We’re analysing every VAR decision made throughout all 64 games at the 2022 World Cup.

After each game, we take a look at the major incidents to examine and explain the process both in terms of VAR protocol and the Laws of the Game.

Fixtures, result & bracket: Daily World Cup schedule

Total overturns: 9
Rejected overturns: 1

Leading to goals: 2
Leading to disallowed goals: 4
Penalties awarded: 4 (2 missed)
~ for holding: 2
~ for handball: 1
Goals ruled out for offside: 4
Red cards: 1


VAR overturn: Red card for Hennessey

What happened: In the 84th minute, Mehdi Taremi chased a long ball through the centre and Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey came rushing out of his area and crashed into the Iran forward. Referee Mario Escobar of Guatemala booked Hennessey for stopping a promising attack.

VAR decision: Yellow card upgraded to red.

VAR review: There was a covering defender, Neco Williams, who was likely to mop up the loose ball, so the referee was correct not to show a red card for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. But the nature of Hennessey’s challenge was without doubt endangered the safety of an opponent and the VAR, Canada‘s Drew Fischer, made the correct decision to instigate a review for serious foul play.

Hennessey was in mid-air when he completely missed the ball in attempting a clearance, and crashed into the upper body of Taremi with his thigh.


Possible penalty overturn: Gholizadeh goal disallowed for offside

What happened: Ali Gholizadeh put Iran into the lead against Wales in the 15th minute, but there was a check for offside.

VAR decision: Goal disallowed.

VAR review: One of the more obvious VAR offside goals, with Gholizadeh unsure whether to celebrate after putting the ball past goalkeeper Hennessey.

The Iran forward was ahead of the ball when Sardar Azmoun played the ball. If he had held his run and stayed behind the ball he would have been onside, even though he was in front of the last defender.


Possible penalty overturn: Salisu foul on Ronaldo

What happened: Portugal were awarded a penalty in the 62nd minute when Cristiano Ronaldo was knocked over by Mohammed Salisu.

VAR decision: Penalty stands, scored by Ronaldo.

VAR review: This only required a quick check by the VAR, United States referee Armando Villarreal.

Replays showed that Ronaldo definitely got to the ball first ahead of Salisu before there was contact on the Portugal striker’s boot and upper body.

Even though this could certainly be considered a soft penalty, we have to look at it in VAR terms; it would not be seen as a clear and obvious error by the match referee, fellow American official Ismail Elfath. Equally, if the referee hadn’t given the penalty, it’s unlikely the VAR would have advised a spot kick.

If Salisu had gotten to the ball first before Ronaldo, this would have been grounds for a full review, but unfortunately for the Ghana defender, he failed to do so.

Ronaldo also thought he had scored in the 31st minute, but the referee had already blown for a foul against him for a push on Alexander Djiku. The VAR is unable to review anything after the referee’s whistle, so he cannot look back at the foul to award the goal.


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1:10

Dale Johnson discusses the three big VAR talking points from the first half between Belgium and Canada.

VAR overturn: Penalty for handball by Carrasco

What happened: Tajon Buchanan‘s shot in the eighth minute was blocked by Yannick Carrasco. The Canada player appealed for a penalty straight away, but the game continued.

VAR decision: Penalty, missed by Alphonso Davies.

VAR review: A simple decision for the VAR, Juan Soto of Venezuela.

Carrasco’s arm was away from his body and had created a barrier to goal, and in the modern game this kind of incident is awarded as a handball.

The Belgium player was booked, with the offence being an automatic caution.


Possible penalty: Foul by Vertonghen on Buchanan

What happened: In the 13th minute, Buchanan went down inside the area after a challenge from Jan Vertonghen, but the flag went up for offside.

VAR decision: No penalty.

VAR review: A strange situation, because the assistant got the offside completely wrong. The ball was actually passed back towards his own goal by Eden Hazard, not by a Canada player, so there was no possible offside offence. However, the possible foul by Vertonghen happened before Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe blew his whistle to stop play, so a VAR review for a penalty was still possible.

A replay showed that Vertonghen got a toe to the ball before he caught Buchanan, which is absolutely crucial in determining whether the decision goes to a VAR review. Without that touch, the offside would have been cancelled and a penalty awarded to Canada.

If Vertonghen’s challenge had been more reckless, or with force, that could have overridden the touch on the ball and led to a VAR review.


Possible penalty: Foul by Witsel on Laryea

What happened: Shortly before half-time, Richie Laryea broke into the area when running side-by-side with Belgium’s Axel Witsel and went down claiming for a penalty.

VAR decision: No penalty.

