After each game, we take a look at the major incidents to examine and explain the process both in terms of VAR protocol and the Laws of the Game.
Fixtures, result & bracket: Daily World Cup schedule
Total overturns: 13
Rejected overturns: 1
Leading to goals: 3
Leading to disallowed goals: 6
Penalties awarded: 5 (3 missed)
~ for holding: 2
~ for handball: 1
Goals ruled out for offside: 6
Goals after incorrect offside: 1
Red cards: 1
VAR overturn: Aboubakar onside on goal
What happened: Vincent Aboubakar rushed on to a long ball through the centre in the 63rd minute, and the Cameroon striker chipped a shot over the top of Serbia goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic to make the score 2-3 … only for the assistant’s flag to go up for offside.
VAR decision: Goal.
VAR review: A very tight decision, with FIFA’s offside technology making another quick decision to rule Aboubakar was onside. Nikola Milenkovic was just ahead of the Cameroon player, with the defender’s left foot in advance of Aboubakar’s shoulder. It was among the most marginal onside calls we’ll see.
There was also a question of offside about Cameroon’s third goal for Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting just three minutes later. This time the flag stayed down against Aboubakar, who was just played onside, again by Milenkovic, before creating the goal for Choupo-Moting.
VAR overturn: Rudiger offside on goal
VAR decision: Goal disallowed.
VAR review: The fastest offside review we’ve seen, taking just 28 seconds from goal to the referee indicating the goal had been disallowed by the VAR.
Granted, this wasn’t a marginal offside so perhaps we shouldn’t heap too much praise on FIFA’s semi-automated offside technology. But this is how quick we want offside to be with VAR, with the goal ruled out during the celebration and not with players stood around waiting for a decision.
VAR overturn: Saiss offside on Ziyech goal
VAR decision: Goal disallowed.
VAR review: FIFA’s semi-automated offside technology quickly identified that Romain Saiss was ahead of the last defender when Ziyech played the ball, but as the Morocco player didn’t touch the ball before it went into the goal it wasn’t an automatic VAR decision to disallow it.
When the offside player doesn’t touch the ball, it comes down to a subjective decision over his interference in the play. This will always result in an pitchside monitor review when the VAR has identified a possible offence, with the referee — Mexico’s Cesar Ramos — making the final decision.
Saiss clearly made an attempt to head the ball in front of Courtois and had to have an impact on the Belgium goalkeeper, leaving the VAR, Fernando Guerrero of Mexico, little choice but to advise a review.
If Saiss had been stood offside but hadn’t made a move to play the ball, or hadn’t been in the goalkeeper’s line of vision, the goal would have stood.
This is a far clearer example of offside when impacting upon an opponent than the goal Ecuador had disallowed vs. Netherlands on Friday (see below). There was no monitor review for the Ecuador goal because the VAR didn’t believe it was a clear and obvious error by the referee to disallow it.
VAR overturn: Penalty for foul by Bielik on Al-Shehri
What happened: In the 43rd minute, Saudi Arabia‘s Saleh Al-Shehri was shielding the ball inside the area and went down under a challenge from Poland‘s Krystian Bielik. Referee Wilton Sampaio of Brazil rejected claims for a penalty.
VAR review: When assessing a possible penalty, the VAR should be considering the consequences of a defender’s actions, or the nature of the challenge. While there was contact by Bielik on Al-Shehri, it didn’t seem like a clear and obvious error by the referee not to award a penalty.
If Sampaio had awarded the penalty himself, it would be right for the VAR not to get involved to overturn it. But this was minimal contact by Bielik, and Al-Shehri made the most of it — that should not be enough to win a spot kick through the VAR.
The VAR in this game is Canada’s Drew Fischer, who was also in the role on Friday for Wayne Hennessey’s red card for Wales against Iran.
After Szczesny saved the penalty, the VAR checks to make sure the goalkeeper had some part of at least one foot touching the line when the ball was struck by Al-Dawsari. It was either luck or genius from Szczesny, who just had the back of his boot level on the goal line. The VAR has to be 100% certain there was no part of the back of the boot overhanging the edge of the line to order a retake, but it’s a very close decision.
Goal disallowed: Porozo offside on Estupinan shot
What happened: Ecuador thought they had equalised in first-half injury time when Angelo Preciado shot from the edge of the area, and Pervis Estupinan deflected the ball into the back of the net. However, Jackson Porozo was in an offside position in front of Netherlands goalkeeper Andries Noppert and the assistant raised his flag.
VAR decision: Goal disallowed.
VAR review: An incredibly harsh offside call on Ecuador, but not a decision that would be seen as technically wrong. It’s far from certain that the VAR, Shaun Evans of Australia, would have advised this subjective element of offside be penalised if the flag had not gone up.
