Fifa World Cup: The goal that was, and was not

Fifa defends Japan’s goal against Spain by saying that the camera angle provides evidence that the ball was on the line


Leslie Wilson Jr

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Japan's Kaoru Mitoma and Daizen Maeda in action with Spain's Unai Simon and Dani Carvajal before Japan's Ao Tanaka scores the controversial second goal. – Reuters
Japan's Kaoru Mitoma and Daizen Maeda in action with Spain's Unai Simon and Dani Carvajal before Japan's Ao Tanaka scores the controversial second goal. – Reuters

Published: Fri 2 Dec 2022, 8:13 PM

Last updated: Fri 2 Dec 2022, 8:26 PM

As someone who has watched, studied, and written about sport for close to three beautiful decades, I believe that I am in a position to have my opinion on certain events that sceptics will always question.

Japan’s match-winning goal against former champion Spain, which sent Germany packing out of the Fifa World Cup in Qatar on Thursday, raises doubts about the authenticity and credibility of football’s new set of rules and in particular its complete dependence on VAR (Video Assistant Referee).

I accept that Fifa, the sport’s all-powerful governing body, has the right to decide how to manage and run the game and also to make changes to the rules that will benefit not just the players, but the paying public.

But there is a point to which rules can be stretched and interpreted.

With the scores locked 1-1, over a billion viewers, including myself, watched as Japan’s Kaora Mitoma dragged the ball back into play after it appeared to cross the line before he chipped it across the goalmouth for a hurtling Ao Tanaka to knee past helpless Spanish goalkeeper, Unsi Simon.

But was it a goal?

South African referee Victor Gomes, who has officiated in Fifa events for over 12 years, turned to VAR or the answer and after several tense minutes that seemed eternal, he signalled a goal.

Even if you’re a regular football fan, it’s probably hasn't occurred to you that at some point in time, sport distances itself from reality and heads into science and technology parameters to find solutions to its problems.

For even hours after that debatable goal issued dire consequences for one team and leaned favouraby towards another, the controversy swirls around the tournament’s rules as it powers to the knockout stage.

Sceptics have belittled Fifa’s reliance on VAR ever since it was deployed in the 2010s doubting its precision and sophistication.

Four-time former champions Germany, who for the second consecutive tournament did not make it past the first round will be forever haunted by the conviction that some decisions go beyond the realms of sport.

Doubters, like myself, will argue that sport does not need micro technology or algorithms to help make decisions.

Fifa defended Japan’s goal by saying that a camera angle provided evidence that the ‘curve’ of the ball was still on the line, while it had actually physically gone out of play.

The decisive camera angle, which by the way was from above the ball and with the line unsighted, had no hard evidence to support the legitimacy of the goal.

We all agree that technology has game-changing benefits in sports particularly when it comes to a better viewing experience, modernizing training methods, and making the game fair for all parties.

But sport is not rocket science which depends on precision, calculations, and software to make the difference between success and failure.

At the heart of it, sport is about entertainment, and it is surprisingly as simple as that. The engineering part is to try to win abut it does not require algebra, logarithms, or physics, it only needs skill and passion.

And isn't that the best way to grasp it and enjoy it?

The way I learned about sport was … playing the game, reading about it, and eventually writing about it,

Let’s not change Pele’s beautiful game or forsake it for rigorous technology that somehow does not have appeal, or make sense.

Let’s keep it simple. Let it endure in its simplicity.


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