Ever since Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup 12 years ago — giving them a longer head start than any previous host — controversy has followed the bid. First it was accusations of bribery, then it was having to move the event from summer to winter and revelations that workers had to endure inhumane conditions to complete everything. There have been concerns about how LBGTQ guests would be treated and, most recently a last-minute decision not to allow alcohol to be consumed near the stadiums.
But the hope, from organizers especially, was that once the game started that this would all fade away and things would feel more … normal?
It took less than three minutes of the opening whistle to disabuse anyone of that notion, at least in games where Qatar is involved.
That’s when Enner Valencia scored what seemed to be a perfectly good goal. It would have been the earliest-ever goal in a World Cup opener. Instead there was a delay as VAR investigated. Finally, the goal was waved off with only the briefest replay shown on the broadcast as explanation.
Reaction online was swift with most immediately assuming the fix was in.
It was nearly 10 minutes later that the broadcast provided the actual “proof,” the computer-rendered evidence that shows the call in a reasonably clear manner.
But it actually wasn’t even that simple. While the video does show Ecuador defender Felix Torres slightly ahead of the second-to-last 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 make the play offside, that player needs to actually be involved in the play.
As it turns out, this seems to have been the correct call as Torres got a touch to the ball. Determining whether or not Torres got that touch is apparently what led to the long stoppage. But that was not explained in the replays and the delay with showing all of this only amplified the frustrations.
In the end, it can definitely be argued that none of this mattered. Ecuador won 2-0, were the better team throughout and Qatar ended up being the first-ever World Cup host to lose the opener. This may end up being little more than a footnote.
But FIFA absolutely needs to do a better job of communicating all of this. There is already a ton of skepticism surrounding this tournament and opening the door for perceived impropriety is only going make things worse. Semi-automated offside seems to be an amazing technology, but it’s only as useful as it is believable and too much room for skepticism was allowed here.