LONDON (ViaNews) – As we reach the end of the first pool of matches it is a good time to reflect on the World Cup. Draws for Argentina, Brazil, and Spain, defeat for Germany and shock wins for Senegal and Japan create the impression that this is a competition where the underdog rules.
Surprise outcomes are not quite that common, although there have been enough to keep viewers’ blood pressure readings nice and high – about half the results so far have produced a shock of some kind, from the type that might cause your hair to stand on end (Germany 0 Mexico 1 and, especially, Colombia 1 Japan 2), to the sort that causes the odd tingle down the arm, such as Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0.
Talking of tingles, there have been more than a few moments that have sent these tremors careering down spectators’ backs, most notably Cristiano Ronaldo’s thunderbolt free-kick which swerved and span, dipped and dodged into the Spanish net way back on day two of the tournament. That this wonder-goal gave Portugal a last-minute draw in a topsy-turvy match against their near-neighbours added to the excitement.
O-Var and Out
But if there has been one main talking point so far, it has to be VAR. The Video Assistant Referee. In fact, the VAR is a whole bunch of the men in black (or a nice shade of yellow, green or pink this year). They scan video footage of matches seeking out clear and obvious errors from the on-pitch officials, dressed neatly in their FIFA kits. Big Brother in a fetching tone of powder blue.
There is a bit of an air about these poor souls. They are the kids who turned up for training, boots and all, but never get picked for the matches. The outcasts who wait, patiently, hoping that the game will be so one-sided that they might get their moment of glory, their two minutes on the pitch.
But if the VAR sound as though they are the invention of a sci-fi writer working on a low budget kids’ TV programme, and look like the forlorn wannabes who didn’t quite make the grade, then their influence on games so far has been monumental.
At the time of writing, there had been an astonishing nine penalties awarded in just sixteen matches. By the time you read this, that statistic is already likely to be out of date. To offer a comparison, there were sixteen penalties awarded in Brazil 2014, an average of one every four games. Currently, the statistic for Russia is one for every one and three-quarters of a match.
But the VAR are not without their critics. Pundits on BBC1s coverage of England v Tunisia, for example, examined footage showing two clear penalty incidents which were not reported to the referee for further examination.
Having said that, the general opinion on social media is that VAR is a good thing. An unscientific poll on Twitter demonstrates an almost four to one positive rating for the technological innovation.
A Weird And Wonderful World Cup
As always with the World Cup, there has been the bizarre as well as the spectacular. An opening ceremony that lasted just ten minutes might be seen as a relief by many, although to give that time over to British singer Robbie Williams for almost the entire slot was a little strange. Then there is the ‘best-selling’ World Cup anthem from Pakistan. This record and video celebrates their ‘long football heritage’, according to the News Now website. The only problem is that Pakistan failed to qualify for the finals.
Perhaps best of all was the analysis of ITV commentator Clive Tyldesley for the opening match of the tournament, Russia versus Saudi Arabia. It is not often that a football commentary includes an examination of the relative oil production of the two opponents. Mr Tyldesley has kept up the good work. During a somewhat convoluted explanation of why the Brazilian striker Neymar is actually known as Neymar Junior, he managed to wish his Dad a happy Father’s Day. Another gem came from the Egyptian camp, with their statement that Mo Salah, their star striker, was 100% certain of possibly playing in their opening match. He didn’t, and they lost.
It is too early to say yet, in any group, who will qualify and who will be heading home to an early holiday and national ignominy. However, the prospects for Panama and Saudi Arabia already look bleak, while Belgium and England will feel confident of qualifying from their group, along with, probably France from theirs. We will know more in a week’s time. By then, just the final games of this stage of the competition will await.
In the meantime, a feast of football is still to be enjoyed. It is six days down, and twenty-five to go.