Pickford Stars as VAR Controversy Rages Again

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar June 14, 2019 17:09


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Pickford Stars as VAR Controversy Rages Again

By Satish Sekar in Guimarães’ Estádio D. Afonso Henriques © Satish Sekar (June 9th 2019)


Jordan Pickford made history this afternoon by becoming the first England goal-keeper to score and save a spot-kick in a penalty shootout when England beat Switzerland 6-5 to clinch third place in the inaugural UEFA Nations League. As usual VAR took centre stage, denying England another goal, this time for a foul in the build-up.

In a game of small margins, Harry Kane almost gave England a dream start in the first minute, as he caught Yann Sommer off his line from the right flank, but his effort rebounded off the crossbar. And they were denied by woodwork again as a sliced attempted clearance hit the post.

Trent Alexander-Arnold went close midway through the second half, but his effort just cleared the bar. Raheem Sterling felt aggrieved when he headed over from close range, claiming a discreet shove in the back by Kevin Mbabu caused him to miss. There was no VAR review, and that was important later.

VAR Controversy

Shortly afterwards, Dele Alli’s header struck the post and substitute Callum Wilson dispatched the rebound. VAR cut short his celebrations for a foul in the build-up by Wilson on Manuel Akanji. The largely England crowd was not impressed, chanting obscenities about VAR, but England manager, Gareth Southgate’s response was interesting – Southgate’s no fan of VAR.

“I’m not for it,” he said.

“I’ve always said that the referee’s decision and the officials’ decision should be final, so I don’t like the fact that we use technology in sport, but they tell it’s a business now as well as a sport, so in terms of using the technology, I think the decisions have been the correct ones, so we can’t have any complaints in the end, but it’s very strange to go through the emotions of two goals after 80 minutes that you think are going to put you into a final, or finish the game today, and then to have to recover it.

“It’s a different sort of emotional shift from when goals have been disallowed with the normal refereeing style.”

Pickford’s Moment

So, the match headed into extra time. Pickford’s opposite number, Yann Sommer, distinguished himself in the first period with a sensational double save to deny Alli’s header and then Sterling’s follow-up, the latter at the expense of a corner. And in the second period a Sterling free-kick beat Sommer only to be denied by the bar. Penalties it was.

England won 6-5 with Pickford the hero. The Three Lions were clinical from the spot. Harry Maguire, Ross Barkley, Jadon Sancho and Sterling converted theirs, as did Steven Zuber, Granit Xhaka, Akanji and Mbabu. At 4-4, Pickford stepped up to take the crucial 5th for England. He scored and Fabian Schär took it into extra kicks.

Eric Dier scored, meaning substitute Josip Drnić had to score, but Pickford produced the only save to his left to win third place for the Three Lions.

England were the better team and deserved their win, but the VAR controversy will continue. It’s taken a toll on England especially. A marvellous team goal started from the back resulted in Jesse Lingard’s (and England’s) celebrations being cut short against the Netherlands in the semi-final, when VAR showed that Lingard was offside by a small amount, but he was offside.

And another was disallowed this afternoon. Both were marginal calls, but both were correct. Some complain that VAR was only meant to apply to clear and obvious errors. These may not have been that, but the decisions, ultimately, were the correct ones.

Is that ruining football or ensuring errors creep out of the game?

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar June 14, 2019 17:09