As the line-up for the Euro 2024 Finals was all but confirmed, barring the play-offs, there were a few controversial moments in the decisive qualifiers, with VAR – inevitably – at the heart of the drama.
The biggest of all came in Leverkusen where Ukraine were playing their “home” game against Italy.
The Ukrainians needed to win to qualify and were putting the pressure on as the game ticked into a third minute of stoppage time.
The ball was played into the box, Mykhailo Mudryk got a touch, and was bowled over by Italian midfielder Bryan Cristante. It was, unquestionably, a penalty.
In the heat of the moment, and given the angle he had, it was perhaps understandable that Spanish referee Jesus Manzano waved away the claims – although I still believe he should have awarded a spot-kick.
But the refusal of the VAR official to recommend he review the footage was utterly unforgivable.
It was as “clear and obvious” an error as you will see and a dereliction of duty by the VAR team.
Drama in Leverkusen! 🤯
— Viaplay Sports UK (@ViaplaySportsUK) November 20, 2023
For those of us who were disturbed by what happened, it did not help that a few days before the match, Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin had made the following statement: “Italy must qualify for Euro 2024, otherwise it will be a disaster.”
It was an ill-judged and unnecessary comment from one of the game’s leading administrators, and one which understandably fed into the conspiracy theories stemming from the late controversy in the BayArena.
Bojan Miovski pen against England was given for merest of touches
On the same night, in Skopje, there were two similarly baffling calls by both the onfield referee and his VAR team.
Bojan Miovski won a penalty throwing himself to the ground after the merest of touches from Rico Lewis.
— Channel 4 Sport (@C4Sport) November 20, 2023
VAR penalising the Englishman was a joke, as was the failure to act after Harry Maguire had wiped out Elif Elmas – that one was a stick-on penalty, but nothing was given.
The game in Macedonia was not as vital as the Ukraine one, but it was another staggering example of VAR’s inability to get the big calls right.
Many of us – perhaps most of us – lobbied long and hard for its introduction in the apparently misguided belief it would be a force for good.
The unfortunate reality is that it has been anything but.
There has barely been a weekend this season when I have not been left incredulous by VAR either misinterpreting situations or failing to act when the referee has clearly made a mistake. Even offsides, which should be factual, are often called in a perplexing way.
For the past year-and-a-half my Saturdays have involved watching Cove Rangers, and while VAR might certainly have helped us on occasion, there is not a week goes by when I do not hail its absence.
When we score, there is a quick look towards the linesman, and the celebrations can start immediately. That is a joy now denied to fans of Premiership clubs.
For the reasons listed above, and many more, I have to conclude VAR has had a damaging effect on football. We would be infinitely better off without it.
It will not be scrapped, too much money has been invested, and it would of course entail the authorities having to admit they have made a mess implementing it, which they undoubtedly have.
Pyrotechnics a blight on Scottish football
In the wake of a meeting with the Scottish Government and Police Scotland, the SPFL and the SFA put out a joint statement declaring themselves “encouraged” by steps taken to combat the use of pyrotechnics inside our football stadiums.
I really must be missing something!
Rarely a top-flight game goes by without flares or fireworks being let off, and it is just a few weeks since Rangers fans almost got their game at Dens Park postponed after a display which set off the smoke alarms at the ground.
It is now a criminal offence to bring such items inside, and tougher action has to be taken both in terms of prevention and in punishing those who break the law.
Pyrotechnics are a blight on our game, and unless they are stopped, I fear serious injury or worse.