AFCON 2019: VAR Set For Its Biggest Test Yet


The ‘V’ in VAR is for ‘video’, but, depending on your opinion about football’s increasingly ubiquitous touchline feature, it could well mean ‘villain’.

Brazil would go for the latter definition, anyway, as would several other teams around the world. VAR — Video Assistant Referee, when spelt out — hasn’t made too many friends for itself since its introduction as football’s latest, long-awaited, and potentially ‘life-saving’ accessory not so long ago.

Since then, it has drawn many oohs and aahs from football’s stakeholders, with the latest instance of note playing out days ago at the Copa America. Hosts Brazil scored thrice against Venezuela in a bid to seal a quarter-final ticket with a game to spare, only for VAR to strike out two of the goals — the referee needed little help in dismissing the third.

Image result for brazil var venezuela

The Selecao were peeved – who wouldn’t be? — but the match otherwise continued without further incident. Elsewhere, at another continental championship due this summer, the outcome might have been different. I speak of Africa, where things don’t exactly run like clockwork and emotions easily spill over. An explosive cocktail resulting from a combination of those factors could threaten a smooth organization of the 22nd Cup of Nations that begins this weekend in Egypt.

Football is, doubtlessly, a sport that stirs up strong passions wherever it is played; the power of VAR only ramps up the voltage. In Africa — where football often breeds fanaticism of special intensity — though, it could all get very ugly very quickly, and there is fresh precedent.

Mere weeks ago, the concluding leg of the 2018/19 Champions League ended in glory for Tunisian outfit Esperance, shame for the Confederation of African Football, and fury for losing finalists WAC of Morocco. At the center of the storm was a malfunctioning VAR system, following elite-level referee Bakary Gassama’s decision to disallow what WAC insisted was a decent equalizer (the first leg, officiated by the similarly esteemed Gehad Grisha, had served its own drama).

The rest of the story?

Well, you know – for those who don’t, a previous article on this website relates it all — and now there is the disputed prospect of a replay pending.

Image result for esperance wac var malfunction

The only event on the African football calendar bigger in profile than the Champions League, of course, is the Nations Cup. Needless to say, at its latest – and biggest — edition, the stakes would be much higher, as would tensions. You’d suppose the fact that VAR would only be used from the quarter-finals onward would reduce the risk of technology-induced brouhaha — sure, it would — but, hey, isn’t that the very stage from which the competition approaches boiling point?

Indeed, given the setting and the aforementioned backdrop (throw in, too, the startling Copa America episode described at the outset), VAR would be in the spotlight more than ever — and at a competition that, as recently as 2015, was marred by chaotic on-pitch scenes.

Brace yourselves, then, folks; this could get really rough.

Sammie Frimpong — Daily Mail GH

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