VAR review: The kind of decision best left to the on-field referee rather than the VAR.

Although there certainly is contact by Witsel on Laryea, it’s not through making a challenge. That doesn’t rule out the possibility of a penalty, but it wouldn’t be seen as a clear and obvious error by the referee not to award one with the players running alongside each other.

There is also a question of Laryea placing his leg into the path of Witsel to draw the contact. This isn’t really initiating contact, however, so if the referee had given the spot kick it would not have been overturned.

That said, penalties earlier in the tournament appear to have come from a VAR review with less contact, so Canada may feel aggrieved.


VAR overturn: Havertz goal disallowed for offside

What happened: Kai Havertz thought he had scored a second goal for Germany against Japan in first-half stoppage time when tapping in a shot from Serge Gnabry from a couple of yards out.

VAR decision: Offside, goal disallowed.

VAR review: Havertz was well ahead of the last defender, but would still have been onside had he been behind the ball.

Unfortunately for Germany, the Chelsea forward was leaning in front of the ball and therefore the goal was correctly disallowed by the offside VAR, United States official Kathryn Nesbitt.


VAR overturn: Penalty for a foul by Moreno on Lewandowski

What happened: The game was in the 54th minute when Robert Lewandowski went down in the area when battling for a through ball with Mexico defender Hector Moreno. Australian referee Christopher Beath waved away the claims for a penalty.

VAR decision: Penalty, missed by Lewandowski.

VAR review: Certainly a clearer penalty for the VAR, Shaun Evans, than others we have see so far in this World Cup, because Moreno had hold of the Poland striker’s shirt and also fouled him when attempting to bring his left foot across the opponent.

Moreno only received a yellow card, as there should be no red card for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity when the player gives away a penalty but is making an attempt to play the ball. If the spot kick had only been given for the shirt pull, there would be a case for a red card. That said, some would argue Moreno had little chance of playing the ball.

The penalty was saved by Guillermo Ochoa, with the VAR checking that the Mexico goalkeeper had one foot on the line when Lewandowski kicked the ball. Grzegorz Krychowiak followed up and wasn’t encroaching, so the goal would have stood if he hadn’t fluffed his shot.


VAR overturn rejected: Handball by Meriah

What happened: In the 93rd minute, Denmark won a corner and the ball hit Yassine Meriah before he cleared out of the box. The VAR initiated a review for handball.

VAR decision: No penalty, review rejected for another foul in the buildup.

VAR review: Full marks to Mexican referee Cesar Ramos, who rejected the advice of the VAR, Fernando Guerrero, to award a penalty for handball as he saw that Denmark’s Mathias Jensen had barged Taha Yassine Khenissi to the ground as the corner came in.

At the monitor the referee has all options open to him, and if he sees an attacking infringement before the incident highlighted by the VAR he has the right to penalise the first offence.

The game had continued for one minute and Denmark had a corner when the referee was sent to the monitor; play restarted with a free kick to Tunisia for the foul by Jensen. In a quirk of VAR protocol, had Denmark scored in the minute before the VAR review then the goal would have stood with advantage considered to have been played; the foul by Jensen would never have been picked up or reviewed as a foul in the buildup to a goal.

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1:05

Dale Johnson explains why Denmark were not awarded an injury-time penalty vs. Tunisia despite a VAR review.

On the handball itself, even though the ball first came off the body of Meriah before hitting the defender’s hand, a penalty can still be awarded. A deflection off the body doesn’t automatically cancel a possible handball offence. If the arm is away from the body it can still be penalised even with a deflection. But in this case the referee chose to give the foul against Jensen which came before the handball.


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2:30

Dale Johnson explains some of the refereeing decisions in Argentina’s loss to Saudi Arabia at the World Cup.

VAR overturn: Penalty for foul by Abdulhamid on Paredes

What happened: After only six minutes, a corner was played into the area which was easily claimed by Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais, but there was a VAR review for a penalty.

VAR decision: Penalty, scored by Lionel Messi.

VAR review: FIFA said ahead of the tournament that jostling inside the penalty area would be penalised on a more regular basis, but the decision to give a spot kick to Argentina for Saud Abdulhamid holding back Leandro Paredes seemed to be another soft decision. It doesn’t really fit with the mantra that VAR should be “minimal interference for maximum benefit.”

This does bring us back to the other incident in England’s game against Iran, when Harry Maguire didn’t get a penalty. The key difference was that the England defender also had his arm around Roozbeh Cheshmi, which is why the VAR didn’t get involved. In the Saudi Arabia case, the only holding was from Abdulhamid.

