Why Var allowed Japan's goal to stand, what the rules say and why it mattered

Kaoru Mitoma crosses the ball for Japan's winner against Spain - Eugene Hoshiko /AP
Kaoru Mitoma crosses the ball for Japan's winner against Spain - Eugene Hoshiko /AP

This World Cup may only be less than two weeks old but it's already not without several controversies regarding Var decisions. But none of those have proved as contentious as the one that let Ao Tanaka's winner for Japan against Spain stand.

Here's a blow-by-blow account of what happened, why the goal stood and why it mattered so much (especially if you're German).

What happened?

Having been 1-0 up against Japan at half-time Spain were cruising. That was until Ritsu Doan rifled a shot into the back of the net - thanks in part to poor goalkeeping from Unai Simon. It was no biggie, though, Spain were still top of the group and had plenty of time to secure the anticipated victory.

That was until Tanaka tapped in with his knee from close range just three minutes later, after a cross from Kaoru Mitoma. The crowd went wild and Spain were now starring at a shock defeat.

The goal was given on the pitch, but to the naked eye, and from the viewpoints of the Spanish players, it looked as though the ball had gone out before the cross, and many watching on TV assumed that Var would intervene and overturn the onfield decision.

Japan's Kaoru Mitoma crosses the ball as the ball appears to cross the line - Jennifer Lorenzini /Reuters
Japan's Kaoru Mitoma crosses the ball as the ball appears to cross the line - Jennifer Lorenzini /Reuters
Mitoma's cross make it's way back into the danger area where Ao Tanaka is waiting - Dylan Martinez /Reuters
Mitoma's cross make it's way back into the danger area where Ao Tanaka is waiting - Dylan Martinez /Reuters
Ao Tanaka taps home, with his knee, from close range to score the highly controversial winner - Ryan Pierse/Reuters
Ao Tanaka taps home, with his knee, from close range to score the highly controversial winner - Ryan Pierse/Reuters

So how did Var react?

The decision was indeed referred to Var and for those watching at home the multiple replays only confirmed their initial impressions - that the ball had crossed the byline and the goal would not stand.

But what seemed a clear-cut decision to the armchair pundits was clearly not as straightforward for the video officials as it took a full two minutes before Var announced its decision. And it was one that left many at home scratching their heads. The goal stood. Japan were 2-1 up and Spain were now chasing a game they were supposed to walk.

To only add to the controversy the image from which the video officials arrived at their decision wasn't offered to the watching world for 20 hours, until finally being released by Fifa on Friday evening.

The sport's governing body say the evidence released offers all the evidence that was required by Var to reverse the on-field decision and award Japan the goal.

Why was the goal allowed to stand?

Japan's winner was given because of the 'curvature of the ball'. Apparently, not all of the ball was over the line, even though the part of the ball that was on the grass was clearly over the line. The entirety of the ball has to be over the line for the ball to be deemed out. It's rather like when corner kick takers put the ball slightly outside the quadrant but it is deemed legal.

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This is the all-important rule

It's No 9 of the 17 laws of football. Law 9: 'The ball in and out of play'...

"The ball is out of play when: It has wholly crossed the goal line or touch line, whether on the ground or in the air."

Why it mattered

It clearly mattered on the obvious level, in that Tanaka's goal proved to be the winner in the Japan vs Spain match meaning Japan topped the group and Spain finished second.

But the real consequence was for Germany. Hansi Flick's side knew they had to beat Costa Rica to have a chance of progressing through to the second round. Not without a few hiccups, they did this 4-2.

But due to the controversial goal in the other match their victory proved to be immaterial. Japan's victory plus Spain's superior goal difference sent them packing in full knowledge that had Japan drawn they would have scraped through. So the Tanaka strike was the difference between Germany marching onto the knockout stages and their ignominious early exit.

The German players react having been told their 4-1 win over Costa Rica was in vain - Tanaka's winner having ultimately sent them out - Getty Images/Ercin Erturk
The German players react having been told their 4-1 win over Costa Rica was in vain - Tanaka's winner having ultimately sent them out - Getty Images/Ercin Erturk
There will be no Germany in the knockout stages for the second World Cup running - Glyn Kirk /AFP
There will be no Germany in the knockout stages for the second World Cup running - Glyn Kirk /AFP

Keith Hackett's view: Var is ruining this World Cup – time it was binned

I was closely involved with Hawk-Eye in the development of goal-line technology. It was in this capacity that I quickly learnt that camera angles viewing the ball crossing the goal-line could easily distort fact from fiction.

So for Japan’s winning goal last night, looking at the images of the ball crossing the goal-line and appearing to go out of play with a camera angle in a favourable position left me in no doubt that Ao Tanaka’s 51st-minute strike would be ruled out.

To the amazement of everyone watching through the eyes of the television camera, Var informed referee Victor Gomes that he could allow the goal to stand. I firmly believe that the goal, on the basis of the images that the Var was likely to have seen, should have been ruled out, because in my view the ball was out of play.

Overhead images of the incident appeared online last night but I doubt these would have been seen by Var. And it is worth pointing out that the goal-line technology works only between the goalposts, not from the goalpost to the corner flag.

Sadly we are witnessing the World Cup being ruined by Var, which is taking centre stage rather than allowing us to watch and enjoy the skills of world-class players.

On Wednesday, in the Tunisia versus France game, a good goal scored by France’s Antoine Griezmann was ruled out following Var intervention. Referee Matthew Conger was asked to go to the monitor and view the incident and he indicated offside.

I totally disagree with that decision. Griezmann was in an offside position in the first phase but moved onside in the second phase. A defender then jumped for the ball and his header went to Griezmann, who scored. The referee was asked to look at the monitor. Why? He should have overruled Var.

I am a strong supporter of the use of technology but sadly this World Cup is being ruined by poor application. I think we have reached the point where we have to ask whether Var should be binned.