Diego Maradona’s notorious ‘Hand of God’ goal in 1986 World Cup would have been disallowed if the VAR (Video Assistant Referee) system was in place then. The Argentine legend's left-handed tap over England goalkeeper Peter Shilton would have been pulled up for deliberate handball.
Tunisian match referee Ali Bennaceur, alerted by the VAR officials monitoring the pitch through their screens, would have cautioned Maradona in front of a packed Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. England would have restarted play with a free-kick instead of reeling from a dubious goal.
Thirty-two years later, the football pitch at World Cup 2018 is a VAR zone with cameras covering multiple angles to monitor everything happening down there in real-time.
This system to spot oversights and mistakes functions like a third eye for the referee in the middle, helping to correct clear errors of judgement. Especially in cases of incidents in match-changing situations, VAR comes in handy. According to the International Football Association Board (IFAB) that oversees the laws of the game, a video review can be initiated by the match referee to get a closer view of on-field action related to goals, penalties, red cards and mistaken identity. The referee can view the incident on a monitor placed near the centerline and/or seek assistance from officials tracking live video feed in the VAR room.
Had VAR come to England’s rescue in the 51st minute, Shilton and team-mates may have been in a more stable frame of mind to face Maradona five minutes later. The midfield marvel, 25 years old and instinctive with the ball, launched into a slalom from beyond the centerline to England's penalty box. The goal was voted the FIFA World Cup ‘Goal of the Century’.
England didn't know what hit it and fellow Argentines shifting into positions for a pass just watched the captain. For referee Bennaceur and the two linesmen running along the sidelines, there was nothing to do except watch a master at work before whistling for restart.
Argentina went on to win the World Cup in Mexico, beating Uruguay (round-of-16), England (quarterfinal), Belgium (semifinal) and Germany (final).
VAR is heavily debated among players, team managers and a sea of fans at different venues in Russia. Match referees wear a range of colours nowadays, but their decision-making is still a matter black or white. No push or dive escapes the cameras and officials in the control room. The game has slowed down as referees run up to the pitch monitor to make a decision. World Cup football is changing and the human eye is replaced by Hawk-eye that judges whether a ball has crossed the goal-line or not.
Now 57 years old, Maradona could be spotted at Argentina matches right through this World Cup 2018. Television cameras keep an eye on him during the match, capturing a range of his emotions from shock, scowl, and smile in his self-appointed role as his nation’s guiding light. VAR at Mexico '86 would have curbed his cheeky ways.
The technology would also have liberated him when moving with the ball chained to his bootlaces. The network of cameras focused on the pitch would have cast a veil of protection over him, forcing defenders with nasty intentions to restrict the wild tackles and shirt-tugging.
He played the next World Cup final in 1990, leading Argentina in a 0-1 loss to Germany in the final. He also had a spell as national coach, taking Argentina into the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Now a celebrity and critic, he is the target man for television cameras and clearly enjoys the attention in the time of VAR.