The introduction of VAR has been controversial to say the least. From questionable offside decisions to four-minute breaks in play to analyse a foul, VAR has made plenty of decisions that many people disagree with.
But the truth is that there have been countless controversial decisions throughout football’s history that the video referee would have corrected had it been around at the time. Here’s a list of 10 of the most iconic footballing moments when VAR would have been called into action.
1. Maradona’s “Hand of God”
Let’s start with the obvious one: the 1986 Mexico World Cup, when England faced Argentina in the quarter-final.
The opening goal came six minutes after the start of the second half, scored by the Argentinian captain and maestro, Diego Maradona. The ball was lifted into the penalty box and the English goalkeeper, Peter Shilton, came to collect it.
However, Maradona managed to reach it first, knocking the ball over Shilton and into the net. The England players immediately protested to the referee, indicating a handball.
As it turns out, they were right. As the now-infamous replay showed, it wasn’t Maradona’s head that touched the ball, but his left hand. The goal stood, and Maradona’s second goal just four minutes later secured a win for Argentina.
Had VAR been able to intervene and disallow the goal, Gary Lineker’s late header may have tied up the game, forcing it into extra time.
2. Mkhitaryan’s scorpion kick
This one comes from Boxing Day 2016, when Manchester United welcomed struggling Sunderland to Old Trafford. The hosts held a 2-0 lead going into the final five minutes of the game, but Sunderland looked aggressive, and the battle was far from over.
Then, with just minutes to go, Henrikh Mkhitaryan ripped the game out of Sunderland’s grasp with an incredible scorpion kick in the centre of the box. But when the goal was replayed, the Manchester United midfielder was clearly in an offside position.
Had VAR intervened and corrected the linesman’s mistake that day, it may have left the door open for an unlikely Sunderland comeback.
Instead, the goal stood, and this piece of incredible individual skill will be remembered as one of the greatest goals Old Trafford has ever seen.
3. Geoff Hurst’s World Cup winner
Considering it is still talked about to this day, it’s difficult to forget that England won the World Cup in 1966 against West Germany on home soil. At the end of a hard-fought 90 minutes in the final, the game was tied at 2-2.
11 minutes into extra time, England striker Geoff Hurst unleashed a powerful strike that slammed into the underside of the crossbar. The ball ricocheted straight down, bounced on the goal line, and was cleared behind for a corner.
However, after a brief consultation with the linesman, the referee gave the goal to England, despite doubts as to whether the ball fully crossed the line. The Germans were unable to fight back, and the controversial decision meant that England lifted the trophy at Wembley in front of 97,000 fans.
Had VAR or even goal line technology been around at the time and found that the ball had not crossed the line, the match could have easily finished a draw and been decided by a replay the following Tuesday evening.
4. Schumacher’s assault on Battiston
Though no goal was scored, this incident should have resulted in a red card, a penalty to France, and a lengthy ban for 1982 West Germany goalkeeper Toni Schumacher.
Early in the second half of the World Cup semi-final, French substitute Patrick Battiston was powering towards a fantastic pass on the edge of the penalty area. Schumacher came off his line to meet it, but there was no chance of getting to the ball in time.
Instead, Schumacher turned his attention to Battiston, leaping into the air and clattering into the French defender. Battiston, clearly worried about the contact, fired his shot just wide of the post, before Schumacher’s hip caught him in the face, instantly knocking him unconscious.
The Frenchman was wheeled off the pitch on a stretcher and given oxygen, later falling into a coma. All the while, Schumacher waited to take a goal kick and get the game up and running again.
France lost the game on penalties, while Schumacher – who arguably would not have been on the pitch if VAR had been available – was hailed a hero for his fine saves during the shootout.
5. Gray’s header in the 1984 FA Cup Final
Everton won the 1984 FA Cup final against Watford 2-0, but there’s a debate as to whether the second goal should have stood.
