England left it late against Tunisia in their opening World Cup game. Very late.
It felt like a cliched case of history (boringly) repeating itself in the latter stages of the match, as Soutgate’s side showed familiar glimpses of an England team unable to seal the deal.
That was, until Harry Kane sent a wave of euphoria across the country, as his 91st minute header secured three points for England, extinguishing a forest fire of negativity that would have awaited his team after the final whistle.
Thankfully, post-Tunisia, England are on the right side, of ‘what could have been’, and head into their second Group game against Panama as a team who overcame adversity, whilst showing character and the ability to deliver while playing under a lingering cloud of doubt.
It didn’t have to be that way though; When it does work, VAR does a job, relieving pressure from the officials who are operating in real-time and allows for a closer prognosis on uncertain events. However, when it comes to decisions being made, there are still so many inconsistencies that haven’t been eradicated by the technology’s introduction and opinions are still divided even with VAR, as we saw when the England Captain was wrestled to the ground in Tunisia’s penalty box – twice!
It’s understandable that teething problems may initially arise, but there are still so many grey areas. As England fans will have asked plenty of times since Monday: what was the difference between Kane’s claims and Kyle Walker’s penalisation, in relation to a VAR decision? Other than being more blatant obstructions of the rules, Kane’s incidents, were no different to Tunisia’s, so it’s impossible to see how they weren’t even considered, which must lead England fans to wonder: when was the last time their country was on the right side of a refereeing misjudgment.
Apart from a minor goal line decision that went in favor of Sir Geoff Hurst in 1966, when it comes to refereeing decisions, it’s becoming easier to believe that fortune favors… well, whoever England play in a major tournament!
Those who buy into Karma would argue Hurst’s goal at Wembley was cancelled out by Frank Lampard’s goal-that-wasn’t, against Germany in 2010.
However, after his disallowed header against Argentina in ‘98, Karma wasn’t kind enough to repay Sol Campbell, in a freakishly similar incident that followed, against Portugal in 2004.
As perpetrators, the officials didn’t miss Beckham kicking out at Diego Simeone in ‘98, or Rooney’s ‘stamp’ on Carvalho’s nether regions, which lead to Ronaldo’s iconic wink to the Portugal bench, indicating that his lip-service had paved the Englishman’s exit, in 2006.
In 2018, the wound from the ‘Hand of God’ has still not healed and the fact it’s still mentioned so frequently indicates both England’s lack of success at major tournaments and the injustice fans feel that nothing ever seems to go their way.
Although gamesmanship has crept into the English game in recent years, on the whole, Englishmen traditionally pride themselves on winning fairly – or trying to, at least. However, from time-to-time, from tournament-to-tournament or even once in a blue moon, England fans would not complain if a controversial decision went their way.
England are fortunate that Kane’s head didn’t drop and he was there to nod home the winner. Luckily, they’re talking about an injury time winner, rather than penalties that weren’t given.
It’s difficult to name an incident in the last 25 years, where England fans left the pub on a warm summers evening, letting out a relieved sigh of disbelief, then turning to their pals, eyes wide open, to ask: ‘How did we get away with that one…?’.
Hopefully that’s a question that doesn’t need to be answered, but wouldn’t it be nice if, for once, Southgate’s men get the rub of the referee’s green.
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Also published on Medium.