VAR Appears at AFCON

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar July 10, 2019 18:24

VAR Appears at AFCON

By Satish Sekar in Cairo International Stadium © Satish Sekar (July 10th 2019)

Surprise

VAR, absent when needed earlier, makes its first appearance today. And one match is intriguing. Nigeria and South Africa will meet for the third time in this AFCON – they played each other twice in qualification. The second match was so controversial that referee, Bakary Gassama, apologised to Nigerian captain Ahmed Musa for disallowing his goal. Musa was too quick for the officials’ eyes.

Meanwhile, Tanzania’s gifted play-maker, Mbwana Samatta, expressed surprise that it wasn’t available earlier when his team needed it. Tanzania lost all their matches in their first appearance in the AFCON finals since 1980, but if VAR had been available when the East-African derby with Kenya took place at 30 June Stadium, Cairo on June 27th, the result would almost certainly have been different.

Why? Because within the first five minutes there was a match-changing incident. A player raised his arm. His forearm connected with the head of an opponent, David Mwantika – the ball was nowhere near.

A red card? A yellow card? Actually, nothing was given because no official, including Mauritanian referee, Ahmad Heeralall, or 4th official, Louis Hakizimana, saw it. The TV cameras did, and so did I. But there was no opportunity to correct it as there was no VAR.

Match-Changing Incidents

I have been asking about ever since, and been met with a stony silence. Why was it so important? Michael Olunga was the perpetrator. He went on to score a brace and was named Man of the Match in the 3-2 win over Kenya.

And it was not the only time that the outcome of a match in this tournament was decided by the lack of VAR. The Guardian noted in its live commentary that within the first three minutes of the match at Al Salam Stadium on June 24th, an Ivorian’s challenge with Dean Furman resembled a forearm smash.

The officials, led by Mustafa Ghorbal, missed that incident, so the Ivorian escaped any sanction. Red cards have been given for less. The Ivorian player was Jonathan Kodjia. The Aston Villa striker went on to score the only goal of the match.

So, the outcome of at least two matches were affected by the absence of VAR.

CAF explained that after the VAR fiasco in the second leg of the final CAF Champion’s League, they wanted to ensure that everything worked well – understandable, but with consequences so high in the modern game, does that suffice?

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar July 10, 2019 18:24