We’re analyzing every VAR decision made throughout all 64 games at the 2022 World Cup.
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, results & brackets: Daily World Cup schedule
Total overturns: 4
Rejected overturns: 1
Leading to goals: 2
Leading to disallowed goals: 2
Penalties awarded: 2 (0 missed)
~ for holding: 2
Goals ruled out for offside: 2
VAR overturn rejected: Handball by Meriah
What happened: In the 93rd minute, Denmark won a corner and the ball hit Yassine Meriah before he cleared out of the box. The VAR initiated a review for handball.
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 penalize the first offence.
The game restarted with a free kick to Tunisia.
On the handball itself, even though the ball first came off Meriah’s body before hitting the defender’s hand, a penalty can still be awarded. A deflection off the body does not automatically cancel a possible handball offense. If the arm is away from the body it can still be penalized even with a deflection. But in this case the referee chose to give the foul against Jensen which came before the handball.
VAR overturn: Penalty for foul by Abdulhamid on Paredes
What happened: After only six minutes, a corner was played into the area which was easily claimed by Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais, but there was a VAR review for a penalty.
VAR decision: Penalty, scored by Lionel Messi.
VAR review: FIFA said ahead of the tournament that jostling inside the penalty area would be penalized 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 Argentine striker was leaning in front of the last defender, which was not 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.
ESPN FC’s Rob Dawson watches England win big in their World Cup opener vs. Iran.
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 Iranian defender.
Yet in the first half, Harry Maguire appeared to be wrestled to the ground by Roozbeh Cheshmi.
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 offense 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 offense 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 penalized 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, although it wasn’t at all clear for fans and it took quite some time for the 3D visualization 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 the goal. Fans naturally look for the last defender, which can be misleading when the goalkeeper is further 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 was 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.