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Confederations Cup showed that VAR needs to get a lot better

The first major tournament with video replay is done, and it was a mixed bag of good and bad.

Chile v Germany: Final - FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017 Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images

The Video Assistant Referee program made it’s major-tournament debut over the last month, using the Confederations Cup as a testbed to see how it works on a bigger stage. While there were some definite wins for the VAR system, the Confederations Cup final highlighted some major weaknesses as well, and they’re going to need to be worked on before the technology sees wider use.

The major, glaring incident with VAR in the Confederations Cup final came in the second half, when Chilean defender Gonzalo Jara was fighting for the ball with German forward Timo Werner near the touchline, with a clash between the two leaving Werner down on the ground holding his jaw. German players close to the action were furious, immediately approaching Serbian referee Milorad Mazic and demanding that he look at the play on VAR. The Germans actually refused to restart play until he did, taking over a minute off the clock before Mazic slowly made his way to the VAR booth on the far end of the pitch.

Replays of the incident very clearly showed what the Germans were so upset about: Jara threw a very clear elbow into Werner’s face, an incident that’s a clear red card for any referee who sees it.

Every referee, apparently, except for Milorad Mazic. He took his time to look at the replay, then slowly walked back out to the pitch, found Jara, reached into his pocket — and brandished a yellow card. By the time he got the spot set for a free kick, nearly three minutes had passed, wasting a lot of time and still getting the call wrong. That’s unacceptable, and is exactly the kind of thing fans dreaded when VAR was being proposed.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the system needs to be thrown out right here and now. This is the time to make adjustments to the process, to find ways to speed things up and keep incidents like this from happening again. VAR can work and be an asset to the sport, but we need to find solutions first.

What that solution looks like, we don’t know yet. It’s likely that giving the official watching the replays more authority over asking for a review, or even just outright calling for them instead of needing to confer with the lead official.

Something also needs to be done about the time needed to conduct a review when one is made — the referee can often be dozens of yards away from the VAR area of the sideline, which only adds to the frustration fans feel about the process as it takes time just for him to get to where he needs to go to look at the play, then take the time to jog all the way back. That lost time is almost as big a frustration to the fans as getting calls like the one involving Jara wrong, especially since stoppage time at the end of a half rarely reflects actual time lost of stoppages like that.

Perhaps some enterprising soul can develop a system where the VAR official can send images and video to the lead official wherever he is on the pitch, either as a prompted review or at the referee’s request. That would be a much simpler and much faster system than what is employed now, and even if it’s not perfect, it gives FIFA and their officials a better base to build on than what we have now.

VAR can definitely be a major asset to the sport, but right now it’s something of a hindrance, at least based on what we saw in the Confederations Cup final Sunday. Getting major calls wrong like that is what VAR was supposed to correct, and we need to make sure that such things don’t happen again. It’s going to be interesting to see what changes they make from here, because it’s clear that things aren’t quite working as how VAR is currently employed.