It’s difficult for fans to understand how these incidents can be treated differently when there is no explanation or VAR audio to give clarity. But if this is the base level, there are going to be a lot of VAR penalties in this World Cup.

VAR overturn: Offside against Martinez

What happened: Lautaro Martinez scored a second goal for Argentina in the 27th minute, or so he thought.

VAR decision: No goal, offside.

VAR review: With FIFA’s semi-automated offside technology making decisions faster and more accurately, it didn’t take long for Martinez’s goal to be disallowed. The Argentina striker was leaning in front of the last defender, which wasn’t spotted by the assistant referee.

It was a tight one, but players are able to play the ball and score a goal with the upper part of their arm, so it was correct to disallow the goal.

There were two other first-half Argentina goals disallowed for offside, another against Martinez and one for Messi, which were correctly flagged by the assistant.


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1:29

Dale Johnson explains VAR’s decision to award Iran a penalty when England were denied one earlier for a similar incident.

VAR overturn: Penalty for foul by Stones on Pouraliganji

What happened: In the 10th minute of added time, Iran were awarded a free kick, which was swung into the area but came to nothing. But the VAR, Uruguayan referee Leodan Gonzalez, was reviewing a possible penalty.

VAR decision: Penalty, scored by Mehdi Taremi.

VAR review: It’s the kind of decision that fans really dislike with VAR, coming from what seems to be an inconsequential incident — especially when a more obvious event earlier in the game did not lead to a VAR intervention.

When the free kick was played into the penalty area, Morteza Pouraliganji went to challenge for the ball but his shirt was pulled by John Stones. It was a minor pull and it’s questionable whether there was any impact on the Iran defender.

Yet in the first half, Harry Maguire appeared to be wrestled to the ground by Roozbeh Cheshmi.

So, what’s the difference for the VAR? Most importantly, Maguire also had his arm around Cheshmi, which will also be taken into account by the VAR as a holding offence by both players. This was key.

Another consideration can be whether an attacking player is prevented from being able to challenge for the ball; ergo, would he have had a chance of playing the ball without the challenge? It’s not the only factor, and FIFA appears to be placing less importance on this aspect, but the VAR could take it into account.

In the case of Maguire, it was deemed that even with the holding offence by Cheshmi, the ball was not in immediate playing distance. Therefore, the England player was not prevented from competing from the ball.

With Pouraliganji, the ball was crossed in close proximity to him, which meant the shirt pull from Stones was deemed to prevent the opponent from challenging for the ball.

Match referee Raphael Claus had a long, hard look at the incident on the monitor and decided to accept the advice of the VAR. No one will want to see such minor infringements penalised throughout the tournament. Is it really clear and obvious?


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1:25

Dale Johnson explains why Ecuador had a goal ruled out in confusing circumstances in the World Cup opener vs. Qatar.

VAR overturn: Valencia goal ruled out for offside

What happened: In the third minute Ecuador thought they had the lead against hosts Qatar through Enner Valencia, but there was a lengthy review for offside.

VAR decision: Goal disallowed.

VAR review: This was the correct decision, though it wasn’t at all clear for fans and it took quite some time for the 3D visualisation to be shown.

When the free kick was played into the area, Ecuador defender Felix Torres challenged Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al-Sheeb. The ball fell to Michael Estrada, who headed it back to Torres for him to create the goal for Valencia.

However, when Torres got a touch on the ball (the direction it travels, forwards or backwards, is irrelevant) Estrada had one foot ahead of the second-last defensive player, who was Abdelkarim Hassan.

The review took longer than a regular offside check because the offside VAR, Tomasz Listkiewicz, had to be certain that the ball came off Torres. Without that, Estrada would not have been offside.

The touch from Al-Sheeb before the ball came off the head of Torres is of no relevance to the offside decision — the phase for every other player’s offside position is set from the touch by Torres. It’s also irrelevant whether or not an attacking player means to play the ball the way he has.

The added confusion comes from Estrada being obscured by Torres and Al-Sheeb, and another defender being closer to goal. Fans naturally look for the last defender, which can be misleading when the goalkeeper is farther ahead. There must be two opposition players, usually the goalkeeper and a defender, between the attacker and the goal. In this situation, only one defender was ahead of Estrada; Al-Sheeb wasn’t even the second-last defensive player in this case, it was Hassan (who was also blocked from view by Torres and Al-Sheeb.)

It was actually a very simple and clear offside decision once the touch from Torres is confirmed, with Estrada clearly ahead of Hassan, but there was a lack of clarity over it for too long. Even with FIFA’s semi-automated offside technology, the time taken for the fans to be given clarity must be improved.



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