The 2022 World Cup in Qatar was only three minutes old when we had our first on-pitch controversy of the tournament.
Ecuador thought they had taken the lead against the host nation when the former West Ham United and Everton striker Enner Valencia nodded home after Felix Torres fired an acrobatic volley across the face of the goal.
Ecuador’s players ran to celebrate as Qatar’s trudged back to their positions. But, minutes after Valencia’s header hit the back of the net, Daniele Orsato signaled that the goal was to be ruled out after a VAR review.
The goal would have been the fastest ever scored in the opening match of a World Cup. But instead, the host nation was handed a vital lifeline.
But why was the goal ruled out by VAR? We explain below.
Why was the goal offside?
The opening goal was ruled out after Pervis Estupinan swung a free-kick into the box. Michael Estrada’s right boot was offside after the ball came off Felix Torres, who was challenging Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb.
Estrada then headed it back to Torres, who played an acrobatic volley to Valencia. Valencia then headed the ball into the back of the net.
There has also been confusion over why the goal was ruled out because there is a Qatar defender behind the ball. But because the goalkeeper is ahead of the ball, the last defender effectively takes the role of the goalkeeper.
The decision involved the use of semi-automated offside technology, which is a new feature at the 2022 World Cup.
Regular viewers of the Champions League might be familiar with the technology used to make offside decisions as it was used, with success, throughout the recently-finished group stage. On the vast majority of occasions, the time it took to make the decision was much quicker than it would have been had the VAR officials been forced into offside geometry.
Initially, the on-field assistant referee is tasked with making the decision to raise their flag and signal that a player is in an offside position. However, as we have seen across Europe, they will often wait to signal offside until the period of play has come to an end as an incorrect premature flag could cost a team a goalscoring opportunity.
The semi-automated offside technology comes into operation in the instance when a goal has been scored or a potentially match-defining decision has been made (penalty or red card). It checks whether or not the goalscorer, or any players involved in the build-up, has strayed offside at any stage.
The technology uses 12 tracking cameras under the roof of the stadium to track the ball as well as up to 29 data points on each player. Those 29 data points include all limbs and body parts that are relevant for making an offside decision.
An inertial measurement unit will be placed inside the center of the ball and it will send data to the video operation room 500 times per second which will allow for accurate detection of when the ball has been kicked.
As soon as a player receives the ball in an offside position, the technology provides an automatic alert to the officials in the video operation room. Before informing the on-field referee of the decision, the video match officials must validate the decision by confirming that the kicking point and the automated offside line are correct.
This entire process is supposed to take a matter of seconds, although the decision in the opening match of the 2022 World Cup took significantly longer.
FIFA have been contacted for comment.
What’s this about match fixing?
Ahead of the opening match of the tournament it was alleged on Twitter that Qatar had paid bribes to ensure they did not lose the opening match of the tournament.
No evidence was provided to support this astonishing claim, but the accusation was widely reported on by several media outlets around the world.
The accusation was denied by Qatar, with their head coach, Felix Sanchez, describing it as “misinformation” and “dangerous”.
“There is a lot of misinformation,” Sanchez said. “The internet is a great tool, but it is also very dangerous. No one will be able to destabilize us with these statements. We are not affected at all.
“We are focused on bringing our A-game and will not take anything else into account.”
There is no evidence to support the claim, and minutes after Valencia’s header was disallowed he scored the opening goal of the tournament when Ecuador were awarded a penalty after Qatar goalkeeper Al Sheeb brought him down in the box.
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(Photo: KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images)