Top 10 most controversial VAR decisions in football

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With VAR about to be introduced in the Premier League for the first time, Goal rounds up its most memorable (and contentious) decisions

It's fair to say that VAR (Video Assistant Referee) has garnered more critics than fans, with its use in tournaments such as World Cup, the Champions League and Copa America causing more disruption than orderliness.

Sure, the stakes are higher when VAR is used in knockout competitions, but ahead of its first season in the Premier League – which is certain to be eventful – here are some of VAR's most eventful instances across football.

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    Scotland vs Argentina, 2019 Women’s World Cup

    The 2019 Women’s World Cup was memorable for many reasons, though its VAR-related controversies were one of the main talking points.

    In an eventful round of 16 fixture, Scotland looked to have secured a 3-2 victory over Argentina. There was controversy already when a decision was made to award Argentina a penalty three minutes from full-time, only for goalkeeper Lee Alexander to save it. The real chaos ensued, however, when VAR judged that Alexander was off her line.

    The penalty was retaken, and this time Florencia Bonsegundo scored to pull one back for her side, levelling the score at 3-3 and sending Scotland home at the death.

    The new goalkeeping rule was already causing ire throughout the World Cup, with the new regulations introduced on June 1 stating that goalkeepers must have one foot at least partly on the goal line when the kick is taken, and neither can stand behind or in front of the line.

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    Argentina vs Brazil, Copa America semi-final 2019

    Argentina vs Brazil’s semi-final match in the 2019 Copa America made headlines not only because of the high-profile nature of the game, but because of the VAR-related controversy that caused Lionel Messi to heavily criticise CONMEBOL.

    "There is no doubt, the whole thing is set up for Brazil," he said. "I hope the VAR and referees don't play any part in the final and that Peru can compete but it looks tough to me.

    "I did not want to be part of this corruption, we shouldn't have to be part of this disrespect we suffered during the Copa America."

    His anger refers to two incidents in the final 20 minutes of the game, when Sergio Aguero was about to run in onto a Messi pass before tumbling over Dani Alves in the box. The ball was then cleared, with Gabriel Jesus bursting forward to play the ball to Roberto Firmino who scored the second goal. In Messi’s opinion, VAR should have awarded a penalty following Alves’ foul, which would have changed the course of the game.

    The second incident refers to Arthur seemingly heavily shoving Nicolas Otamendi deliberately with his shoulder as the Argentine international was about to meet a left-wing corner, though no foul was given.

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    Man City vs Tottenham, 2018-19 UCL

    During Man City’s drama-filled quarter-final clash with Tottenham in the UCL, two notable VAR-related events came up. The first was when Fernando Llorente scored to make it 4-3 to Tottenham, therefore sending the Londoners through on away goals.

    Llorente scored in the 73rd minute, but on replay, it looked as if the ball was close to hitting his hand or elbow area before falling into the net – prompting calls of handball.

    The referee reviewed the incident on the pitch side monitors but ruled out a handball, allowing the goal and incensing the Etihad supporters.

    Man City needed to score one more goal to keep their UCL hopes alive, and Raheem Sterling looked to have saved the day in stoppage time when he scored his hat-trick to level the score at 4-4. VAR, though, deemed that when Aguero received the ball at the start of the play, he was offside when the ball touched Bernardo Silva, therefore disallowing the goal and breaking City hearts.

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    Manchester United vs PSG, 2018-19 UCL

    Handball issues – and debating how deliberate they are – have played an important role in VAR awarding penalties after further review.

    Paris Saint-Germain’s last-16 clash with Man Utd in the Champions League was jam-packed with chaos and controversy when, in the 89th minute, Diogo Dalot played a ball into the box as his team were desperately looking for a last-minute goal at the Parc des Princes to keep their quarter-final hopes alive.

    Dalot’s ball clearly struck PSG’s Presnel Kimpembe in the box, though VAR was consulted to deem whether or not his movement to block the ball was deliberate (the ball was likely sailing high of the goal otherwise).

    To the shock and fury of the PSG side (as well as Neymar, who had been watching from the stands), the referee awarded Man Utd the penalty – and Marcus Rashford dutifully converted in the dying minutes of stoppage time to send the Red Devils through to the last eight.

