As the Socceroos begin life post the Ange Postecoglou and Bert van Marwijk years, expectations are varied.
Rewind back to 2006. The night will remain etched in Australian sporting fans’ memories forever.
A group of plucky Australian underdogs took on the might of the Italian Azzurri in the Round of 16 and fought hard for nearly the entire match.
I don’t need to explain what happens next – we don’t need to shed any more tears.
Technology was supposed to stop this, we were promised that it wouldn’t happen again. The grey area was to be separated into black and white. Fair tackle or dive, penalty or no penalty. Simple.
Sport, however, is not simple. There is little left in modern sport that has remained natural, organic and instinctive.
Sport is complex and in many instances, the use of technology hasn’t resulted in the idealistic sporting utopia that we were promised. It’s impossible.
The introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) was intended to highlight the difference between what is a dive and what is a tackle.
I don’t know the difference and it seems the officials in Kazan on Saturday night weren’t too sure either.
But the purpose of this article is not to bemoan the penalty awarded against Australia. Maybe it was a penalty? Maybe it wasn’t? The debate has and will continue to rage for days.
The debates arise from subjective nature of officialdom in sports such as football.
Take a random focus group who all view any one tackle. Their opinions will likely range from instant red card to play on – and the opinions of referees are as diverse as those of the fans.
That’s part of what makes sport great, it simultaneously unifies and divides opinions.
But has the introduction of technology unified these opinions? Based on the evidence of Saturday night – no it hasn’t.
It was inevitable that the limitations of VAR would rear its ugly head at some point during the World Cup.
We are asking the technology to do what it cannot. Officials watching television replays cannot judge intent or force of challenges objectively.
Did Josh Risdon’s desperate lunge only succeed in tripping French superstar Antoine Griezmann and prevent a goal scoring opportunity?
Or did he successfully clip the ball, and send it beyond the Frenchman’s reach, allowing him the opportunity to exaggerate the challenge?
One angle says he dived. Another shows an illegal tackle.
The referee decided that the vision was conclusive enough to overturn his decision and awarded the penalty that Griezmann duly converted.
But only a few hours later in Moscow, Argentine substitute Cristian Pavon drove towards the by-line in Iceland’s penalty box, he appeared to be brought down by Iceland’s Birkir Saevarsson.
Replays showed clear contact to Pavon, with Saevarsson not getting a touch on the ball. As with the Griezmann incident, the referee initially blew play-on.
But there was no follow-up, no VAR intervention. What appeared to be a clear foul inside the penalty area went unchecked, and Argentina drew against their unfavoured opponents.
At present, we have an imperfect system trying to perfect an imperfect game. We that follow the A-League are most aware of this.
In tennis, the challenge system has modernised and added to the drama and spectacle of the traditional game.
It has a simple mandate: track the ball and identify if it landed in or out. A simple system for a simple game.
But in football, it’s a mess.
Some incidents are checked and not others. Some replays are available to the VAR and some not. Penalties are awarded to some nations, and not others. Conspiracy theorists eat your heart out!
Technology does have its place, just keep VAR to what it can control. Goal-line technology has been a great addition to the game because it’s simple.
Similar to tennis, it tracks the ball and determines whether it crossed the line.
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VAR could be used for offside decisions as well, again because it’s a straight-line adjudication.
Newcastle fans may disagree, so FIFA must ensure that all camera replays are available to help the on-field officials.
In some sports, technology doesn’t fit.
Football is one of them, and VAR’s current form is inconsistent, slows the game down, and its verdicts on such incidents are no more conclusive or objective than the referee’s original decisions.
Rather than try to fix these problems with a problem system, celebrate the imperfections of football.
It might just make football beautiful again.