VAR Quashes Theatrical World Cup Dives, Overturns Neymar Penalty

Neymar is shown a yellow card by referee Bjorn Kuipers during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group E match between Brazil and Costa Rica. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

Brazil’s star forward Neymar went down in dramatic fashion on the pitch on Friday as he attempted to get a foul called against Costa Rican opponent Giancarlo Gonzalez. At that point, 77 minutes in, the game was goalless.

At first sight, Neymar’s theatrical dive seemed to have fooled referee Björn Kuipers. The Dutch official awarded a penalty to Brazil. But then Kuipers overturned that decision a few minutes later, admitting his mistake after consulting with the video assistant referee. The new instant replay VAR system is making its World Cup debut in an advisory capacity.

Shortly after, Neymar threw a fit about the reversal and pounded the ball into the ground. Kuipers handed him a yellow card for dissent.

The decision was a win for Costa Rica and for VAR, even though Costa Rica ultimately ended up losing 2-0 and sits last place in Group E. A win in Costa Rica’s final Group E game will still not be enough to keep the team in the tournament.

Neymar’s theatrics drew widespread criticism on social media.

This VAR success story comes two days after Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo pleaded with officials during a game against Morocco. Ronaldo asked them to review a call with VAR where he claimed to be fouled. The TV footage clearly showed he was hardly touched, even though he dramatically hit the ground, an unequivocal dive. Officials ignored Ronaldo and waved play on even though he kept signalling with his hands toward the TV cameras suggesting he wanted further video review.

SportTechie Takeaway

In previous World Cups in the pre-VAR era, there would have been no way to re-assess the mistakenly awarded penalty, even though fans watching on TV knew that Neymar’s dramatic fall was caused by nothing but a soft touch. Although the VAR system has had its issues and criticisms throughout this tournament (and before), it has nevertheless proven a crucial tool to officials when their gut-reaction calls have come under criticism.