There have been a lot of firsts at the 2018 World Cup so far. The small island nation of Iceland has made its World Cup debut, picking up a draw against two-time tournament winners, Argentina in their first ever match on soccer's grandest stage. Panama is also making its bow at a World Cup, although the Panamanians are still waiting for their memorable moment. So far they have lost 3-0 and 6-1 to Belguim and England respectively. The biggest first, however, is the use of a Video Assisted Referee, or VAR as it is more commonly referred to. VAR has been used sporadically in domestic soccer around the world for the past couple of years and has received mixed reviews. It has never been under the microscope like it currently is in Russia though.
How VAR is being used over in Russia has been explained pretty thoroughly, at least on some TV stations anyway. The VAR control room is situated in Moscow with a team of four officials monitoring matches and aiding the referees on the ground around Russia with crucial decisions. Those decisions include marginal offsides, cases of mistaken identity, and the one that has come up the most so far, issues inside the penalty area. The match official is constantly in contact with his VAR colleagues and if they believe something needs to be looked at, they let him know. At that point, the referee can observe a screen at pitchside to review the incident and make a decision.
One of the main criticisms of VAR heading into the World Cup was how much it has held up matches when used in the past. For some reason, it would take a long period of time for a decision to be reached. For the most part that has not been the case at this World Cup. The use of VAR has flowed and barely held up matches at all. If referees have needed to review footage they have done it quickly and made decisions promptly. There have even been occasions where the viewers at home don't even know that VAR has come into play until the commentators clue them in.
As mentioned above, the main reason VAR has been used so far is to address penalty claims. In fact, thanks to VAR, there have already been more penalties at this World Cup than any other in history and we aren't even halfway through the tournament. The worrying thing about that particular statistic is how many deserved spot kicks were not being awarded beforehand and may be seen as a slight by some on referees and their ability to make correct decisions. They obviously can't see everything though, and with the help of VAR, they can see an awful lot more.
The whole point of using VAR is to eliminate controversy. However, somehow there has still been a lot of it. The first major issue of this World Cup came during England's narrow 2-1 win over Tunisia. On multiple occasions striker, Harry Kane was effectively rugby tackled in the box. The referee was told about the incidents by the VAR, however, after reviewing the incident he still decided not to award a spot kick. Baffling to those watching at home, even if you were Tunisian. England even took the issue to FIFA themselves. Clearly, the problem had been dealt with by their match with Panama. More of the same took place and the aforementioned Kane managed to net two, extremely well taken, penalties following fouls in the box.
You would have thought that almost two weeks in, most fans would have been on one side of the fence or the other when it comes to VAR. During the first few days of the tournament it seemed to do nothing but good, however, since then some confusing decisions have been made despite its use. Some more traditional fans likely wrote off the use of VAR before a ball had even been kicked, and it's those people who have halted the system being used before now. Almost every other professional sport uses some sort of video or playback to assist in decision making and it's crazy for football not to have it. No matter how much fans may not like VAR or Goal Line Technology, it's a part of the modern day game. Plus on balance, VAR seems to have added to this World Cup rather than taken away from it.