Andy Gray leapt into the air to get on the end of an awkward cross, but Watford goalkeeper Steve Sherwood reached it first. Despite Sherwood having both hands on the ball, Gray knocked the ball out of his grasp and into the net.
This would normally be considered a foul as the goalkeeper had the ball under his control, but the goal was given, and prevented any real chance of a Watford comeback.
An intervention from VAR could have revitalised Watford’s hope of an equaliser, pushing them in the right direction towards the Hornets’ first ever FA Cup win.
6. Henry’s World Cup qualifying double handball
The second leg between the Republic of Ireland and France determined which of the two teams would qualify for the 2010 World Cup. France won the first leg 1-0, but Ireland won the second by the same score, meaning that extra time was needed to determine the overall winner.
During the additional 30 minutes, French star Thierry Henry used his hand not once, but twice, to keep the ball in play before delivering a deadly pass across the box to William Gallas.
The Irish net bulged and the French celebrated, despite animated complaints from the Irish defenders toward the referee. The goal stood and France qualified at Ireland’s expense, only to be knocked out in the group stages after losing to South Africa, Mexico, and drawing to 10-man Uruguay.
If VAR had disallowed the winning goal, the second tie would have likely gone to the lottery of penalties, giving Ireland the chance of attending their fourth ever World Cup.
7. Eustace’s own “ghost goal” against Reading
In 2008, recently relegated Reading travelled to Vicarage Road to face Watford in a mid-table Championship clash. Reading scored an early opener in the form of an own goal by John Eustace, but bizarrely, the ball never even entered the goal.
In fact, it had crossed the line about four yards wide of the post before being brought back into play. When the whistle was blown, no one in the ground celebrated and the Reading players even began running up the pitch in anticipation for a goal kick.
It was only afterwards when goalkeeper Scott Loach was prevented from taking his goal kick that people realised what had happened, and the goal was given. Despite a strong rally from Watford, the game ended 2-2 after a last-gasp penalty for Reading, conceded by none other than John Eustace.
8. Bent’s beachball bouncer
In 2009, Liverpool travelled to Sunderland to try and reinvigorate a tough start to the season, but their hopes were dashed when the hosts took the lead after just five minutes.
Though the goal was given to Sunderland’s Darren Bent, it should have been credited to the beachball that the shot bounced off, as it expertly diverted the ball past the poised Liverpool keeper, Pepe Reina.
Despite the FA referee guidelines stating that play must stop if there is outside interference with the ball that prevents a defender interacting with it, the goal was given, and Liverpool went on to lose 1-0.
9. Gray’s penalty for handball… by his own team
Andre Gray scored an equalising penalty straight down the middle in Burnley’s 2017 meeting with Swansea after referee Anthony Taylor spotted a handball in the box.
There was clear contact between the ball and an arm in front of the Swansea goal, but the arm in question actually belonged to Gray’s fellow Burnley striker, Sam Vokes. Swansea players and fans protested in amazement, but it was clear that the decision would not be reversed.
Fortunately for Swansea, no VAR check was necessary – despite the refereeing blunder, the Swans went on to win the match 3-2, thankfully evading any dropped points from a catastrophic mistake.
10. Lampard’s stunning World Cup equaliser
Though every goal until now should have been disallowed, Lampard’s looping strike over the keeper in the 2010 World Cup round of 16 should have been given instead.
The English star midfielder cleanly volleyed the ball straight over Manuel Neuer. It clattered the underside of the crossbar and landed well inside the German goal, but the keeper plucked it out the air and play continued as normal.
Players, commentators, and fans alike couldn’t believe it. The goal was “scored” at 2-1 and would have brought the English level just before half time. Instead, the Germans went on to score two more in the second half, bringing the end result to 4-1.
The Germans were ultimately knocked out of the competition by Spain, the team that would go on to lift the trophy.
But had VAR given the goal given correctly, the trajectory of the game and perhaps the whole tournament could have changed.