Game-Changer

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar July 14, 2019 16:48

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Game-Changer

By Satish Sekar in Cairo © Satish Sekar (July 12th 2019)

Fine Margins

Tunisia’s Carthage Eagles ended Madagascar’s fairy-tale last night, and will face Sénégal in the semi-final of the Africa Cup of Nations on Bastille Day. They got there with a preventable controversy aiding them – one that the much-maligned VAR could have prevented.

André Ayew, edged ahead of Asamoah Gyan, in the opening fixture, scoring for the third consecutive time at an opening fixture. He is now the leading scorer for the Black Stars at the Africa Cup of Nations – not bad for an attacking midfielder.

He now has nine goals at AFCON Finals – it should be ten, and that tenth should have taken Ghana through to the quarter-finals

Tiny Margins

The Black Stars paid the price of a phantom VAR decision – by that I mean a critical decision that affected the outcome of their match in the absence of VAR. Just before half time, skipper Ayew put the ball in the back of the net. The Black Stars’ celebrations, however, were cut short by South African referee, Victor Gomes, after his First Assistant Referee, also from South Africa, had raised his flag.

The ‘Carthage Eagle-eyed’ officials, had spotted – miss-spotted, actually – an infringement. In the build-up Thomas Partey was penalised for handball – it had touched him, but not on the hand or even arm. It wasn’t offside either.

The ‘infringement’ was flagged by First Assistant Referee, Zakhele Siwela, a compatriot of Gomes, who failed to overrule his assistant. It should not have been ruled out. Both South African officials were mistaken – Siwela for his original decision, and Gomes for not overruling him.

Ayew’s strike would have put Ghana ahead at a critical time, just before half time, and altered the dynamic of the half time talks and possibly the match too.

The Chopping Block

Ghana’s softly spoken, and undeservedly maligned coach, James Kwesi Appiah may yet pay the ultimate price – his job – for an erroneous decision. His head is on the block in part – a large part – because the referee and his assistants made a mistake, and there was no opportunity for VAR to correct it.

“If we had VAR to check on the [disallowed] goal, maybe it would have been a different result,” Black Stars coach, James Kwesi Appiah told journalists after the match.

He outlined the benefits of VAR and questioned why it was not used at the start. He hopes that it will be used throughout tournaments in Africa in the future.

“It benefits everyone. Any decisions that are taken, the video review referees will show what it is.”
That said, Appiah called on the referee to look at the video again. It’s unclear if Gomes has looked at it, and what conclusions, if any, have been drawn from any review of the performance of the officials.

Tunisia progressed – it wasn’t their fault, but the consequences for the Black Stars are huge.
The repercussions could be seismic. How did this decision not affect the outcome of the match? Appiah faces a difficult time back in Ghana – it could cost him his job. Bafana Bafana coach, Stuart Baxter’s point on refereeing errors looks prophetic now.

Appiah’s head is on the block, and if the axe falls, Gomes’ error played a crucial part.

Spare A Thought

“When we played the Seychelles in the Seychelles, we had a 185% penalty that we didn’t get,” Baxter told me. “No-one apologised to me afterwards and said, ‘I’m sorry if you get the sack. We’ll come and pay your wife and your kids’ food for the next two years.’”

That may soon become Appiah’s reality, and it remains unclear if Gomes or the officials’ performance has been reviewed.

Meanwhile, the Black Stars scattered after their worst performance in an AFCON Finals since 2006. Their last 16 exit resulted in a low-key return and recriminations aplenty, but is it fair?
Calls for the head of coach Appiah, especially after a cowardly assault on him by a journalist, are wide of the mark.

The attack, by a journalist, was outrageous. The ‘journalist’ went up to Appiah and pulled his ear. The gesture is a Ghanaian ‘punishment’ adults inflict on children, indicating that they are not listening. Appiah is not a child, and does not have to listen to journalists on who he should pick – that’s his choice.

Would he be facing such criticism if Gomes and his team of officials had got the crucial decision right? That’s football is the usual refrain. As Baxter says, we’ll never attain perfection, but errors such as Ayew’s disallowed goal, can and should be removed from the game once and for all.

“I think the reason the people within the game support VAR – let’s say the majority of people – is because the game, the consequences of a bad decision, of a blatantly wrong decision now are so much more important,” Baxter said.

VAR – allegedly killing football – could actually revive it, and save coaches from undeserved chopping blocks.

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar July 14, 2019 16:48