VAR: Complete Guide To Enhancing Your Knowledge Of The VAR

Learn how the video assistant referee(VAR) impact the game of soccer to reduce clear and obvious errors made by the referee.

Are you one of those guys who watch your favorite team scores, pound your chest, punch the air, hugs other fans and talk some trash when your team scores but then resort to frustration when the goal is disallowed by VAR?

You probably, like myself, are one of the soccer lovers who anxiously get to the end of your seat and wait for a decision when a VAR review is in progress. And have that dire need to find out the referee’s judgment on the play under review. You are not alone.

It is no doubt to you that just one wrong call can alter the result of a soccer match. This is why the VAR is in effect correct the bad calls the officials make and help them make better decisions on the beautiful game of soccer. However, the VAR has made and break a lot of hearts since its emergence.

In this article, I will be telling you everything you need to know about the VAR. You will have the chance to understand the four game-changing categories that the VAR reviews. This is an in-depth breakdown of all its rules using compelling examples and exciting videos that will keep you rooted to your seat. 

Since VAR is a hotly debated topic worldwide, we will also thoroughly explore the system’s pros and cons concerning whether or not it promotes fair play in soccer. And to conclude, I will tell you my stance on the topic.

So, let’s get right into it.

What is the VAR in soccer?

 The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) is a match official who assists the referee in making decisions in the case of a “clear and obvious error” or a “serious missed incidents.” The VAR and his crew work from the video operation room (VOR) and independently have access to all the match footage in a game that uses VAR.

The review team works in the video operation room (VOR). It is made up of the VAR, one or more assistant VARs (AVAR), and one or more replay operators (RO). For a complete understanding of the setup and practicalities of the review team, watch this short video.

Do you now have a hang on the composition and duties of the VAR? Great!

Summarily the VAR review team reviews every incident related to: 

  • Goal/no goal
  • Penalty/no penalty
  • Direct red card
  • Mistaken identity

In the event of one of the four incidents above, the referee can ask for a review. Still, he has to make an initial decision or call, including disciplinary action. Meaning that the referee is not permitted to allow play to continue in every incident and let the VAR review and make the decisions for him.

Equally, the VAR intends to confirm the referee’s decision. VAR also rules against it if they determine the referee’s initial decision was a clear and obvious error. So, the VAR gets down to work as soon as there is a potential missed call by the referee. Or in one or more of the four reviewable categories of incidents highlighted above.

In some cases, the referee will want to take a look at the play under review by himself. He may be recommended by the VAR to review the events leading up to the incident. In which case, the referee performs an “on-field review.” During the on-field review, the VAR loads up the on-field monitor with the relevant footage and the best camera angles. Different review speeds are also included to help the referee make a much more educated decision.

After all, the best decision on every play is required to promote fair play, which is why the VAR is used in the first place.

But guess what? The referee passes the final verdict on reviewed plays and not the VAR. The VAR only reviews and advises the referee on the call or no call. Even more, the after-review decision made by the referee is final. 

Ultimately, the review process’s duration is unimportant. Because the referee adds the time waisted to the total additional time at the end of every half. The most important thing is the accuracy of what so ever decision the entire officiating team (including the VAR) arrives at.

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The officials want to do their utmost best to make the right calls even though it will always favor one team and not the other. But, the fair play has to prevail in the beautiful game of soccer.

Having accomplished a total understanding of how the VAR works, let’s take a dive into the reviewable potential match-changing decisions in greater detail. I will use videos of highlight plays in this section to enhance your understanding. So, read on to learn more.

Goal or no goal

Goal or no goal is the most decisive category when it comes to referee or VAR decisions. This is because the number of goals scored decides games, and of course, the team with the highest number of goals wins the game. So, the events leading up to goals must be reviewed to correctly make the best decisions.

For this reason, we are going to be looking at the most controversial events that occur in the build to goals and what happens afterward. The VAR reviews play for potential handballs, offsides, fouls, and other offenses that the attacking team may have committed in the build-up to the goal. 