From Preciado’s first shot, Porozo is definitely impacting on Noppert, as he is stood directly in his line of vision to the ball. But the ball does not go past Noppert from this shot, it is deflected towards goal by Estupinan which effectively creates the next offside phase.
At the point the ball touches Estupinan, Porozo is still in an offside position but no longer in the goalkeeper’s line of vision. Noppert is also already diving in an attempt to save Preciado initial shot. The ball then goes very close to Porozo, on the opposite site to Noppert, before going into the goal.
The offside law doesn’t require the goalkeeper to be able to save the ball when an attacker is in a offside player, he only has to be impacted.
Possible penalty: Sarr on Afif
What happened: In the 34th minute and with the game goalless, Akram Afif broke into the area and looked to shield the ball ahead of Ismaila Sarr, and went to ground. Referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz turned down appeals for a penalty.
VAR decision: No penalty.
VAR review: Much like the Cristiano Ronaldo incident vs. Ghana, the VAR (for this game, Alejandro Hernandez Hernandez) had only a check of this, rather than a full review, before deciding there was no clear and obvious error by the referee.
When looking at incidents in the penalty area, the VAR will always be looking at an attacker’s motives. Has he initiated the contact, or has there being a foul by the defending player?
In this incident, Afif places his body in front of Sarr, which leads to the contact and him going to ground. It can be argued that is simply a case of Afif trying to shield the ball, which he has every right to. Others will say that Afif has no intention of playing the ball himself and he is trying to use his body position to win a penalty.
Because both explanations are valid, the VAR is unlikely to intervene upon the referee’s decision. As with Ronaldo, the decision of the referee — penalty or no penalty — will remain as it is.
VAR overturn: Red card for Hennessey
What happened: In the 84th minute, Mehdi Taremi chased a long ball through the centre, and Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey came rushing out of his area and crashed into the Iran forward. Referee Mario Escobar of Guatemala booked Hennessey for stopping a promising attack.
VAR decision: Yellow card upgraded to red.
VAR review: There was a covering defender, Neco Williams, who could have mopped up the loose ball, so the referee opted not to show a red card for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity (DOGSO).
The VAR, Canada’s Drew Fischer, was able to show the referee two possible red card scenarios. For DOGSO, but also for serious foul play — due to the nature of Hennessey’s challenge, which could be considered to have endangered the safety of an opponent
Hennessey was in midair when he completely missed the ball in attempting a clearance, and he crashed into the upper body of Taremi with his thigh.
The red card was shown for DOGSO, but it could easily have been either offence.
VAR overturn: Gholizadeh goal disallowed for offside
What happened: Ali Gholizadeh put Iran into the lead against Wales in the 15th minute, but there was a check for offside.
VAR decision: Goal disallowed.
VAR review: One of the more obvious VAR offside goals, with Gholizadeh unsure whether to celebrate after putting the ball past goalkeeper Hennessey.
The Iran forward was ahead of the ball when Sardar Azmoun played the ball. If he had held his run and stayed behind the ball he would have been onside, even though he was in front of the last defender.
Possible penalty overturn: Salisu foul on Ronaldo
VAR decision: Penalty stands, scored by Ronaldo.
VAR review: This only required a quick check by the VAR, United States referee Armando Villarreal.
Replays showed that Ronaldo definitely got to the ball first ahead of Salisu before there was contact on the Portugal striker’s boot and upper body.
Even though this could certainly be considered a soft penalty, we have to look at it in VAR terms; it would not be seen as a clear and obvious error by the match referee, fellow American official Ismail Elfath. Equally, if the referee hadn’t given the penalty, it’s unlikely the VAR would have advised a spot kick.
If Salisu had gotten to the ball first before Ronaldo, this would have been grounds for a full review, but unfortunately for the Ghana defender, he failed to do so.
Ronaldo also thought he had scored in the 31st minute, but the referee had already blown for a foul against him for a push on Alexander Djiku. The VAR is unable to review anything after the referee’s whistle, so he cannot look back at the foul to award the goal.
Dale Johnson discusses the three big VAR talking points from the first half between Belgium and Canada.
VAR overturn: Penalty for handball by Carrasco
VAR decision: Penalty, missed by Alphonso Davies.
VAR review: A simple decision for the VAR, Juan Soto of Venezuela.
Carrasco’s arm was away from his body and had created a barrier to goal, and in the modern game this kind of incident is awarded as a handball.
The Belgium player was booked, with the offence being an automatic caution.
Possible penalty: Foul by Vertonghen on Buchanan
What happened: In the 13th minute, Buchanan went down inside the area after a challenge from Jan Vertonghen, but the flag went up for offside.
