Why Japan’s winning goal vs. Spain was awarded by the VAR

We’re analysing every VAR decision made throughout all 64 games at the 2022 World Cup. The VAR crucially awarded Japan‘s winning goal against Spain, ruling the ball hadn’t gone out of play.

After each game, we take a look at the major incidents to examine and explain the process both in terms of VAR protocol and the Laws of the Game.

– World Cup VAR review in full: Every decision analysed

VAR overturn: Ball in play for Tanaka goal

What happened: Japan thought they had scored a second goal in the 51st minute when Ao Tanaka scored as Kaoru Mitoma cut the ball back from the goal-line, but the referee disallowed the goal for the ball being out of play.

VAR decision: Goal, ball in play.

VAR review: For the VAR, Fernando Guerrero of Mexico, to overturn the decision of the assistant, he has to have definitive evidence that part of the ball is on the line. Importantly, this isn’t just about the ball touching the ground. The curvature overhanging the line also counts, even if a very small part of the ball is doing so. (FIFA’s new tracking technology cannot be used to determine the ball being in or out of play.)

The goal-line camera was used to make the decision, but television companies were left to guess over the evidence used to prove the ball was in play; FIFA should be providing guidance to inform fans.

A photograph from a camera level with the goal-line also appears to prove a small amount of the ball was overhanging the line. That would give the VAR the proof he needs to overturn the on-field decision and award a goal. But this image appeared on the Associated Press’ picture service over an hour after the game. The evidence was not provided by FIFA, and that’s one of the inherent problems of VAR — communication with the fans.

Until this point we’d not seen any clear proof that the ball was touching the line when Mitoma cut it back to Tanaka — even though it actually had on the goal-line camera; we just didn’t know.

The lack of communication from FIFA over VAR overturns in this tournament has fully highlighted the disconnect between the system and the watching fans; there is never any clarity offered at any juncture. Unlike in the Premier League, where the VAR feed is shared to broadcasters throughout a review, FIFA controls the output. If VAR is to be truly accepted, this has to be vastly improved.

It proved to be the goal that knocked Germany out of the World Cup.

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