VAR mistake decides A-League grand final

Melbourne Victory A-League team
Melbourne celebrate their victory.

The A-League grand final, which took place on Saturday night, was won by an illegal goal. A mostly torrid night in the goal scoring stakes saw Melbourne Victory defeat the Newcastle Jets by a single goal, scored by Kosta Barbarouses in the ninth minute.

The VAR system, which is the soccer version of the video referee and which uses Hawkeye technology, failed in the half minute leading up to the goal. This meant that it could not be reviewed, and the goal was awarded. Unfortunately, replays after the game showed that the Victory goal was scored from an offside position.

The correct call would have been a penalty to Newcastle near the halfway line. However the offside was very marginal, and so the on field referee and lines people failed to pick it up. If there had been no referral system at all the goal would have stood regardless, so the glitch did not cause the wrong call to be made – it meant that a wrong call could not be overturned.

Predictably, the technology failure has sparked outrage – especially in Newcastle. What is the point, after all, of the A-League having a video review system if it can’t be used to check the only goal in a grand final?

It would be going too far to say that without the goal Newcastle would have won, as they could not score at all – legally or illegally. However, without it Melbourne would have likely played a more aggressive game plan which would offer more opportunities to their opponents. A penalty shoot-out could also have gone either way.

As well as being used in the A-League, the VAR technology will be used at the World Cup in Russia later this year. A similar failure in a crucial period there could have profound consequences for the tournament as a whole.

This was hardly the advertisement for the A-League that should have come from it’s theoretical biggest game of the season. It also does not inspire confidence in the VAR system heading into the World Cup.