Since Qatar were awarded the 2022 World Cup 12 years ago – giving them a bigger lead than any previous host – controversy has erupted over the bid. First there were allegations of bribery, then the event had to be moved from summer to winter, and revelations that workers had to endure inhumane conditions to complete it all. Concerns have been raised about how LBGTQ guests would be treated and, most recently, a last-minute decision not to allow alcohol near the stadiums.
But the hope, especially from the organizers, was that once the game started, this would all fade away and things would feel more… normal?
It took less than three minutes after the opening whistle to dissuade anyone from that idea, at least in matches involving Qatar.
That was when Enner Valencia scored what looked to be a fine goal. It would have been the earliest ever goal in a World Cup opener. Instead there was a delay as the VAR investigated. In the end, the goal was disallowed with only the shortest replay shown on the broadcast as an explanation.
The response online was fast and most of them immediately assumed that the solution had been received.
It was almost 10 minutes later that the broadcast delivered the actual “evidence”, the computer rendered evidence that shows the call in a fairly clear way.
But actually it wasn’t even that simple. While the video shows Ecuadorian defender Felix Torres slightly ahead of the penultimate defender when the ball is first played in, it’s not immediately clear why that matters. Simply having a player in an offside position does not mean the game is offside, that player must actually be involved in the game.
It turns out this seems to have been the right call, as Torres got the ball touched. Determining whether or not Torres got that touch apparently led to the long hiatus. But that wasn’t explained in the replays and the delay in showing all this only added to the frustrations.
In the end, it can be said with certainty that none of this mattered. Ecuador won 2-0, was the better side all along and Qatar ended up becoming the first ever World Cup host to lose the opener. This can ultimately be no more than a footnote.
But FIFA definitely needs to communicate this better. There is already a lot of skepticism surrounding this tournament and opening the door to perceived impropriety will only make things worse. Semi-automatic offside seems like a great technology, but it’s only as useful as it is believable and there was too much room for skepticism here.