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Spotlight on VAR at Africa Cup of Nations

With every passing day, the stakes get higher and higher in modern sport.

The scale is twofold when the tournament in question is a biennial one like the ongoing Nations Cup in Cameroon when the continent’s best 24 countries are competing for the right to be called the best in Africa.

In the three days of action already played, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has been central to the results that have transpired. It all started from Sunday’s opening day encounter between Cameroon and Burkina Faso when referee Mustapha Ghorbal awarded the hosts a penalty, for the equaliser, that was converted by talismanic skipper Vincent Abubaker.

Initially, Ghorbal had ignored the appeals of Andre-Frank Anguissa who was clearly felled by Bertrand Traore as both players attacked a loose ball inside the box.

Without VAR, that would have been a no-call that the home team would have had every right to be peeved. That equaliser would prove a crucial turning point and the Indomitable Lions shortly after prevailed with another penalty, converted by Abubaker.

Ethiopia were also on the losing end of a VAR decision after their centre-back Yared Bayeh was dismissed for a professional foul on Cape Verde forward Julio Tavares. Angolan referee Helder Martins de Carvalho had initially issued a yellow to Bayeh but after a lengthy VAR check decided to upgrade it to red.

This is the first time CAF is using VAR for the entirety of the competition. At the 2019 edition, assistance from the pitch-side screen was only sanctioned at the quarterfinal level and onwards.

The age-old debate on the pros and cons of VAR will not end anytime soon. But it would no doubt make the game better if the system was designed to hasten the decision process.

As the Africa Cup of Nations enters the latter stages, there will be as much spotlight on the men in the middle as on the ones managing the VAR system.

Seeing how it has a lesser margin of error than humans, VAR will in all probability be embraced by fans and pundits alike. It is here to stay and like the pandemic, football aficionados will somehow have to find a way of living and coping with it.

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