Firstly, let’s explore the offsides. You will learn all the different offside scenarios, how the VAR dissects potential offside plays, and how the VAR exposes clear and obvious errors by referees. For a thorough review of all the offside rules of the game, visit my article on the soccer laws of the game.

Before we get into offsides, bear in mind that offsides are determined with respect to the receiver’s position at the instant that his teammate kicks the ball in his direction and not his position after receiving the pass. Also, the receiving player has to get involved in active play or attempt to play for the ball or prevent (blocks) the opponent from defending the attack to be called for offside.

The first offside scenario you will learn is when a player scores while receiving the ball from an offside position. The VAR technology can detect even if just millimeters of a player’s body that he can score with is ahead of the second-last defender. Watch this video to see how close the offside call was.

The above example shows how controversial post-review decisions can be at times.

The second offside situation you will learn is where an attacking player deceives or prevents the opponent from playing the ball by directly blocking his line of sight. The 2020/2021 Champions League game between Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk is a perfect example to illustrate this point. Valverde’s equalizer was reviewed and disallowed by the VAR. Watch the video below to see for yourself.

Shakhtar Donetsk got correctly saved by the VAR and ended up winning that game 3-2 which may or may not have happened without the use of the review system.

Another offside situation that the VAR cracks down on is when a player plays or attempts to play the ball rebounded from the defending goalkeeper, goalpost, or crossbar while in an offside position when the ball was played to him. For example, two teammates player A and player B are in advanced attacking positions, and the ball is played forward to them by a teammate player C. Player A is offside according to the offside rules, but player B isn’t. Player B controls the pass and harmers a shut goal words, which is saved by the opponent goalkeeper into the path of player A. Then, player A scores the rebound. Player A will be whistled for offside.

Assistant referees are advised to hold-downs their flags in attacking plays that could potentially lead to a goal until the play comes to its natural conclusion. This is to avoid them making wrong offside signals that will end up hurting the attacking team. They rather let the VAR review and advice the referee on the offside decision if the play leads to a goal.

See also  How Has VAR Changed The Game Of Soccer?

The VAR also checks for a possible handball by any player of the attacking team in the build-up to a goal. It is worth noting that a goal will not count if a player scores or sets up a goal with his hand or arm as you will see in the video below. Gabriel Jesus’ goal was ruled out for handball on Laporte moments before he curled it into the back of the net.

Penalty kick or no penalty kick

Penalties arise when:

  • an attacking player is fouled by an opponent player in the defending team’s penalty area. These are often reviewed to determine if the foul warrants a caution or penalty and if the foul actually occurred in the penalty area. Note that a foul that occurs on the boundary lines of the penalty area is considered a penalty as well.
  • A defensive player handles the ball in his own penalty area. It is not a handball if the defensive player clears the ball and it comes off his hand or arm. It is not deemed a handball offense because the player doesn’t have enough time to react and prevent the ball from hitting his arm, thus he’s not penalized.

The video below is a pretty good example to help you understand the concept of handball in the penalty area which is always reviewed.

Direct red cards (not a second yellow card)

All direct red cards are reviewed by the VAR. They review every reckless play (intensional or unintentional) for possible red card cautions and all other sending-off offenses in accordance with the red card rules of the game.

Indeed, it is hard for the officials to witness every unsportsmanlike conduct during the game due to the speed of the game. So, the VAR will also review all misconduct, and restless plays that the officials missed for a possible direct red card.

Watch the video below to see how this call was totally missed by the officials but then was shortly reviewed and the offender sent off. This for sure is one of the positives of the review system which in my opinion makes officiating a lot better than without.

Furthermore, the VAR after a review can influence the referee to upgrade a yellow card to red. Or downgrade a red card to a yellow depending on how severe they deem the offense to be. Also, the team have to make that determination in accordance with the IFAB Laws of the game.

