'Mugging' costs Serbia dear after VAR not used

SAMARA • Critics of the video assistant referee (VAR) system were handed ample ammunition when Serbia were somehow denied what appeared a blatant penalty in their defeat by Switzerland.

Serbia fell to a 2-1 loss in Kaliningrad with Xherdan Shaqiri snatching a last-minute breakaway goal, but it could have been very different had Aleksandar Mitrovic been awarded a penalty on Friday.

Midway through the second half, Switzerland defenders Stephan Lichtsteiner and Fabian Schar both grabbed hold of the Serbia striker, dragging him to the ground in the penalty area.

German referee Felix Brych waved play on and inexplicably the decision stood, despite the VAR system in place to prevent those types of controversies.

Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic kept his counsel in his post-match news conference and refused to condemn the officials.

Savo Milosevic, the Serbian Football Association vice-president, was less reticent, saying it was the second decision to have gone against Serbia after Mitrovic also had a penalty appeal turned down in their opening Group E win over Costa Rica.

"I understand maybe the referee didn't see it, but that's why we put VAR on. What are (those) guys doing up there?" he was quoted as saying in the media. "Two decisions in two games is too much. This is a World Cup."

Former England and Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand described the failure to award Serbia a penalty as "a mugging".

"It had to go to VAR. I don't know what the people (VAR) making the decisions are doing, but they need to look at themselves because there are two people wrestling Mitrovic," Ferdinand said while working for the BBC. "That's a mugging, it's unbelievable."

The decision drew comparisons with two incidents in England's 2-1 Group G win over Tunisia, when striker Harry Kane was wrestled to the ground in the area without being awarded a penalty.

England defender Kyle Walker, who conceded a penalty in that game after catching Fakhreddine Ben Youssef with a flailing arm, was puzzled that his side did not get spot kicks of their own.

"When can we say (to the referee), 'Can you check the TV'? Because we had the meeting and, if we do put that forward and he doesn't agree, he can show us the yellow (card)," Walker said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 24, 2018, with the headline ''Mugging' costs Serbia dear after VAR not used'. Subscribe