SAMARA, Russia (Reuters) - 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 to Switzerland on Friday.
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.
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 being in use and designed to prevent those types of controversies.
Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic kept his council in his post-match news conference, refusing to condemn the officials.
“As far as the referee is concerned, it is not up to me to comment or to berate the referee, it is up to you to assess that,” he told reporters.
The Serbian football association vice president and former international Savo Milosevic was less reticent, saying it was the second decision to have gone against Serbia after Mitrovic 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?” Milosevic 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 a penalty as “a mugging”.
“I think 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’s two people wrestling Mitrovic,” Ferdinand said while working for the BBC.
“That’s a mugging on the streets, it’s unbelievable,” he added.
The decision drew comparisons with a similar incident in England’s game against Tunisia when striker Harry Kane was wrestled to the ground by a defender in the area without being awarded a penalty.
Defender Pablo Zabaleta, who has won more than 50 caps for Argentina, was in agreement with Ferdinand.
“It’s a foul - I can’t believe it wasn’t given.
“I think it is a clear view from the referee and the centre back isn’t even looking at the ball. He’s just holding Mitrovic.”
The defeat left Serbia needing to beat Brazil in their final game to qualify without relying on the result of the Swiss game against Costa Rica, who are eliminated after losing their first two matches.
Reporting by Toby Davis; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty