You thought it was bad before, but VAR has now stamped itself onto the already thrilling spectacle that is international football. The established controversy-eradicator was in place during England’s international friendly against Italy at Wembley on Tuesday night.
England made an encouragingly shaky start to one of their final friendly fixtures before this summer’s World Cup, as John Stones first failed to catch Ciro Immobile offside and then dawdled on the ball before being dispossessed by the Italian forward – all in the opening minutes.
Immobile also inexplicably failed to nod in a sumptuous ball from the right later in the first half. The striker, who has 24 goals in 26 games for Lazio in Serie A this season, is clearly not the only Italian who fails to convert club form for country. Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 60 years after being knocked out at the qualifying stage by Sweden in November.
It was just 10 minutes after Immobile headed over that Sterling – who, along with Jesse Lingard, is looking like posing a significant threat to Dele Alli’s place in the starting XI this summer – was fouled on the breakaway. With a piece of quick thinking that might have been better deployed swerving allegations of cheating on his Instagram-model girlfriend, Lingard took the quick free-kick to slip through Jamie Vardy who smashed England into the lead. And thank God VAR was there to make sure the ball really was 100% stationary as it was played…
In the second half, Italy came out kicking. Substitutes Federico Chiesa and Andrea Belotti made Italy look a real threat on the break. But it wasn’t until the 86th minute that VAR finally came to the Italians’ rescue.
Chiesa went slaloming down the pitch and into the box before going down under the challenge of James Tarkowski. Having originally looked to give a goal kick and then a corner, the referee’s “clear and obvious” high-pace, split-second mistake was overturned by VAR after just two weeks of deliberating.
Despite my somewhat elaborate Devil’s-advocate complaints about the VAR process, I must reluctantly concede this: it made the right decision. That’s right. VAR overturned an incorrect decision and gave a correct one.
And hey, this might be a good thing. I mean, surely there’s no better time to fall foul of the notorious eagle-eyed villain than in a friendly in March. You never know – maybe VAR will be a warm welcome for the English this summer in an inevitably frosty Russian reception. As with all things England: one can only hope.