    “This is a disgrace,” Neymar wrote on Instagram. “Four guys who know nothing about football watch a slow-motion replay in front of the television. It was nothing! What can [Kimpembe] do with his hand while his back is turned? Go f*** yourselves!”

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    Senegal vs Algeria, 2019 AFCON final

    Baghdad Bounedjah scored for Algeria in the 2nd minute of the 2019 AFCON final, but the rest of the 90 minutes were dominated by Senegal. Midway through the second half, it looked as if Senegal were handed a lifeline after the referee awarded them a penalty for what was thought to be handball.

    Initially, Senegal’s Ismaila Sarr’s cross looked to have struck Adlene Guedioura’s right arm. The referee overturned his decision, however, after consulting with VAR to review the incident, presumably on the basis that the handball was not deliberate.

    Sadio Mane and co were unable to equalise in the remaining minutes, falling to a 1-0 defeat to Algeria who were crowned champions of Africa.

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    Real Madrid vs Ajax, 2018-19 UCL

    Real Madrid vs Ajax was one of the most memorable UCL match-ups in 2018-19, when the Dutch side eliminated the 13-time European champions in the round of 16.

    Though Ajax were the dominant side over the two legs and ended up winning the tie 5-3 on aggregate, there were moments were it looked as if VAR calls would ultimately see the score go in Los Blancos’ favour, especially after Dusan Tadic scored to put Ajax 3-0 up at the Bernabeu (4-2 on aggregate). The goal went to VAR replay due to the possibility of it having initially gone out of play in the build-up, but in the end, the goal was allowed to stand.

    The fact that a VAR process happened in the first place raised questions, with critics concerned about how far back in a football game VAR might be consulted.

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    Mainz v Freiburg, 17-18 Bundesliga

    If one of the main criticisms about VAR is that it takes far too much time to deliberate, thus disrupting the flow of the game, its lack of efficiency reached its peak during a Bundesliga game between Mainz and Freiburg in 2018.

    Towards the end of the first half and with the score at 0-0, the referee turned down Mainz's calls for a handball and called for half-time. He then, however, was made to reverse his decision shortly after following consultation with VAR, ordering the players back onto the pitch to finally give the handball and award the penalty!

    The delay lasted almost five minutes, at which the Freiburg players had to return from the dressing room for the penalty. Pablo de Blasis struck from the spot to put Mainz 1-0 up, before the two teams were finally allowed to be dismissed for half-time.

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    Cameroon vs England, 2019 Women’s World Cup

    During the round of 16 match, an offside review disallowed a crucial goal scored by Cameroon's Ajara Nchout. The decision to rule out the goal caused the side’s frustrations came to a head, after England had already benefitted with their two goals which were awarded after VAR decisions.

    VAR reviews showed that Cameroon were offside by a back foot, but that didn’t make the side any less furious, with the players crowding around the referee and refusing to restart the match for several minutes.

    The decision to take away the goal left Nchout in tears, though England coach Phil Neville said: "I had no sympathy for Cameroon, the rules are the rules.

    "Ellen White was onside, their goal was offside.”

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    Portugal vs Iran, 2018 World Cup

    Both Cristiano Ronaldo and VAR made headlines World Cup when his side were awarded a penalty in the second half during their Group B game against Iran. The referee initially gave nothing when Ronaldo went down after a clumsy challenge from Morteza Pouraliganji, but after VAR consultation, awarded Portugal the penalty. Ronaldo, though, missed his spot-kick, but was once again the subject of VAR review later after he swung an arm at Pouraliganji – only to be shown a yellow.

    In stoppage time, VAR awarded Iran a controversial penalty for a rather harsh handball against Cedric Soares. Karim Ansarifard scored from the spot to make it 1-1, but Portugal had already done enough to progress to the knockouts.

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    Genoa vs Juventus, 2017-18

    VAR played a significant role in a Serie A game between Genoa and Juventus in 2017, with Gianluigi Buffon criticising the way the system had been used.

    Genoa had been controversially awarded a penalty against Juventus, despite striker Andrej Galabinov being offside before he was fouled by defender Daniele Rugani. This led to Juve falling 2-0 behind, despite eventually coming back to win 4-2 – though the initial decision to award the penalty had a direct influence on the outcome of the game.