This World Cup may only be less than two weeks old but it’s already not without several controversies regarding Var decisions. But none of those have proved as contentious as the one that let Ao Tanaka’s winner for Japan against Spain stand.
Here’s a blow-by-blow account of what happened, why the goal stood and why it mattered so much (especially if you’re German).
Having been 1-0 up against Japan at half-time Spain were cruising. That was until Ritsu Doan rifled a shot into the back of the net – thanks in part to poor goalkeeping from Unai Simon. It was no biggie, though, Spain were still top of the group and had plenty of time to secure the anticipated victory.
That was until Tanaka tapped in with his knee from close range just three minutes later, after a cross from Kaoru Mitoma. The crowd went wild and Spain were now starring at a shock defeat.
The goal was given on the pitch, but to the naked eye, and from the viewpoints of the Spanish players, it looked as though the ball had gone out before the cross and many watching on TV assumed that Var would intervene and overturn the onfield decision.
So how did Var react?
The decision was indeed referred to Var and for those watching at home the multiple replays only confirmed their initial impressions – that the ball had crossed the byline and the goal would not stand.
But what seemed a clearcut decision to the armchair pundits was clearly not as straightforward for the video officials as it took a full two minutes before Var announced its decision. And it was one that left many at home scratching their heads. The goal stood. Japan were 2-1 up and Spain were now chasing a game they were supposed to walk.
To only add to the controversy the image from which we assume the video officials arrived at their decision wasn’t offered to the watching world, leaving many doubly confounded as to how the goal had been allowed to stand.
Why was the goal was allowed to stand?
Japan’s winner was given because of the ‘curvature of the ball’. Apparently, not all of the ball was over the line, even though the part of the ball that was on the grass was clearly over the line. The entirety of the ball has to be over the line for the ball to be deemed out. It’s rather like when corner kick takers put the ball slightly outside the quadrant but it is deemed legal.
This is the all-important rule
It’s No 9 of the 17 laws of football. Law 9: ‘The ball in and out of play’…
“The ball is out of play when: It has wholly crossed the goal line or touch line, whether on the ground or in the air.”
Why it mattered
It clearly mattered on the obvious level in that Tanaka’s goal proved to be the winner in the Japan vs Spain match meaning Japan topped the group and Spain finished second.
But the real consequence was for Germany. Hansi Flick’s side knew they had to beat Costa Rica to have a chance of progressing through to the second round. Not without a few hiccups, they did this 4-2.
But due to the controversial goal in the other match their victory proved to be immaterial. Japan’s victory plus Spain’s superior goal difference sent them packing in full knowledge that had Japan drawn they would have scraped through. So the Tanaka strike was the difference between Germany marching onto the knockout stages and their ignominious early exit.