LONDON, March 27 (Reuters) - England manager Gareth Southgate questioned the use of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system after it denied his side a sixth successive clean sheet and a notable victory over Italy on Tuesday.
The World Cup-bound hosts looked comfortable against the four-times world champions after Jamie Vardy’s 26th-minute goal had brought a sizeable Wembley crowd to life.
But instead of the post-match talk being about England’s encouraging build-up to Russia, it turned to VAR after substitute Federico Chiesa was deemed to have been fouled in the area by debutant James Tarkowski in the 85th minute.
There was a lengthy delay before German referee Deniz Aytekin was told to award the penalty, which Lorenzo Insigne converted to earn World Cup absentees Italy a 1-1 draw.
VAR will be used at the World Cup finals for the first time later this year and Southgate is clearly yet to be convinced, even if he chose his words carefully.
“I’m glad it’s not the World Cup just yet,” said Southgate, whose side are unbeaten for a year.
“I think the ruling is ‘clear and obvious’ and it’s not. It’s one you can debate all day.
“It looks like James Tarkowski stands on him but it’s during the running process and he’s going down anyway.
“I think the referee had a good view already. I don’t think with incidents like that VAR will clear things up.
VAR has endured a rocky introduction to English football with several controversial interventions so far this season.
Yet Southgate admits technology appears to be here to stay — even if he thinks the referee’s decision should be final.
“In general it’s the right route to go but I prefer that the referee’s decision is final,” he said. “That’s my start point.
“If we go with technology then VAR is the right thing to do, but it must be clear and obvious — otherwise it’s just opinion again — and there must be a better way of communicating with the fans.
“There’s a clearer communication with those in the stadium in other sports.”
Tarkowski, for whom the incident tarnished an otherwise steady debut, said it was never a penalty while former England captain Alan Shearer said VAR was in danger of causing chaos.
“If you ignore the ‘clear and obvious’ guidance then you potentially have to review every decision and the game will descend into chaos,” he said on Twitter.
Southgate will select his provisional squad of 33 on May 14 before two more friendlies against Nigeria and Costa Rica.
After draws against Germany and Brazil, victory over the Netherlands on Friday and Tuesday’s assured display against Italy, he has every reason to be quietly optimistic about his side’s prospects in Russia.
Even without injured Harry Kane his side looked lively in attack with Raheem Sterling finally beginning to look like a genuine threat at international level.
His players also looked comfortable in the 3-5-2 formation Southgate now seems certain to use in Russia.
“What’s really pleased me is the guys are solving problems on the pitch themselves,” he said. “That’s a real plus.
“From the midfield onwards I thought we were a massive threat tonight, far more than in recent games.” (Reporting by Martyn Herman)