You know what I love during a wild, up-and-down Women’s World Cup game between two flawed contenders? Stopping that wild play for roughly 30 minutes to stare at boring instant replay footage! That’s what happened in Australia’s roaring comeback victory over Brazil today, which continued a tournament-long trend of VAR butting its big ass into everyone’s faces at inopportune times. Luckily, the actual game was too good for the endless review stoppages to sully it too much.
On paper, the Matildas coming back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 is a victory for the sport, the exact kind of game that gets eyeballs on the women’s game and gets people more excited for the tournament. In practice, though, there were three long VAR stoppages (two pertaining to goals, and another dealing with a possible penalty in favor of Australia) that halted the momentum of both teams at key moments and threatened to overshadow the good stuff that was happening when the ball was in play. It sucked.
The worst of the reviews was the aforementioned penalty check for Australia. While the foul was almost certainly a penalty, the VAR review allowed the referee to go back to the build-up to the foul, and she decided (rightly, it must be said) that the ball hit Australia’s Tameka Yallop’s hand before she drove into the penalty box. Handball, no penalty, and everyone moved on rather miffed.
The other two reviews were, at least, directly related to goals. First, Brazilian Letícia Santos was taken down in the box, with a lengthy VAR check finding that the tug on her shirt by Australian midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight was enough to confirm a penalty. Secondly, Australia’s Sam Kerr seemed to impede Brazil’s defense for Australia’s third goal from an offside position. After another long review in which they stopped the exciting action on the field so we could listen to a riveting discussion of the passive offside rule, the ref ruled the play a valid own goal, since the referee deemed that Kerr was not actually involved in the play...even though she certainly was right by the point of contact with the ball:
Thankfully, despite VAR’s best attempts at killing any semblance of momentum during the match, Australia and Brazil managed to play a wide-open game in between those stoppages, showcasing the most representative parts of both teams. Most of the credit there belongs to Australia. Their attack was as terrifying, and their defense as shambolic, as expected coming into the tournament. For their part, Brazil brought the sauce, including this gorgeous nutmeg-sparked goal to put them in a seemingly dominant 2-0 position in the 38th minute:
But between Sam Kerr and two crosses into the box that were handled poorly by the shaky Brazilian defense, Australia were able to come back to take a 3-2 lead in the 66th minute and to hang onto it, in doing so securing the three points they desperately needed. The Matildas now face an easy path to the second round, needing only to draw lowly Jamaica to pretty much guarantee safe passage. One only wishes that the Aussies’ success wasn’t marred by incessant replay reviews that focused on two of the worst, least-replay-conducive rules in soccer: the handball and offside rules.
Nevertheless, after a disappointing 90 minutes against Italy and a bad first half against Brazil, Australia will feel confident in scoffing at their haters. Sam Kerr, Australia’s captain and best player, said as much afterwards:
Moral of the story: Don’t count out (or mess with) the Matildas.