Take Five – why the Scotland v Argentina World Cup game isn’t really over yet.

Anyone watching the Women’s Soccer World Cup will testify that the drama and excitement has been incredible, and we’re not even through the group phase yet. But in yesterday’s game, while a new technology caused heartache, many missed the fact that an old technology failed completely, and that this game has not actually ended if the rules are to be followed.  In this, there are broader lessons for mankind. When we can’t even master existing technologies like timekeeping,  how can we know when it’s time to introduce the ultimate existential challenge to mankind?

The most dramatic ending VAR none

Apart from great goals and even better goalkeeping performances, perhaps sadly, one feature of the drama that this tournament has furnished has been the new technology – VAR – which has reversed many referee decisions, causing delayed heart ache and frustration. Is this really progress?

The frequent reversal of penalty saves, for stepping off the goal line before the ball is kicked, is perhaps the most in-human of these, even if actually more correct. This happened in the Scotland v Argentina game, resulting in a huge delay and eventual heartache for the Scots. Whether you think this unfair or not, in this post we expose the true injustice – that the required minimum added time was nowhere near that actually played.

In essence, the game has not officially ended yet.

Four from the fourth

Let’s look at the actual time played from the moment the referee stops the game for a foul, and is then requested by VAR to wait, while they reassess her determination that a recent penalty shout could in fact be a penalty. From that point, to the final whistle, the game is delayed significantly. There had also been many minutes of delay during the second half prior to the penalty shout, and those should also have been taken into account.

In the end the 4th official belatedly prescribed a minimum of 4 minutes added time be played, on top of the full 90 minutes. So how much of these 4 minutes were actually played?

Blow by blow, below

If we take each of the nearly 11 minutes from the penalty “check” called by VAR, to the final whistle, we can see the following “play” time. Notice the time of the game next to the score in the top left corner of each picture. That clock does NOT stop.

STOP – Penalty review called by VAR team – 85.57


START – Penalty finally taken unto review – 91.20


STOP – Game stopped for foul and further penalty check – 91.31.


So far a total of 11 seconds have been played since the initial stoppage.

START/STOP – Penalty re-taken and scored- 93.15


A further 2 seconds played – total 13 seconds.

START – Kick off – 93.50ish (the tv coverage was still showing the penalty hence the inaccurate picture)


STOP – Game stopped for a Foul – 94.05.


So a further 15 seconds played until the fresh stoppage. Total now 28 seconds.

START – Free-kick taken 94.34


STOP – Foul on goalkeeper awarded – 94.40


A further 6 seconds played bringing the total to 34 seconds.

START – Game Re-starts – 95.01


STOP – Final whistle blown – 95.09.


A further 8 seconds were played.

So the total time played since the initial stoppage at the 86th minute – 42 seconds.

Take five

At the end of the game the players from both sides seem to be questioning the added time and the referee clearly says “five minutes, ok?”

This implies she thought she’d actually allowed 5 minutes of added time, not the minimum of 4 minutes prescribed by the 4th official.

The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything

Of the 5 minutes allowed by the referee (lip reading at 95:29 above) and the min 4 mins prescribed, Scotland played only 42 seconds.

As the Deep Thought computer in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy noted, the answer is always 42.

The ultimate arbiter

Many assume the referee is the ultimate arbiter of time, and what they say goes.

Well yes and no. This is the actual rule in the FIFA rule book.


3. Allowance for time lost

Allowance is made by the referee in each half for all time lost in that half through:

• substitutions

• assessment and/or removal of injured players

• wasting time

• disciplinary sanctions

• stoppages for drinks (which should not exceed one minute) or other medical

reasons permitted by competition rules

delays relating to VAR ‘checks’ and ‘reviews’

• any other cause, including any significant delay to a restart

(e.g. goal celebrations)

The fourth official indicates the minimum additional time decided by the referee at the end of the final minute of each half.

The additional time may be increased by the referee but not reduced.

So essentially, the referee should have played a minimum of 4 minutes. She could have made it longer – as she did, trying to play 5 minutes – but NOT shorter.

But in the end, she achieved only 42 seconds.

Note, we are not blaming the referee here, simply pointing to the fact that in all the chaos, she was very alone and clearly lost track of time. Humanity is like that.

Who’s watching the time keepers ?

So while VAR can now tell us more successfully whether a goalkeeper has left the line by an inch too much, before the penalty was taken and therefore that it should be re-taken, we have clearly lost that old fashioned, magic technology that told us how long the game has been going on for, and how much longer it has to continue.

Watch for renewed interest in the watch, perhaps it’s time for Timex to make a comeback.

But either way, make no mistake, this game never ended, or at least if the rules are being taken even half seriously.

Broader lessons for mankind – take five.

Mankind has always faced, and enjoyed, phenomenal technological advancement. Generally we’ve seen the dangers and acted swiftly to head off any existential fallout. Nuclear weapons being the best example, though the development of biological weapons capable of destroying mankind probably the better example.

Now mankind finds itself on the cusp of another existential threat – artificial intelligence (AI). This new technology promises, just as VAR offers in soccer, an opportunity to judge one another more accurately and fairly. But as yesterday’s game shows, it brings with it challenges that mankind clearly is unable to face currently – questions of basic humanity. When is an inch too far off the line? Should it become a yard? Etc, etc.

But more worrying is the fact that, again as yesterday proved, we’ve still not conquered technologies in existence for hundreds of years.

When we can’t even keep time accurately, how can we know when it’s time to introduce the ultimate existential challenge to mankind?

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