VAR decision: No penalty.
VAR review: A strange situation, because the assistant got the offside completely wrong. The ball was actually passed back towards his own goal by Eden Hazard, not by a Canada player, so there was no possible offside offence. However, the possible foul by Vertonghen happened before Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe blew his whistle to stop play, so a VAR review for a penalty was still possible.
A replay showed that Vertonghen got a toe to the ball before he caught Buchanan, which is absolutely crucial in determining whether the decision goes to a VAR review. Without that touch, the offside would have been cancelled and a penalty awarded to Canada.
If Vertonghen’s challenge had been more reckless, or with force, that could have overridden the touch on the ball and led to a VAR review.
Possible penalty: Foul by Witsel on Laryea
VAR decision: No penalty.
VAR review: The kind of decision best left to the on-field referee rather than the VAR.
Although there certainly is contact by Witsel on Laryea, it’s not through making a challenge. That doesn’t rule out the possibility of a penalty, but it wouldn’t be seen as a clear and obvious error by the referee not to award one with the players running alongside each other.
There is also a question of Laryea placing his leg into the path of Witsel to draw the contact. This isn’t really initiating contact, however, so if the referee had given the spot kick it would not have been overturned.
That said, penalties earlier in the tournament appear to have come from a VAR review with less contact, so Canada may feel aggrieved.
VAR overturn: Havertz goal disallowed for offside
VAR decision: Offside, goal disallowed.
VAR review: Havertz was well ahead of the last defender, but would still have been onside had he been behind the ball.
Unfortunately for Germany, the Chelsea forward was leaning in front of the ball and therefore the goal was correctly disallowed by the offside VAR, United States official Kathryn Nesbitt.
VAR overturn: Penalty for a foul by Moreno on Lewandowski
What happened: The game was in the 54th minute when Robert Lewandowski went down in the area when battling for a through ball with Mexico defender Hector Moreno. Australian referee Christopher Beath waved away the claims for a penalty.
VAR decision: Penalty, missed by Lewandowski.
VAR review: Certainly a clearer penalty for the VAR, Shaun Evans, than others we have see so far in this World Cup, because Moreno had hold of the Poland striker’s shirt and also fouled him when attempting to bring his left foot across the opponent.
Moreno only received a yellow card, as there should be no red card for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity when the player gives away a penalty but is making an attempt to play the ball. If the spot kick had only been given for the shirt pull, there would be a case for a red card. That said, some would argue Moreno had little chance of playing the ball.
The penalty was saved by Guillermo Ochoa, with the VAR checking that the Mexico goalkeeper had one foot on the line when Lewandowski kicked the ball. Grzegorz Krychowiak followed up and wasn’t encroaching, so the goal would have stood if he hadn’t fluffed his shot.
VAR overturn rejected: Handball by Meriah
VAR decision: No penalty, review rejected for another foul in the buildup.
VAR review: Full marks to Mexican referee Cesar Ramos, who rejected the advice of the VAR, Fernando Guerrero, to award a penalty for handball as he saw that Denmark’s Mathias Jensen had barged Taha Yassine Khenissi to the ground as the corner came in.
At the monitor the referee has all options open to him, and if he sees an attacking infringement before the incident highlighted by the VAR he has the right to penalise the first offence.
The game had continued for one minute and Denmark had a corner when the referee was sent to the monitor; play restarted with a free kick to Tunisia for the foul by Jensen. In a quirk of VAR protocol, had Denmark scored in the minute before the VAR review then the goal would have stood with advantage considered to have been played; the foul by Jensen would never have been picked up or reviewed as a foul in the buildup to a goal.
Dale Johnson explains why Denmark were not awarded an injury-time penalty vs. Tunisia despite a VAR review.
On the handball itself, even though the ball first came off the body of Meriah before hitting the defender’s hand, a penalty can still be awarded. A deflection off the body doesn’t automatically cancel a possible handball offence. If the arm is away from the body it can still be penalised even with a deflection. But in this case the referee chose to give the foul against Jensen which came before the handball.
Dale Johnson explains some of the refereeing decisions in Argentina’s loss to Saudi Arabia at the World Cup.
VAR overturn: Penalty for foul by Abdulhamid on Paredes
VAR decision: Penalty, scored by Lionel Messi.
VAR review: FIFA said ahead of the tournament that jostling inside the penalty area would be penalised on a more regular basis, but the decision to give a spot kick to Argentina for Saud Abdulhamid holding back Leandro Paredes seemed to be another soft decision. It doesn’t really fit with the mantra that VAR should be “minimal interference for maximum benefit.”
