured Neymar wrote on Instagram after watching PSG's shock elimination against Manchester United.

PSG was wobbling and trailing 2-1 at the Parc des Princes when Slovenian referee Damir Skomina gave a penalty after reviewing the images when Presnel Kimpembe blocked an apparently wayward Diogo Dalot shot with his arm.

Marcus Rashford duly scored the penalty that dumped PSG out on away goals. But should such a crucial decision have been given?

“I am a big supporter of VAR and I stay a big supporter of VAR,” said PSG coach Thomas Tuchel, before admitting: “It was a big decision, a cruel decision.”

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The match referee checks the VAR system before awarding a penalty to Manchester United.   -  Getty Images

 

'The law is wrong'

In England, amid euphoria about the manner in which a depleted United side had gone through, even former players of the Old Trafford club said the penalty should not have been given.

“I don't care what any referee tells me, that just isn't handball. I love it that it is handball but I don't get it. The law is wrong,” ex-United defender Rio Ferdinand said on BT Sport.

On the same channel, Michael Owen, another ex-United player, said: “I know there'll be people who will say it's a penalty but for me it's not one in a million years.”

UEFA bowed to pressure by bringing forward the introduction of Video Assistant Referees into the Champions League from this season's knockout rounds.

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After a VAR review, referee Nestor Pitana awards France a penalty in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Final.   -  Getty Images

 

Back in September, it had announced it would come in from next season, but it was widely a success at the World Cup and is now used in many domestic leagues, including the top flights in Spain, Italy, Germany and France.

However, at the very least there remain teething problems when it comes to the interpretation of handball — only last weekend changes were announced to the law from next season, saying it will no longer have to be “deliberate”.

Roma denounces 'robbery'

In the meantime, there remained widespread disagreement over Wednesday's crucial calls.

“What we're finding with VAR is every ex-footballer thinks something is not a penalty but every referee thinks it is. There's a huge disconnect and that is the worrying thing,” added Owen.

A year ago, Gianluigi Buffon was in goal for Juventus when it was knocked out by Real Madrid after a debatable, late penalty.

The Italians demanded the introduction of VAR on the back of that, but Buffon, now at PSG, will wish it had not been in place as he was beaten by Rashford's kick.

Meanwhile, Roma was left with the same bitter taste as it went out in extra time to Porto, losing 3-1 on the night, and 4-3 on aggregate.

The tie hinged on a decision by Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir to point to the spot late in extra time upon reviewing an incident in which Alessandro Florenzi hauled back the Porto player Fernando.

Alex Telles converted the spot-kick, and Roma was then denied a penalty at the other end following a review, after Patrik Schick tumbled to the ground.

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FC Porto was awarded a penalty after a VAR review late in the game, which was converted by Alex Telles.   -  Getty Images

 

“Last year we asked for VAR in the Champions League because we got screwed in the semifinal and tonight, they've got VAR and we still get robbed,” raged Roma president James Pallotta.

“Patrik Schick was clearly clipped in the box, VAR shows it, and nothing is given. I'm tired of this crap. I give up.”

Back in Italy, newspaper headlines talked of “a disgrace”, and said Roma had been “robbed”. Contrast that with the view in Portugal, as Porto advanced to the quarter-finals.

“Blessed be the VAR that detected a penalty that was barely visible on the field but was very real,” said sports daily A Bola.

How can VAR possibly be a satisfactory solution when interpretations of the rule continue to vary so wildly?

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