Women's World Cup: 'Referees using VAR as comfort blanket' - officials frustrate BBC pundits

Alexandra Popp's goal against Nigeria
Alexandra Popp's opening goal for Germany in their 3-0 win over Nigeria caused controvery

'It is being checked by VAR' is a term that is starting to bring a sense of deja vu.

When there is more talk about video assistant referees than anything else at a World Cup, you know that there might be a problem with how the system is being used.

Controversy dominated the group stages of the Women's World Cup in France and VAR continued to take centre stage in Germany's last-16 victory over Nigeria and Norway's penalty shootout win against Australia on Saturday.

In the former two-time world champions Germany were awarded a penalty and, while the decision might have been correct, many queried why there was any need to use technology for what they saw as an obvious foul by Evelyn Nwabuoku on Lina Magull.

"The referees are using it as a comfort blanket," former England defender Laura Bassett said on BBC Two.

"We were at the other end of the pitch and it was clear to us it was reckless and obviously a penalty. It is not good enough. That is not what VAR is there for. It is not the game we all love."

Her views were echoed by Manchester United Women manager Casey Stoney, who said VAR is "ruining the game" and "hasn't worked in this tournament".

"The referee has to see this. If you are in a good position, you can see that is a penalty. You should not need to go to VAR for that to be given and waste even more time. I'm questioning the ability of the officials in this tournament," Stoney added.

"Where are these referees doing their job week in, week out? It needs to be the best person for the job to give these players an opportunity to play their football. I want to talk about the football, not the VAR decisions."

Germany's Sara Dabritz converted from the spot, that goal coming seven minutes after Alexandra Popp's opener was allowed to stand by referee Yoshimi Yamashita despite Svenja Huth appearing to interfere with play while in an offside position.

The decision sent Stoney - and social media - into a frenzy as the former England centre-back questioned how the referee could allow the goal to stand.

"I think it is poor refereeing. It's the interpretation," said Stoney. "Anything that is interfering is offside. We had another stop of over two minutes and we still didn't get the right decision."

In Saturday's second last-16 tie, there was an even longer stoppage in play as the referee consulted numerous replays of a handball decision against Norway's Maria Thorisdottir, for which she initially awarded a penalty to Australia.

Eventually, with Matilda's striker Sam Kerr waiting patiently at the penalty spot, the decision was overturned, with the official deciding the ball had hit the Norwegian players chest.

'They are ruining the art of defending'

The decision to allow Popp's goal in the first game isn't the first time the interpretation of offside has been questioned at this World Cup.

There was controversy in Australia's thrilling 3-2 win over Brazil when defender Monica's unfortunate own goal was eventually awarded by VAR, with an offside Sam Kerr controversially judged not to have been interfering.

The same debate arose after the USA's win over Sweden as substitute Carli Lloyd was offside in the build-up to another deflected own goal - again, allowed to stand.

Stoney, who said she "genuinely can't understand what is happening in this tournament", was critical of both goals, as well as Alexandra Popp's opener for Germany.

And Bassett added that VAR was "ruining the art of defending".

Australia 3-2 Brazil

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Own goal completes Australia comeback against Brazil

Stoney: "This is offside. In terms of at the point of contact, she is offside but the defender has to play the ball. It interferes with the defender's decision-making."

Sweden 0-2 USA

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Highlights: Sweden 0-2 USA

Stoney: "It's infuriating for me as a centre-back and it was exactly the same in the USA game. The run and the action of the attacker is affecting the decision making of the defender because she has to play the ball, therefore, she is offside."

Germany 3-0 Nigeria

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Goals from Popp, Dabritz and Schuller give Germany a comfortable 3-0 win over Nigeria

Stoney: "How can she not be interfering when she is stood, offside, two yards in front of the goalkeeper, blocking her vision? It has to be offside!"

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