This does bring us back to the other incident in England’s game against Iran, when Harry Maguire didn’t get a penalty. The key difference was that the England defender also had his arm around Roozbeh Cheshmi, which is why the VAR didn’t get involved. In the Saudi Arabia case, the only holding was from Abdulhamid.
It’s difficult for fans to understand how these incidents can be treated differently when there is no explanation or VAR audio to give clarity. But if this is the base level, there are going to be a lot of VAR penalties in this World Cup.
VAR overturn: Offside against Martinez
What happened: Lautaro Martinez scored a second goal for Argentina in the 27th minute, or so he thought.
VAR decision: No goal, offside.
VAR review: With FIFA’s semi-automated offside technology making decisions faster and more accurately, it didn’t take long for Martinez’s goal to be disallowed. The Argentina striker was leaning in front of the last defender, which wasn’t spotted by the assistant referee.
It was a tight one, but players are able to play the ball and score a goal with the upper part of their arm, so it was correct to disallow the goal.
There were two other first-half Argentina goals disallowed for offside, another against Martinez and one for Messi, which were correctly flagged by the assistant.
Dale Johnson explains VAR’s decision to award Iran a penalty when England were denied one earlier for a similar incident.
VAR overturn: Penalty for foul by Stones on Pouraliganji
What happened: In the 10th minute of added time, Iran were awarded a free kick, which was swung into the area but came to nothing. But the VAR, Uruguayan referee Leodan Gonzalez, was reviewing a possible penalty.
VAR decision: Penalty, scored by Mehdi Taremi.
VAR review: It’s the kind of decision that fans really dislike with VAR, coming from what seems to be an inconsequential incident — especially when a more obvious event earlier in the game did not lead to a VAR intervention.
When the free kick was played into the penalty area, Morteza Pouraliganji went to challenge for the ball but his shirt was pulled by John Stones. It was a minor pull and it’s questionable whether there was any impact on the Iran defender.
So, what’s the difference for the VAR? Most importantly, Maguire also had his arm around Cheshmi, which will also be taken into account by the VAR as a holding offence by both players. This was key.
Another consideration can be whether an attacking player is prevented from being able to challenge for the ball; ergo, would he have had a chance of playing the ball without the challenge? It’s not the only factor, and FIFA appears to be placing less importance on this aspect, but the VAR could take it into account.
In the case of Maguire, it was deemed that even with the holding offence by Cheshmi, the ball was not in immediate playing distance. Therefore, the England player was not prevented from competing from the ball.
With Pouraliganji, the ball was crossed in close proximity to him, which meant the shirt pull from Stones was deemed to prevent the opponent from challenging for the ball.
Match referee Raphael Claus had a long, hard look at the incident on the monitor and decided to accept the advice of the VAR. No one will want to see such minor infringements penalised throughout the tournament. Is it really clear and obvious?
Dale Johnson explains why Ecuador had a goal ruled out in confusing circumstances in the World Cup opener vs. Qatar.
VAR overturn: Valencia goal ruled out for offside
What happened: In the third minute Ecuador thought they had the lead against hosts Qatar through Enner Valencia, but there was a lengthy review for offside.
VAR decision: Goal disallowed.
VAR review: This was the correct decision, though it wasn’t at all clear for fans and it took quite some time for the 3D visualisation to be shown.
When the free kick was played into the area, Ecuador defender Felix Torres challenged Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al-Sheeb. The ball fell to Michael Estrada, who headed it back to Torres for him to create the goal for Valencia.
However, when Torres got a touch on the ball (the direction it travels, forwards or backwards, is irrelevant) Estrada had one foot ahead of the second-last defensive player, who was Abdelkarim Hassan.
The review took longer than a regular offside check because the offside VAR, Tomasz Listkiewicz, had to be certain that the ball came off Torres. Without that, Estrada would not have been offside.
The touch from Al-Sheeb before the ball came off the head of Torres is of no relevance to the offside decision — the phase for every other player’s offside position is set from the touch by Torres. It’s also irrelevant whether or not an attacking player means to play the ball the way he has.
The added confusion comes from Estrada being obscured by Torres and Al-Sheeb, and another defender being closer to goal. Fans naturally look for the last defender, which can be misleading when the goalkeeper is farther ahead. There must be two opposition players, usually the goalkeeper and a defender, between the attacker and the goal. In this situation, only one defender was ahead of Estrada; Al-Sheeb wasn’t even the second-last defensive player in this case, it was Hassan (who was also blocked from view by Torres and Al-Sheeb.)
It was actually a very simple and clear offside decision once the touch from Torres is confirmed, with Estrada clearly ahead of Hassan, but there was a lack of clarity over it for too long. Even with FIFA’s semi-automated offside technology, the time taken for the fans to be given clarity must be improved.