DOHA – A big call by Singapore’s video assistant referee Taqi Jahari and his fellow VAR officials helped Tunisia clinch a deserved 1-0 win over France during a World Cup group-stage match in November.
They had ruled that Antoine Griezmann’s injury-time goal was invalid after the North Africans had led through Wahbi Khazri’s second-half strike.
Griezmann thought he had levelled the score but the VAR review found that he had been offside at the start of that phase of play, in which a scuffed clearance by Tunisia defender Montassar Talbi had landed kindly for the midfielder.
“It was the correct decision but we faced a lot of challenges because it was not a straightforward offside call and we had to decide if it was a deliberate play or not,” said Taqi, who explained that a new phase of play would have begun had Talbi been in full control of his clearance.
“Although the result did not matter in terms of the group standings and did not change who progressed, it was still crucial in a sense it was Tunisia’s first win over France at the World Cup.”
That moment was the biggest contribution made in Qatar by Taqi, the only Singaporean referee at the tournament.
In all, he served as an assistant VAR in three games, with the others being Spain’s 7-0 win over Costa Rica and Brazil’s 2-0 victory over Serbia. He was also a support VAR in the Netherlands’ 1-1 draw with Ecuador and Argentina’s 2-0 win over Mexico.
Taqi said he was “excited and nervous” ahead of his first match – the Spain-Costa Rica tie on Nov 23.
“But many of us (officials) had also watched the opening game, and once the tournament got going, you get an understanding of the standard and level of play, and you know what to expect,” he added.
“Of course in a game as a referee, you have to expect the unexpected, but the good thing was we already had an idea of what we were going to get.”
The 36-year-old was among 129 officials (including six women) selected in the 64-game World Cup, and one of 24 officials operating the VAR system, which was used at the event for only the second time.
He arrived in Qatar 10 days before the competition’s Nov 20 kick-off and underwent intensive physical and VAR training, which continued daily throughout the month-long tournament for those without assigned games.
Some 51 officials, including five VARs, stood down from duty after the group stage, but Taqi was among those who were kept on. A second review took place after the semi-finals, when another 29 referees were released, with the Singaporean among the eight VARs who were let go.
Having been in Qatar for over a month, Taqi, who has two sons aged eight and six, and a nine-month-old daughter, was also able to soak in the atmosphere of the unique World Cup, the first to be held in the Middle East and Arab world.
As a fan, he counts his most memorable experience as being able to catch back-to-back quarter-finals, first attending Brazil’s shock penalty shoot-out loss to Croatia before heading to Argentina’s penalty shoot-out win over Netherlands in an all-time classic.
Reflecting on his campaign, he said: “Overall, it was a very memorable World Cup to experience.
“I am really grateful to my wife for her support, and to the Football Association of Singapore for all the backing they have given me to help me reach this stage and earn this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live out a dream.”