LE HAVRE, FRANCE — Among an announced crowd of 22,418 fans at Stade Océane, with noisy contingents of both U.S. and Sweden supporters, there was consensus on one thing: VAR was ruining the fun.
The use of Video Assisted Referee has been a main storyline of the Women’s World Cup so far – and worked out in the Americans’ favor Thursday night. But it didn’t stop both teams’ fans from booing heartily when the stadium’s video board announced the impending review. It was a good representation of how tired many fans and viewers have grown with this tournament’s penchant for replay.
The situation under scrutiny Thursday was similar to one that played out in the Australia versus Brazil match last week. In that game, as Australia floated the ball up toward its attacking third, forward Sam Kerr appeared to be offside. As Brazil’s Monica attempted to clear, she instead headed the ball into her own goal. The play went to VAR, and officials awarded the goal to Australia, despite Kerr’s offside position. Kerr never touched the ball.
It was déjà vu Thursday night in Le Havre: Against Sweden, the U.S. found itself with space in the attacking third early in the second half. The Americans floated the ball up into the box, above Carli Lloyd, who replay showed was in an offside position. But Lloyd never touched the ball and a deflection sent it toward the feet of Tobin Heath. Heath chipped the ball up, and it curved into the back of the net after a deflection in the box from Sweden’s Jonna Andersson — “a beautiful surprise,” Heath called it.
As teams moved to midfield for a restart, what has begun to feel inevitable in this tournament played out. The referee made the square box motion with her hands and stepped to the side of the field to review video of the play as fans booed from all sides.
The U.S. goal stood after a lengthy review, and VAR chatter ensued, as it so often has these past two weeks.
VAR has played a game-changing role in multiple matches this summer. Just this week, Scotland and Nigeria suffered after VAR determined their goalkeepers stepped off their lines during penalty kicks.
When asked about VAR after Thursday’s 2-0 win over Sweden, U.S. head coach Jill Ellis stood by the technology.
“I kind of bounce back and kind of say, ‘Then why have a rule if you’re not gonna enforce it?’” she said. “What I would say is you can’t half-measure a rule. A rule is a rule. Obviously it’s down to interpretation, but I think overall to sit here as a coach in the biggest tournament in the world, I think having the capacity to review situations – yeah, I think it’s a part of every other sport, and I think there’s too much at stake to not have it in our sport.”
Ellis and Heath said they had not seen the replay of the controversial U.S. goal before their postgame press conference. Teams and coaches aren’t supposed to “peek” at the replay as officials are reviewing it, Ellis said.
It’s possible the U.S. will eventually suffer in this tournament because of VAR, too. But for now, they’re happy when the technology rewards them.
“To be honest, I haven’t seen it,” Heath said, pausing for a moment during Thursday’s postgame press conference.
“But I’ll take the goal,” she deadpanned.