Mistaken identity (red or yellow card)

The VAR is also utilized to make sure the right player is penalized for the offense he commits. Again due to the speed of the game and the often chaotic moments that happen in games, the referee can mistakenly show a card to the wrong player. The review team helps the referee in such an occasion to communicate their findings with the referee who can then book the correct offender.

Advantages and disadvantages of VAR

The advent of VAR has brought many differences in opinion amongst fans and players of the game. Indeed, it was brought in to ensure that correct decision are made in games. Still, it seems as every positive comes with a bit of a negative as well in that regard. Some people despise the VAR. Some are for it, while some are kind of still on the fence. I have put together some of the VAR pros and cons for you to make the judgment for yourself. Enjoy!

Pros of VAR:

The review system is very sophisticated: The VAR system uses state of the art technology smart enough to detect even millimeters of offside positional plays very conclusively. This type of technological officiating enhances the overall quality of the refereeing in the game of football or soccer.

Promotes fair play: It enhances and promotes better officiating by giving the officials a second chance to get it right. This aligns perfectly with VAR’s intent, which is to improve the accuracy of decision-making in soccer. Before the VAR came into the spotlight, many players and team careers were ruined due to bad calls. Allowing offsides to stand, denying potential goal-scoring opportunities due to wrong offside calls, missed calls on player misconduct, and so on. As a matter of fact, the English premier league reported that 84% of critical match-changing decisions were correct in the 2018/2019 season, and that number has increased to about 95% since then. This is sufficient proof of fair play in the game. Isn’t it? Also, after the 2018 world cup, FIFA reported a 99.35% success rate of correct calls after a total of 455 incidents checked. This sees an increase from 95.6% of accurate calls made without the use of VAR. The VAR is cleaning those up for the most part.

See also  Extensive Guide To Understanding The 17 Official Soccer Laws Of The Game

Cons of VAR:

VAR takes the excitement from the game: The anxious wait on a VAR decision by both sets of fans creates tension and anxiety. If you have ever had to sit and wait for A VAR review decision, you will know what I mean. It takes the excitement from the game since players and fans have to pause their celebration. You can see players don’t even hug each other as much anymore in celebration.

In actual fact, it creates mixed feelings in the minds of all soccer enthusiasts who have to wait for a decision. For example, if your favorite team concedes a controversial goal like from a questionable offside position. You will be excited to see the goal go into the VAR for review because you do not want it to count. An opposite fan will not be happy at all because they want the goal to stand. That temporary uncertainty adds a different layer of tension to the game.

 Time wasting: Some people dislike the use of VAR in games because of the enormous time spent in review. Or time wasting to simply put it. The VAR promises a “minimum interference for maximum benefit”. Obviously, the interference makes the game too stagnant according to some fans rather than a benefit. They claim it heavily affects the flow of the game which apparently is not a benefit.

In fact, the English premier reports an average review time of overturned calls to be 84 seconds. That is more than a minute where players just stand around, which slows down or takes away the game’s smooth flow. It enables teams under pressure time to “breath” to the detriment of their dominant opponent. By doing so reduces the excitement in the game.

There is still some subjectivity with VAR: Even though every critical decision goes to the VAR for review, decision-making can still be subjective. This is particularly true for incidents involving handballs, fouls, and misconduct where calls still are based on the opinion of the officiating team even after review. For instance, a referee reviews a play to see if a foul occurred is solely his opinion on how severe the foul was. A different referee may have a contrary opinion to his ruling. This defeats the review system’s entire purpose, which is to help eliminate clear and obvious errors by the referees based on fact.


Are you for or against VAR? Is VAR good for soccer? Based on the facts and statistics you learned in this article, it is safe to say that the VAR helps rather than hurt the game of soccer. I mean, the numbers don’t lie. 99.35% of key match-changing decisions were correctly made by the VAR as opposed to 95.6% without in the 2018 world cup. It is no doubt that there are improvements that need to be done especially regarding speeding up the review process. Personally, I don’t care how lengthy an incident is reviewed. I just worry about the accuracy of the result which is what promotes fair play and transparency in the game.

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