D3D4 Columnist Darren Young looks at the lack of technology used in the farce that was Northern Ireland’s 1-0 defeat to Switzerland in the World Cup Qualifier play-off…
‘We have the power…we just didn’t switch it on in Belfast’
Friday night saw a rare England versus Germany game with no goals and no incidents. They had VAR at the ready but it wasn’t needed.
Usually, these games rarely pass without a memorable moment, good or bad, but – friendlies aside – apart from a summer afternoon in June more than fifty years ago and a night in Munich a little more recently (when even Heskey scored) there aren’t too many competitive matches between these two where the memories are fond ones from an English perspective.
But one particular incident stands head and shoulders above the rest. And it resonated this international break and not just because England and Germany were renewing acquaintances.
Because when Frank Lampard’s long-range punt dipped over Manuel (I only just realised that was his first name) Neuer, bounced off the underside of the bar, landed so far over the line it was closer to Rio than Cape Town at the time, it became the highest profile ever goal-that-never-was and we were told, the catalyst for change, finally, at FIFA when it comes to embracing and taking advantage of technology.
Until that fateful day in Bloemfontein back in 2010, the world’s biggest sports’ governing body had dragged their heels over taking football down the route of cricket, rugby (both codes), tennis and most American sports.
But this was the straw that broke the camel’s back, they all said – Sepp Blatter more or less included – coming hot on the heels, remember, of the Republic of Ireland’s cruel exit in the World Cup play offs when Thierry Henry caught the ball on his way to setting up a Gallas equaliser that broke Gaelic hearts.
But more than seven years later, although the technology is now at our fingertips (and was available in the England u-31s v Germany trialists game at Wembley), we had seen the Irishmen north of the border seemingly fall to a decision that not only beggared belief, but also looks like ending (as I write) another World Cup dream.
If you haven’t seen it, take a gander on YouTube. A shot (a missile of one) from the edge of the box hit Corey Evans on the shoulder as he was turning away and about two yards from the shooter. Penalty, the Romanian referee somehow concluded, and the Swiss took a lead to the second leg. On the balance of play, a deserved one, yes, but a penalty? No way. Not even a neutral Swiss would have given it.
Forget the unfortunate rant on social media by Evans’s wife, which has conveniently – for some – overshadowed the decision itself, and think about the poor player himself for a second.
One minute he’s playing for his country in one of the biggest games of his life, the next he’s conceded a highly dubious penalty to lose the game, and been booked for it; ruling him out of the second leg so he can’t even be there to try to overturn the injustice as they’ll no doubt be a FIFA rule about not appealing yellow cards.
Then, just when he thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse, his wife gets her phone out.
On the subject of bookings, this no rescind decision is from an organisation that rescinded previous bookings in the CONCACAF v Asia play-off between Honduras and Australia, but not the European ones, so clearly are happy to make rules up as they go along.
But can they replay a video from one of the thirty cameras trained on the pitch and say ‘actually that wasn’t a penalty or a yellow card’?
No. They can’t, apparently.
So, as we approach the second World Cup since the one in 2010, we’ve moved…absolutely nowhere. The only thing different is that the team in green has changed. The other team – the higher ranked one that already has the advantage of being seeded and a second leg at home – is given the benefit of the decision. As was ever thus.
Sure, someone in a back office will make noises about the need to get the VAR in place quickly, and there will be an offer for Northern Ireland to help themselves to a training complex at FIFA’s expense if they fail to qualify for Qatar 2022, but how does that help the team who’ve battled to get this far and especially Corey Evans, who might be out of the team -and divorced – by the time the Winter World Cup in the Desert comes around?
Even if the technology is introduced for the 2018 finals, as we’re told it might, although they’ve still not agreed it with a decision due next spring (!) then it’s still too late.
And why has it taken eight years? On the Beeb that Sunday in South Africa, we had replays of Frank Lampard Junior’s shot crossing the line within seconds of it happening (not that we needed glasses or an Azerbaijani linesmen to see it went in), so the capability was there.
Would any other sport or governing body take nearly a decade to do what was blindingly obvious?
Fifty years ago, when football was more honest, and had less money involved, we could rely on Roger Hunt’s raised arms to confirm what we, in our hearts, already knew. And an action replay took a week to ten days to prepare anyway; a fortnight if you wanted it in slow motion.
It was patently clear after the Hand Of God that things were going awry but we still weren’t as technologically advanced in those days as we needed to be.
The 2009 Hand Of Henry was another – unheeded – warning that referees needed an extra pair of eyes (and not just belonging to a bloke behind the goal-line with a baton) in such high-profile games with the stakes so great.
There was a recent goal in Panama that eliminated the USA from this coming World Cup that drew questions and they’ll be more on top of the Northern Irish one, I’m sure.
If it were cricket, we’d be watching nineteen re-runs of a run out between Bangladesh and Afghanistan to make sure it was the correct call. But football can still manage to shoot itself in the foot every time. Maybe it will when one of these decisions robs us of a Germany, Argentina or a Brazil from the finals.
Corey Evans just isn’t big enough to make the difference. Make a Neymar, Messi or a Muller miss a World Cup and they’ll be uproar and VAR in place before you can say, well, Video Assisted Referees.
Until then, we’ll have to hope there’s no more Frank Lampard moments to make a further mockery of the delays to the inevitable. So, come on, FIFA. Enough is enough; these unchangeable errors have to stop. What if the 2018 final itself is decided by a goal that does or doesn’t cross the line?
After 2010, we thought they were all over.
But somehow, they aren’t quite.